Looking for Love Online? Beware of the 'Sweetheart Scam'

February 14, 2023

Now, I know it is Valentine's Day; however, unless you're spending it with your significant other, you need to be careful with people that you meet, particularly online, until you get to know them.

Most of us want to have a significant other in our lives.  Whether you are single and looking to meet that someone special, or maybe at some point after a divorce or the loss of a spouse, you've decided it is time to start dating again.

And this is completely natural and normal!  However, in 2022, a lot of us are turning to online dating where you can create an account, upload a few pictures, and tell people about yourself.

And, while most people are well-intentioned and are really looking for love, there are also scammers hiding in plain sight- waiting to pounce. This is called the "Sweetheart Scam,".  One study estimated that over $300 million was lost by individuals to this type of scam in 2020 alone!

A sweetheart scam is when someone uses a false identity and when they connect with you, they start laying on the charm.  

They may exploit your sympathy and ask for money for their child's birthday because they are temporarily broke, or they hadn't been able to yet collect on the proceeds from a big business deal.

Others say they want to send you gifts from abroad: a Louis Vuitton purse, Chanel dress, Swarovski jewelry, Bulgari watch … you name it. They'll box it up and have sent it to you!

A week later you receive a message that the parcel is held up by customs and that hundreds of dollars in duties are due. You pay since the duties are a fraction of the stuff your new sweetheart has sent — and then....the package never arrives.

Since this type of scam is increasing, anyone looking for love online should be aware of these warning signs:

1. They 'love bomb' you — They flatter and compliment you constantly.

2. Things move too quickly — Within a few days, they will tell you that you are "the one" for them. It won't take long for them to tell you they love you.

3. They live nearby, but they can't meet — They are overseas in the military or work on an oil rig, or they're a doctor working as a missionary. But they'll be back soon.

4. They can't talk on the phone — Their Zoom isn't working. They can't make overseas phone calls. Their phone camera isn't working, or they have a poor connection.

5. They use strange or grammatically incorrect language — Many of these scammers are foreigners living abroad and part of criminal enterprises. Their English is often not up to snuff.

6. Their profile picture looks like a movie star or a stock photo — Scammers often use stock pictures or pictures that feature men in doctors' coats or on yachts, or women holding adorable puppies, for example.

What you should do if you suspect a scammer:

Talk to someone you trust. If they agree the person seems too good to be true, make a break.

Google them, using their complete name. You can also do this by using their complete name and adding the word "scam" — i.e., "Joe Jones scam."

Don't give out personal information. Be careful about giving your phone number or even friending them on social media. Instead, talk to the person on the dating site. Facebook dating even allows you to phone them by using Facebook Messenger.

Insist on a phone call. If they are sincere and genuine, they will agree. If they disagree, they may be a scammer.

Don't send any intimate photos. They may try to use them as blackmail.

And for safety sake, if you do make a date, always meet in public on the first occasion.

If you think you have been a victim of a sweetheart scam, you can make a report to the Internet Crime Complaint Center. https://www.ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint

From all of us at Rizzo Insurance, have a Happy Valentine's Day!  And if we can ever be of assistance, feel free to call or text us at 781-289-7445 or email me at dan@rizzoinsurance.com