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Online Romance Scams Increase Due to the Coronavirus Pandemic

As we continue to stay at home more frequently due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, we have had to learn how to adjust our lives to this new normal that is changing every day. This ranges from working at home, going to school at home, and even going as far as dating at home. While dating from home has some advantages, including getting able to know your date better before meeting them or discovering new, unique dates, there can be many dangers to this new realm of dating that most don’t think about: Online Romance Scams.

Recently, the FBI has warned of a new fraud trend, in the form of online romance scams. Also known as confidence fraud, scammers will usually try to take advantage of people who are seeking out romantic partners on dating websites or apps, with the final goal of financially exploiting victims. Catfishing has been around for years: a person meets another individual online. They make up some fake backstory, have the other person fall in love with them. From here, this person can take advantage of them in almost any way they choose.

And the pandemic, a time in which many individuals are feeling more lonely than usual, makes it much easier for scammers to prey on the innocent.

According to PlainsCapital Bank in Houston, Texas, there has been a 35-40% increase in online scams since the start of the pandemic. Fraud Manager Denise Owens from said bank states that “Because individuals do not believe fraud when there are emotions involved” this becomes one of the most difficult frauds to investigate.

Nevada reigns number one when it comes to individuals getting scammed by involving themselves in online romances in terms of incidents per capita. In 2019, more than 19,000 people in the United States lost over $475 million from these scams, with over 300 in Nevada alone.

So far in the first two quarters of 2020, the Federal Trade Commission has received more than 12,000 romance scam reports.

Because COVID-19 has been pushing more people indoors, they are unable to meet people in person. And, in turn, romance scammers have more victims that can fall prey to their schemes. The more private setting, with a low chance of physically meeting during the pandemic allows for these scammers to keep their true identity hidden.

There are multiple tips to look out for if you, or someone you know is beginning a relationship online. First, research the person’s photo and profile to see if their information has been used elsewhere. Sometimes it is easier than other times to tell if someone is catfishing on a dating app. From my previous experience on these apps, one thing to note is how many pictures one person might have. If they have one picture, usually one that looks professionally done and looks fake, it is probably better to steer clear. This leads to the second tip: beware if the individual seems too perfect. It is also imperative to note if the person keeps promising to meet in person but always makes up an excuse to why he or she can’t. This even includes promising Facetime or Zoom. Finally, and most importantly, never send money to anyone you don’t personally know.

While it is important to find comfort and companionship during these unknown times, it is also imperative to be careful while doing so. Scammers will exist whether there is a pandemic or not, but these individuals know that people are more vulnerable right now more than ever. COVID-19 does not mean that our love lives should sizzle out; however, we must be careful so that we don’t just suffer from heartbreak, but also protect ourselves from fraud.

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