(Media release from the Office of Georgia’s Attorney General Chris Carr):
Attorney General Chris Carr is sharing important tips to help Georgians avoid romance scams this Valentine’s Day.
“Unfortunately, con artists will prey on people’s most vulnerable emotions by taking advantage of those who turn to online platforms in an attempt to foster new connections,” said Carr. “On Valentine’s Day and all year-round, you should be cautious with what you share online and never send money or sensitive data to someone you have not met in person. Knowledge is key, and our Consumer Protection Division is offering important tips to help all Georgians protect against romance scams and keep their hard-earned dollars safe.”
In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission received more than 79,700 reports of romance scams, with total losses in excess of $547 million and a median loss per victim of $2,400. This represents an 80 percent increase when compared to reports received in 2020.
Older adults are particularly vulnerable to these types of scams, with those aged 70 and older reporting an even higher median loss of over $7,600 in 2021. Last year, the Attorney General’s Public Integrity and White Collar Crime Unit secured the conviction of a Gwinnett County man for his involvement in online romance scams targeting senior citizens. Specifically, Borin Khoun stole more than $230,000 from two older adults in California and Arizona. Khoun pleaded guilty to multiple counts of Theft by Taking in July 2022.
In a typical romance scam, fraudsters create fake profiles on dating sites or, as is the case for over a third of victims, the scam begins on Facebook or Instagram. The scammer’s photo and dating profile seem almost too good to be true. The fraudsters quickly profess their love for you, despite never having met you, often claiming to be in the military or working abroad to explain why they are unable to meet in person. Early on, they may encourage you to start communicating with them via email or messenger, rather than using the online dating platform. Once the scammers have your romantic interest and your trust, they tell you they urgently need you to send them money – perhaps for medical expenses, a visa or for a plane ticket – and they ask that you send it via gift cards, wire transfer or cryptocurrency, such as Bitcoin. These methods of sending money are very difficult to trace, so it is nearly impossible for you to get your money back once it is sent. While romance scammers sometimes disappear as soon as your money does, many try to get their victims to continue sending them even more money over the course of many months.
Sometimes romance scammers ask the victim to open a bank account and transfer money to another account or use the money to re-ship goods they send. The victims do not realize that they are actually helping a criminal to launder money obtained illegally.
Tips for avoiding romance scams:
- Be suspicious if an online romance is getting very serious but the person is never able to meet face-to-face.
- Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. This may reveal that the picture is really of someone else or that it has been used for multiple online identities. Tineye.com and images.google.com are examples of two websites that will allow you to do a reverse image search.
- Never send money to someone you have not met in person.
- Never agree to open a bank account for someone, transfer money or re-ship goods they send you.
- Never share your financial information or Social Security number with someone whose identity you have not verified.
- Stick to the dating app for your communications and avoid giving out your phone number or email address.
- Make your social media profiles more secure by limiting who can see your profile and being selective about what personal details you share. This will make it more difficult for a scammer to target you.
- Scammers are good at creating well-worded fake profiles, so it is important to go slowly when meeting someone new and to ask a lot of questions.
- Talk to someone you trust if something seems “off” or unusual. That person may have a clearer perspective since they are not emotionally involved.
If you believe you are the victim of a romance scam:
- Immediately cut off communication.
- Contact your bank, credit card issuer, or gift card issuer to see if you can get your money back.
- Notify the online dating company or social media platform.
- File a complaint with the FTC by visiting ftc.gov/complaint.
- Notify the FBI at ic3.gov.
- Visit the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division website for more information about what to do if you have lost money in a scam.
Additional resources for Older Adults:
Each year, millions of elderly Americans fall victim to some type of financial fraud or confidence scheme, including romance, lottery and sweepstakes scams, to name a few.
The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Guide for Older Adults offers key information on an array of topics of importance to seniors, including scams, identity theft, credit and debt, reverse mortgages, charitable giving, home repairs, funerals, advance directives, long-term care, elder abuse and more. The guide is available in English, Spanish, and Korean and free for download on the Consumer Protection Division website.