Losing $2.5 Million in An Online Dating Scam: Here’s How To Avert Being Swindled
Cindy Tsai’s story — the Newton lawyer who told the Herald how she was duped out of $2.5 million by an online scammer who gained her trust while she was dying of cancer — is not an isolated one, but a tragic example of the burgeoning romance scam racket, in which the sophisticated, silver-tongued, con artists of old have moved online. Cindy Tsai had her stomach removed in January 2021, seven months after being diagnosed with gastric cancer. Her husband of 16 years, whom she hadn’t seen in 3 months before her diagnosis, had also decided to call it quits from his residence in Vancouver and never came to visit her while she was undergoing chemo. Her cancer returned in September 2021. In other words, when “Jimmy” first texted her on WhatsApp on October 15, 2021, she was experiencing “the most vulnerable time in my life.”
The Rise of Internet Dependency
Internet users have come a long way since the early days of the internet in the 1990s, when a sudden email from a “Nigerian prince” or similar character would appear, swindling the recipient into emptying their bank account to help the would-be royal out of some complex financial bind in exchange for a huge monetary reward.
“The Tinder Swindler,” a Netflix documentary released in February, detailed the story of Israeli conman Simon Leviev, who is accused of using the dating app Tinder to hook up with women searching for love only to manipulate and control them into taking out huge loans to support him. They thought he was in danger and needed money, but their loans simply funded his elite lifestyle, which he used to impress his next target. Its popularity has contributed to the modern con’s sophistication.
A scammer’s job has always been to stay one step ahead of their potential victims, and in the modern age, that means translating the personal touch of the old-fashioned street con into the modern world of global social media.
Who Are The Target Victims of Online Scams?
“Individuals who are looking for love and companionship are the target victims of romance scams, and anyone at any time can become a victim,” FBI Boston spokeswoman Kristen Setera told the Herald.
“Typically, the perpetrators are men targeting women over 40 who are divorced, widowed, elderly or disabled. But scammers do not discriminate. The scam usually starts with an ‘innocent’ contact online and builds from there.”
Victims of online dating are second only to victims of email address compromise scams, which primarily affect business email addresses. In those scams, the criminal frequently spoofs an email address that the target frequently does business with — for example, changing just one letter in an email address of a supply company representative and sending a phony invoice to the target with directions for depositing the deposit into a new bank account that the scammer controls.
Last year, 553 people in Massachusetts reported being victims of a compromised email scam to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, losing a total of $61.7 million. While that is the most common internet scam, dating and confidence scams are among the largest growing fraud categories. According to IC3 data, there were 415 documented victims of online dating or confidence scams in Massachusetts, who collectively lost nearly $21.8 million — an average loss of just over $52,500.
The number of victims of online dating scams increased by 15% in 2020, to 361, but their setbacks increased by 63 percent, to more than $8 million. Personal setbacks are one thing, but Setera cautioned that your money could end up funding other criminal activities inadvertently.
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How To Avert Being Swindled by An Online Dating Scammer?!
You can avoid becoming a victim by taking simple precautions. Be on high alert if you’re a high-earning professional, particularly one with an advanced degree — roughly 14 percent of the U.S. population in 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
As per the volunteer-run Global Anti-Scam Organization, dating and confidence scammers are instantly drawn to this class. Be cautious about giving out information even before you interact with someone online, as “scammers can use information posted on social media and dating sites to help comprehend and target you,” according to Setera. “You must never reveal your financial status to individuals you do not know or trust.” “Never give out your bank details, Social Security number, or any other confidential material to anyone you haven’t met, or to a website you don’t know is legitimate,” Setera advised.
“If it starts to sound too good to be true, it possibly is,” as the old adage goes. Get out if your recent online fling suddenly starts hounding you about money possibilities with high returns. If the person persists, learn from Tsai’s accident and believe that the dating red flags are indeed causing concern.
Keep an eye out for a potential love interest who moves too rapidly in the love category. Are you at a point in your life when you’re more vulnerable to compliments or attention? Approach any sudden adoration with skepticism. Be cautious of attempts to move the conversation away from the original app or website.
Finally, many experts recommend performing a reverse image search on photos sent to you by your potential scammer. Upload images to a search engine such as Google or Bing, or to the website Tineye.com, to see if it has appeared elsewhere online. If you discover it’s a stock image or a picture of someone else, leave the situation immediately.
Setera advises that if you suspect you are being swindled or have already lost money to an online dating scammer, you should notify your financial institute instantly and file a complaint with IC3.gov. EZChargeback also provides scam protection guides and news alerts that may aid you. Learn more!
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