The Federal Trade Commission recently published a warning about scams that have been reported on dating and social networking web sites. Here’s what you need to know to identify and avoid these potential money-suckers (and identity thieves).
It’s Probably Not True Love
According to the FTC's OnGuard Online site (onguardonline.gov), a typical online networking or dating scam works something like this:
- The scammer creates a fake profile.
- The scammer develops a relationship with someone he’s never met face to face and convinces that person that they’re in love.
- The scammer asks his “love” to wire money for one reason or another – usually to a location outside the United States.
So how can you distinguish between someone who is honestly interested in friendship or a relationship and someone who only wants to drain your bank account or steal your identity? The FTC provides a list of warning signs that your digital romance might be less than ideal.
- The scammer expresses a desire to move away from the dating or social networking site and use instead a personal email or instant messaging account. This suggests that the person wants to fly under the radar of whatever body governs the site, or wants to use a less-secure (and perhaps less traceable) method of communication.
- The scammer begins to claim feelings of love early on in the relationship. This should raise a red flag, particularly if you’ve never met the person face to face – claiming to be in love sets the stage a little too neatly for asking for favors from that loved one.
- The scammer indicates that she is from the U.S. but is currently living overseas. This provides a handy explanation for why she would want a victim to send funds outside of the country (presumably to an account regulated by less stringent laws than those in the U.S.).
- The scammer insists that he wants to visit the victim, but is unable to do so because of some unfortunate life event (such as the death of a loved one, job loss, or similar).
- The scammer offers seemingly “valid” reasons why she needs money, such as a relative’s sickness, a minor financial setback, or similar – and, after the victim sends money, the scammer continues to ask for more.
Watch Out for Requests from Friends and Family
Of course, not every scam involves establishing a new relationship. Another popular scam involves requests from close friends or family members for money to be wired overseas - usually the story involves an international vacation gone bad, and the friend needs money wired to pay for an emergency. In reality, the friend's account has been compromised by a scammer.
The Dangers of Identity Theft
So why are scams such as these so treacherous? The obvious answer is that a scammer could take in an unsuspecting victim and drain his or her bank account. But the risk of identity theft might put a victim at even greater risk.
Identity theft can cause long-term damage to your finances and credit, which can make it difficult to get loans, apartment rentals, credit cards and more. In general, be wary any time a person you’ve never met asks for money – particularly if you’re being asked to send it outside the U.S.