The FBI Boston Division is continuously working to raise awareness about online romance scams, also called confidence fraud. In this type of fraud, scammers take advantage of people looking for companionship or romantic partners on dating websites, apps, chat rooms, and social networking sites with the sole goal of obtaining access to their financial or personal identifying information. Romance scams are prevalent, especially during this time of year. Increased isolation brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in more people looking for love online.
The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do. They spend hours honing their skills, relying on well-rehearsed scripts that have been used repeatedly and successfully, and sometimes keep journals on their victims to better understand how to manipulate and exploit them. In some cases, victims may be recruited, unknowingly, to transfer money illegally on behalf of others.
“The consequences of these scams are often financially and emotionally devastating to victims who rarely get their money back and may not have the ability to recover from the financial loss,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Boston Division. “While we recognize that it may be embarrassing for victims to report this type of fraud, it’s important to do so, so that the FBI and our law enforcement partners can do everything in our power to ensure these online imposters are held accountable.”
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which provides the public with a means of reporting internet-facilitated crimes, romance scams have resulted in one of the highest amounts of financial losses when compared to other online crimes. Nationwide in 2020, almost 23,768 complaints categorized as romance scams were reported to IC3 (4,295 more than the previous year), and the losses associated with those complaints total approximately $605 million. Here in the Boston Division which includes all of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, 569 complaints were filed with financial losses totaling approximately $11.7 million.
57 victims in Maine reported financial losses totaling $1,514,636.
361 victims in Massachusetts reported financial losses totaling $8,006,260.
71 victims in New Hampshire reported losing $820,326.
80 victims in Rhode Island lost approximately $1,381,336.
The reported losses are most likely much higher as many victims are hesitant to report being taken advantage of due to embarrassment, shame, or humiliation.
Be careful what you post online because scammers can use that information against you, and always assume that con artists are trolling even the most reputable dating and social media sites. If you develop a romantic relationship with someone you meet online, consider the following:
Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
Beware if the individual seems too perfect, or quickly asks you to communicate “offline.”
Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family.
Beware if the individual claims to be working and living far away, whether it’s on the other side of the country or overseas.
Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, but then always cancels because of some emergency.
Beware if you’re asked to send inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.
Never help anyone move money through your own account or someone else’s. You could become an unwitting money mule for the perpetrator helping to carry out other theft and fraud schemes.
If you suspect an online relationship is a scam, stop all contact immediately and if you have already sent money, it is extremely important to report any transfer of funds to your financial institution and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.