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All Is Fair in Love and War, But We Can Fight Romance Scams

Mary Ann Miller
February 13, 2024

While the quest for love is truly one of the rich experiences of life, it has also become a prime channel for exploitation by fraudsters in the form of romance scams. Romance scams are basically online heartbreakers – where someone poses as your dream date, but they're really just after your wallet, not your heart. It's like a digital love con game.

But how do romance scams work, and what can be done to fight back against them?

What are romance scams?

You come across someone special on a dating website or app, and soon they suggest moving the conversation off the platform via email, call, or messages. They claim it's true love, but there's a twist – they live far away, maybe due to work or military service. That's when the requests for money kick in, whether it's for a plane ticket, emergency surgery, or some other urgent matter.

Romance scammers operate by crafting bogus profiles on dating sites or apps or reaching out through popular social media sites like Instagram or Facebook. They invest time in building a relationship with you, often engaging in frequent conversations. Then, they spin a convincing tale and pop the question – asking for your hard-earned cash.

In 2022, nearly 70,000 individuals reported falling victim to romance scams, resulting in reported losses reaching an astounding $1.3 billion. The median reported loss stands at $4,400. These scammers meticulously study the information you divulge, seamlessly transforming into your ideal match without missing a beat.

The common tactics of the romance scammer

Romance scammers are adept at tailoring their narrative to suit each scenario. They often claim they can't meet in person, citing reasons such as living or traveling abroad, working on an oil rig, serving in the military, or collaborating with an international organization. Princes and Princesses Charmings tend to weave elaborate, exotic stories.

Once trust is established, scammers will solicit money under various pretexts, ranging from covering medical expenses for themselves or a family member to purchasing a plane ticket for a visit, paying for a visa, or assisting with fees to resolve supposed troubles. Some may even promise to guide you into the world of cryptocurrency investing. There is usually the promise of a quick repayment, often with interest, to reimburse the victim for their troubles. They usually have these common attributes:

  • No physical contact: Scammers often claim they cannot meet in person, providing various reasons such as residing or traveling abroad, working on an oil rig, serving in the military, or collaborating with an international organization.
  • Money, please: After gaining your trust, scammers solicit money, proposing assistance for diverse purposes like covering medical expenses (for themselves or a family member), purchasing a ticket for a visit, funding a visa, or aiding in fees to resolve alleged troubles. Some may even extend an offer to guide you into the realm of cryptocurrency investing.
  • Payment orchestration: Scammers guide you on payment methods, prioritizing swift transactions that make it challenging for you to reclaim your money. They may instruct you to wire money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram, load funds onto gift cards (such as Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, or Steam), share the PIN codes, use money transfer apps, or transfer cryptocurrency. Remember, these tactics are designed to expedite the process and complicate any attempt to recover your funds.

Beware of the catfishers

One of the more common ways of enacting online romance scams is through catfishing. A catfish is someone who conceals their true self behind a fabricated persona, usually to perpetrate a romance scam (as well as many other types of scams). They frequently employ fictitious names and pilfered photographs from others' social media profiles, weaving a compelling and enticing synthetic identity.

What's their game plan? For catfishers, their goal is to manipulate victims into parting with their money and preying on human emotions has proven to be a lucrative method for them.

The catfisher seeks monetary contributions for purportedly worthy causes, such as aiding a sick family member. However, some catfishers engage in the activity solely for the thrill of deceiving their victims. These scams predominantly unfold on social media or online dating platforms, providing catfishers with a vast pool of potential victims and minimal risk of detection.

It might seem like systems are built to catch and isolate catfishing types of scams, but unless companies employ rigorous and accurate digital identity verification, these types of attacks will continue to prevail. They exploit both technology and behavior gaps that arise from the following:

  • Anonymity and privacy online: The internet provides a level of anonymity that allows scammers to operate without revealing their true identities. This makes it easier for them to create fake personas and manipulate others without fear of immediate consequences.
  • Global connectivity: The digital era has connected people worldwide, providing scammers with a vast pool of potential victims. They can target individuals from different countries, making it more challenging for law enforcement to track and apprehend them.
  • Sophistication of scams: Scammers have become more sophisticated in their tactics, using advanced techniques to create convincing fake profiles and manipulate emotions. They often research their victims, making their scams more personalized and difficult to detect.
  • Rise of online dating: The increasing popularity of online dating platforms provides scammers with a large and accessible pool of potential targets. The emotional nature of romantic relationships makes individuals more susceptible to manipulation.
  • Monetary gain: Many romance scams, including catfishing, are motivated by financial gain. Scammers exploit the emotional vulnerability of their victims to convince them to send money, gifts, or personal information.
  • Lack of awareness: Some individuals may not be fully aware of the prevalence and tactics of catfishing scams. Lack of awareness about online risks can make people more susceptible to falling for these deceitful schemes.
  • Ease of creating fake identities: With the abundance of information available on social media, scammers can easily create convincing fake identities. Stolen photos and personal details help them construct a seemingly authentic persona.
  • Emotional manipulation: Catfishers and romance scammers excel at emotional manipulation. They play on the emotions of their victims, creating a false sense of connection and trust, which makes it harder for individuals to question the authenticity of the relationship.

As technology evolves, so do the methods of romance scammers. It's crucial for individuals to stay informed, but it also falls to digital businesses to employ solutions that protect their users.

How businesses can protect the customers they love

Humans rely on emotions, and that’s one of the reasons that romance scams proliferate. But as organizations who want to protect our customers, businesses can apply rigorous identity verification to reduce fraud, including catfishing and romance scams.

Relying solely on risk-based authentication isn’t enough to protect your users from online scams that can take place on your platform or service. The challenge lies in distinguishing between genuine and suspicious money transfers. Behind each transfer is a trail of actions, and companies must consider adopting cryptographic authentication. This more proactive and definitive approach thwarts deceptive scammers before they even get the chance to make unwarranted requests.

Step number one requires preventing these scammers from entering your environment in the first place. The Prove platform offers a barrier against scammers attempting to create fraudulent accounts designed to receive funds from unsuspecting victims. Here's the straightforward three-step process we abide by to determine the authenticity and accuracy of an identity trying to join a platform:

  • Possession: Answers the question of whether the customer has possession of their mobile phone. Confirming someone's possession of a phone at the exact moment of a potential transaction helps identify individuals across various transaction channels and ensures the customer's presence on the other end of an interaction.
  • Reputation: Answers whether there are risky changes or suspicious behaviors linked to the phone number. Typically, people maintain the same phone number for an extended period and upgrade phones infrequently. Contrasting this with a burner phone, a device subjected to a SIM swap, or a newly registered phone number lowers the phone's reputation, allowing companies to flag it irrespective of customer activity.
  • Ownership: Answers the question of whether the customer is associated with the phone number. Establishing a connection between a phone number and a person is crucial when verifying the customer's possession of the phone. This involves recognizing when a customer genuinely acquires a new phone number or ensuring that the phone number remains linked to a person even through carrier switches.

At its essence, digital identity authentication aims to confirm the true identity of individuals on the internet. Given that most dating apps and social media platforms lack robust user authentication, creating fake profiles makes it easy for fraudsters to exploit victims.

Seeking love, not fraud

This Valentine’s Day, let’s make love the goal…love without fraud. Tackling the issue of dating scams revolves around seamlessly integrating identity authentication into the user experience. Users need to trust the security and effectiveness of the platform, a confidence that can be instilled through robust and rigorous verification methods. These methods ensure secure access and foster trust in all digital interactions within the dating app environment. By employing advanced authentication techniques, Prove enables fraud prevention teams to elevate cybersecurity while maintaining a smooth and reliable user experience. In this way, Prove sets the stage for a more secure, enjoyable, and authentic online dating experience, fostering genuine connections.

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