Catch Of The Week: Romance Scammers – Don’t Go Breaking My Heart!

Los Alamos

Social media is fun but can be fraught with peril… No, I’m not talking about that co-worker you mortally offended with that meme (you know what I’m talking about, shame on you); I’m talking about romance scammers!

What is a romance scammer? A romance scammer is a person who pretends to be someone else and tries to use this persona to social engineer you for their economic gain. Nothing personal, no feelings involved on their end; the primary interest is your bank account.

Romance scammers are especially prevalent in Nigeria and other African countries. You are dealing with someone whose job is to create fake social media accounts and convince people to fall in love with them. After they get you on the hook with love, they go after your bank account.

They are everywhere on Facebook and other social media sites. I try to keep my accounts fairly locked down, but the other day I commented on a post in an art group I’m in and was promptly greeted with some idiot commenting, “Hello, how are you I hope you are having a great day can you kindly send me a friend request let be friends I try adding you but it’s not going thru” with a profile with pics of an attractive dude on a mountain bike, who is from Sydney, Australia, and currently lives in Miami.

Oh, and he’s also a widower, how sad. And a retired neuro-surgeon to boot, what a catch! Looking at the two pictures on the account, they had just been added 3 hours ago. Guess what, kids? It’s easy to do a reverse image search, and the images were stolen from the profile of some Instagram Dr.’s account.  Instructions to do a reverse image search on Google can be found here.

Anyone you don’t know approaching you on Facebook should be regarded with suspicion. They might be a real person, but chances are high they are a scammer. Had I friended this dude, I would have been wooed with fake love and probably a sob story about how he is stuck overseas, trying to get home, and needs me to wire him a couple of thousand dollars. 

While this seems relatively obvious, it isn’t always; according to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), romance scams cost victims over $300 million in 2020. Older adults are especially vulnerable to this scam. It’s the worst of all the cyber scams; it doesn’t just go after the victim’s money; it hits them right in the heart.    

Keep your social media accounts locked down. Keep as much info private as you can. Limit who can send you a friend request; you can opt only to accept requests from friends of friends, which will help weed out the junk. If someone you don’t know approaches you via comments or an unsolicited message, assume it is evil and ignore it. Nothing bad will happen if you don’t accept that friend request. If something seems too good to be true, guess what? It is too good to be true and probably a scam.

What should you do if you get a request like this on a social media platform? You can try reporting them; you can get that account flagged and suspended. Also, block the person so they can’t interact with you at all.  

Some tips from the FTC: 

Romance scammers will often tell you they are living overseas:

  • working on an oil rig
  • in the military
  • a doctor with an international organization

Romance scammers ask victims for money to:

  • pay for a plane ticket or other travel expenses
  • pay for surgery or other medical expenses
  • pay customs fees to retrieve something
  • pay off gambling debts
  • pay for a visa or other official travel documents

They may ask victims to pay them:

  • by wiring money
  • by reloading cards like MoneyPak or gift cards from vendors like Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, or Steam

If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, you can report it to the FTC.

Be suspicious, stay vigilant, and stay safe from these scams. If you have elderly relatives in your life, talk about this with them, and keep an eye out for signs these criminals may have victimized them.

Editor’s note: Becky Rutherford works in information technology at Los Alamos National Laboratory.