BBB: Millions fall victim to online ‘romance scams’

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – The number of online dating scams is on the rise. A recent study done by the Better Business Bureau revealed that victims were scammed out of nearly $1 billion over the last three years and it is estimated there are more than a million victims across the country.

BBB’s study, “Online Romance Scams: How Scammers Use Impersonation, Blackmail, and Trickery to Steal from Unsuspecting Daters” looks at how these scams work, who the scammers are, and what is being done to combat them. You can read the full study here.

The increasing popularity of online dating sites and apps has made this fraud more common and easier to commit. Romance scammers use dating websites, apps, Facebook, and other social media. Many use stolen credit cards to join the sites and post fake profiles, according to the study.

Fraudsters prey on people looking to connect with someone and ask for money after developing the victim’s trust. The study looks at trends from 2015 to 2017. More than half of the women who were victimized were over the age of 50 and accounted for 70 percent of the total losses.

However, research shows that all types of people have been victims of romance scams.

“There’s a woman who lost $22,000,” said Marjorie Stephens, CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Northern Indiana. “Another lost her life savings and had to move in with her daughter. Another victim lost a job. This is probably one of the scams that people are most vulnerable.””

The fraudster will learn about the victim’s life and build trust. Some scammers send flowers and small gifts and may even request small favors. Eventually, the scammer will ask for money. If the victim sends money, the scammer will keep asking for more.

The study found most people do not file complaints about romance scams with BBB or law enforcement because they are embarrassed.

“These victims are often very embarrassed to come forward because they’ve fallen for the scams and have lost lots and lots of money,” said Stephens.

Although, online dating has become more common, Stephens said there is no guarantee that person is who they say they are.

“You know there’s a lot of fish out there in the sea,” she said. “[There are] some are piranhas and some are sharks and some are great. But I do not think that you’re ever really safe.”

For BBB’s tips on protecting yourself from romance scams, click here.