Today, we recognize the first global World Romance Scam Prevention Day, which was designated to raise awareness of the financial and emotional impact this cruel crime unleashes on millions of people each year.
Amidst the global epidemic of financial crimes, romance scams stand out as perhaps the most defeating. Unlike most scams that take place over a short period of time, romance scams involve an emotional and financial investment that can last months, or even years.
One trend that has been observed recently is the blending of romance scams and investment scams. In these cases, scammers turn the table by portraying that they are trying to help the victim (instead of the victim helping them). This happened to a good friend of mine recently who met someone on a dating site. The man lived in a penthouse apartment that rented for nearly $10,000 a month. He wined and dined my friend lavishly for weeks before the request came. His scheme was to get her to invest in his “real estate fund” where he promised to double her investment in 30 days. Upon telling him she had no money, he actually proposed she take money from her kids’ savings accounts. These people have no shame!
Heartbreak by the Numbers
Victims of romance scams are unique in that they are served a crushing blow twice. First, they must deal with the shame, embarrassment, and stress of financial losses they incurred. This extends beyond any liquid assets they lost, as it is quite common that victims will take out loans or use another line of credit to meet the financial needs of their “lover.” Having lost everything, and with a mountain of debt they must figure out how to pay back, there is also a broken heart and the devastating and lingering loss of a phantom love that haunts them well after the financial pain heals.
According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), reported losses associated with romance scams hit $1.3 billion last year, with a median loss per victim of $4,400. And that only accounts for what is reported. Unfortunately, there is still a stigma associated with scam victims that those who fall for the swindle are gullible, naïve, or vacuous. This, along with the belief nothing will be done, are the main reasons why many victims never report the crime. Or they simply don’t know where to turn for help.
What’s More Personal than Love?
Romance scams are highly sensitive as a person’s emotional well-being is at stake. Even if banks made every victim whole, that does not begin to address the long-term effects of romance scams. Before we can even start to address the problem, the first thing that must be done on a societal level is to stop victim shaming. This starts on the front line with banks, law enforcement, and others who have first contact with victims.
Santander is one financial institution that has come up with a unique approach to address romance scams through their Break the Spell initiative, a team of specialized staff trained to work with customers who have been identified as vulnerable and at high risk of being a victim. As noted by Chris Ainsley, head of fraud prevention at Santander, one of the biggest factors helping to perpetuate these crimes is social media as a single message can reach an infinite number of potential victims. FTC data shows that three out of every five victims of romance scams were contacted through social media or online dating platforms.
To raise awareness of this very important issue, BioCatch will be hosting romance scam victim-turned-victim advocate, Ayleen Charlotte, of the popular Netflix documentary, the Tinder Swindler, on October 17 to share what she has learned from her experiences and what can be done to better help victims. Charlotte, serving now as BioCatch Scam Advisor and Banking Customer Advocate, was recently honored as the Scam Fighter of the Year by the Global Anti-Scam Alliance for her efforts to bring attention to the fight against online fraud and effect change to help victims. Register now to join the conversation!
Below are additional educational resources you may find valuable related to romance scam detection and prevention.
Scam Ranger: This website allows users to verify and report scam messages.