Adam K. Levin, a consumer advocate with more than 30 years of experience and an expert on cybersecurity, privacy, identity theft, fraud, and personal finance, says that this Valentine’s Day don’t get hooked! Be on high alert for online romance scams and catfish cons looking to steal your money and your heart.
A former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs, Mr. Levin is Chairman and founder of CyberScout and co-founder of Credit.com. He says “romance scams are big business for international crime syndicates. They cast a wide net, looking to cash in on lonely hearts.”
With Valentine’s Day coming up, consumers need to be on high alert to avoid romance scams and catfish con artists. Mr. Levin says look out for these red flags:
- They move too fast. If after a few email exchanges, this person wants to marry you or have children together, stop all contact. No one worth their salt wants to shack up or put a ring on it when they have not even met you. Don’t fall for the smooth operators.
- If they sound like a bad B Movie over the phone, or send emails full of grammatical errors and weird phrases, don’t go any further. If your Romeo has an accent that does not match up to where they say they are from, hold the phone and stop contact. If they keep repeating the same phrases in texts or emails, and you often find spelling mistakes or awkward sentences, they are most likely reading from a script and you may be the target of an international identity theft ring
- Phantom Daters – They Want to See You But Just Can’t Meet He’s really American but lives abroad right now. Her phone got shut off. His webcam won’t work. If all you are doing is texting, be afraid; be very afraid because they are probably using someone else’s profile. Beware of a catfisher who mentions they must travel to Ghana or Malaysia a lot for “business”.
- Be suspicious of someone who is a drama queen or king and in a perpetual state of “emergency” Once a catfisher thinks she or he has a live one on the line, they’ll test their mark to see how far they can push the trust they’ve worked to establish. They may tell you they are stuck in a hotel and need your help, or that they fear for their life. Don’t come to the rescue of someone you barely know and if they mention money, run.
- Never give someone money, or help him or her to access money Alarm bells should start going off the moment any potential romantic partner asks for even a little financial assistance. They first will start off small and then reel you in with promises of bigger returns on your money. Never wire any money or give catfishers access to your bank account or credit card information.
- Never turn over personal information or steamy pictures you wouldn’t want widely seen It’s not love if they ask for your credit card number or for you to buy a plane ticket, or request your Social Security or passport number. They may ask for pics of you in compromising situations, or to engage in some NSFW (Not Safe for Work) video chats. Sending personal pictures or screen grabs can backfire and now the catfisher has fodder to blackmail you. We have all seen the poor victims of “revenge porn” and you don’t want to be the star of those seedy websites! There is also a new sextortion scam going around, where scammers are using sexy pics of women or “fembots” to lure in lonely men to video chat. Once they have the video, the extortion begins.
- Never click on strange links or download files you receive.
The e-card may seem romantic, but it could mask something more dangerous, like malware which could infect your computer and allow a hacker to steal your personal and financial information. Think before you click that link!