A recent report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) stated that around 70,000 people fell victim to romance scams in 2022, costing about $1.3 billion, with the median loss for each victim being $4,400. The report stated that many of those scams used sexually explicit images to extort money from victims. Here's what we know.
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What are romance scams?
Romance scams happen when an attacker creates a fake online profile and forms a relationship with a target online, eventually gaining their affection and trust. Once the target feels like they can trust the attacker, the criminal will convince the target to loan them money. Another method leads to the attacker asking for personal information from the target so that they can steal their money. Once the attacker gets what they want, they disappear, and the target is left confused and robbed.
Around 70,000 people fell victim to romance scams in 2022, costing about $1.3 billion, with the median loss for each victim being $4,400. (CyberGuy.com)
Who is being targeted in these sextortion romance scams?
The FTC's data states that individuals between the ages of 18 and 29 are six times more likely than older consumers to report this type of romance scam. The way it works is the attacker will convince the target to share intimate and explicit photos with them.
Once the attacker has the photos, they threaten the target by telling them they will share the photos on social media unless the target gives them money. The reports have increased more than 8-fold since 2019.
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What are some other popular romance scam methods?
Although sextortion scams are on the rise, there are other more popular ways attackers will trick their targets into sending them money. These are the most popular sayings they will use, according to the FTC's data.
"I or someone close to me is sick, hurt, or in jail."
"I can teach you how to invest."
"I’m in the military far away."
"I need help with an important delivery."
"We’ve never met, but let’s talk about marriage."
"I’ve come into some money or gold."
"I’m on an oil rig or ship."
"You can trust me with your private pictures."
Most of these attackers will find their targets on social media and then move to other more private messaging apps like WhatsApp, Google Chat and Telegram. It was also reported that more victims lost money sending cryptocurrency than any other method.
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How can I prevent this from happening to me?
There are a few key tips to always remember when talking to someone you've never met online.
1) Be mindful of the profession they claim to have: the most common romance scams happen from attackers who claim to be in the military, a doctor in an international organization, an oil rig worker, a construction worker abroad, or a 'top secret government position.
2) You've been asked to move the conversation to a third-party platform: it might seem like the person wants to get to know you better, but they may just want to move to a platform where your conversations are encrypted.
3) Never give money or financial information: the biggest red flag is when someone asks you to give them money, especially if you've never met them. They will typically ask for it through cryptocurrency, Venmo or Zelle, or via a gift card.
4) They refuse to video chat with you: if someone won't video chat with you, it's probably because who they are doesn't match their profile picture. Don't fall for it.
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What should you do if you think you’ve been scammed?
1) Report the scammer to the FTC here, and on the website or app you met them on, and the appropriate authorities.
2) If you sent money, contact your bank or credit/debit card company and report fraud.
3) If you sent a gift card, keep the receipt and contact the gift card company and report the scam.
4) If you gave out any personal information, like a social security number, follow the steps at IdentityTheft.gov.
5) Be sure to invest in good identity-theft software to protect your identity and financial accounts.
See my tips and best picks on how to protect yourself from identity theft by searching "identity theft" at CyberGuy.com by clicking the magnifying glass icon at the top of my website.
Kurt "The CyberGuy" shares tips on his website on how you can protect yourself from identity theft. (CyberGuy.com)
By reporting it, you can help prevent others from falling victim to the same romance or sextortion scam. Remember, if something seems too good to be true, it probably is. So be cautious and always use good judgment when interacting with people on social media, dating apps or websites.
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Have you fallen victim to one of these romance scams? We want to know about your experience.
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Kurt "CyberGuy" Knutsson is an award-winning tech journalist who has a deep love of technology, gear and gadgets that make life better with his contributions for Fox News & FOX Business beginning mornings on "FOX & Friends." Got a tech question? Get Kurt’s CyberGuy Newsletter, share your voice, a story idea or comment at CyberGuy.com.