Romance Scams

Love is in the air, but unfortunately so are romance scammers

In 2021 alone, romance scammers reportedly set a new record of stealing $547 million from their victims. Cybercriminals tend to leverage different calendar events to target individuals with scams; Christmas holidays trigger scams in online gift shopping, the summer months see an increase in travel scams and Valentine's Day prompts a severe spike in romance scams.  

Romance scams are typically directed at people using online dating sites and apps. The cybercriminal in this instance will spend time initiating a romantic or close connection with their target, building trust and attempting to elicit personal information from the victim, such as usernames, passwords, dates of birth, social security numbers and bank account details. Romance scammers are patient criminals and may spend months on end luring their victim into a false sense of trust and security with their overall aim being financial gain at the victim’s expense.  

Two typical scenarios, as reported by the FBI:

1. The scammer will ask their victim for a very minor sum of money, which the victim is likely to send, but that sum grows with time suddenly amounting to a large and “urgent” sum of money which the romance scammer claims is for a “medical emergency” or to help a vulnerable family member. 
2. The scammer asks for the victim’s bank details to send a “gift”. This gift will typically be a large sum of money and the reality of this is that the victim's bank account is being used to carry out theft and/or other fraudulent activity.Large text.

Here are some simple tips to protect yourself from becoming a victim on dating sites: Two typical scenarios, as reported by the FBI:

1. Only use trusted dating websites, but remain aware that cybercriminals may use these too. 
2. Do not share personal information with someone you have never met in person and have not been able to verify the identity of. 
3. Do not engage in requests to send or receive money via online transfer, no matter how small the amount may be. Scammers will start small and raise the amount as they build trust with you. 
4. Research the person’s profile picture and any other profile details to see if they have been used elsewhere online. To perform a reverse image search on a profile picture: 
-       Save the picture to your device. 
-       Go to your favourite search engine and search the web via “images”.
-       Click on the small camera icon in the search bar.
-       Search by image URL or by uploading the saved image from your device.

If you are a victim of a romance scam:

1. Whether you are a victim of a romance scam, your personal information or your identity has been compromised, contact your local law enforcement office immediately.  
2. If you notice suspicious or fraudulent financial activity in your bank account, contact your financial institution immediately and your local law enforcement office.
3. Report any suspicious activity to the website or application that the online relationship/communication was first initiated. 

If you have become a victim of “sextortion”, the most devastating type of romance scam, here are 10 tips from President of ICTTF, Paul C Dwyer, to help stop the situation becoming worse:

1. Do NOT pay a ransom - they will just ask for more.
2. Make a note of all their details, account ID, emails, bank details etc. Take screenshots if you can.   
3. Report them on the network platform they are using and to the Garda/Law Enforcement in your jurisdiction
4. If the video/picture appears (usually on YouTube) flag it as inappropriate and request it to be removed. It usually disappears in a few minutes.  
5. Set up a Google Alert with your name in it. Google will alert you if your name appears on the Internet. Also search for your name and see if you can find any upload instances, request the hosting/social network provider to remove them. 
6. Block the scammer on all platforms.
7. Deactivate your accounts for a few weeks at least.
8. If the scammer has your phone number or email address you will need to consider deactivating them too.
9. Presume your devices are infected with Malware and have every one checked.
10. Be careful of all new friend/connection requests when you reactivate your accounts.

Some useful phone numbers if you have been affected by this crime:

1. Samaritans: Phone 116 123  
2. Garda Confidential Line: Phone 1800 666 111  
3. Find Your Local Garda Branch: 
4. Learn More About Staying Safe Online:   
Ella O’Neill is a Cyber Agent at ICTTF
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1. Romance Scams | Federal Bureau of Investigation. (2022). 
2. Skiba, K. (2022). ​Romance Scammers Steal Record $547 Million​​. 
3. Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) | Cyber Actors Use Online Dating Sites To Conduct Confidence/Romance Fraud And Recruit Money Mules. (2022).