Romance-scams during Covid-19: The complete guide to recognize, avoid, and report them.

The search for relationships on the Internet is booming.

Not only in these times of the coronavirus-lockdown, but also in the recent past few years.

Instead of finding new romances or a relationship, more and more people end up being victims of scammers and criminals who are luring them with emotional fulfilling and empty promises.

Datingroo got in contact with the British and the German police and talked with an expert on human behaviour on how to make online dating safer and how to recognize, avoid and report romance-scams in the times of the coronavirus-lockdown.

Read our complete guide with insights and examples to learn how not to fall for dating-fraud.

 

Who is vulnerable to romance fraud and why?

Fraudsters take advantage of the current isolation to enrich themselves. They developed from fake dating profiles on social and dating platforms to an entire industry with refined criminal methods and techniques. To understand the lockdowns out-turn on different groups, we need to understand the effect of isolation on people.

Dr. Patrick Wanis, an expert in human behaviour and PhD in health psychology, explains for Datingroo how the current situation affects people, their psyche and mindset:

“I have been writing extensively about the psychological impact of social isolation – social distancing and lockdown.

Social isolation creates a sense or a feeling of being disconnected; it heightens the feeling of loneliness; creates the loss of significance and meaning, and it can also lead to high  frustration, over thinking, obsessiveness, rumination and thus, depression.“

– Dr. Patrick Wanis

Most people are physically and mentally affected by the initial limitations, in addition to the lack of contact with others, Dr. Wanis reveals 4 key characteristics that make them particularly susceptible to love-fraud:

  • Being impulsive (a sensation seeker and risk taker – unfaithful men tend to be high on that scale)
  • Easily trusting others – easily persuaded
  • Overconfidence (believing you can’t be fooled)
  • Having an addictive personality. Above all, anyone who is at a particularly vulnerable time in life is open to becoming a victim of a romance scam

“Anyone who is experiencing deep loneliness, sadness, and is also limited from meeting people in person because of Coronavirus and social isolation is going to be potentially vulnerable to a romance scam.
[…] Researches reveal that females who are middle-aged (35 – 54) are the most common victims of a romance scam (63% women, 37% men.)”

– Dr. Patrick Wanis

Not only lonely singles and seniors are affected, people surrounded by their spouses and families 24/7 can feel the same desire to reach out for new conversations and romantic courtesy, as a recent study shows. Everyone in lockdown can potentially be lured into a romance-scam trap.

smartphone from above and a typing hand above

The German police comes to a similar conclusion answering Datingroo´s request about potentially vulnerable victims of romance-scam:

“Fraud victims tend to be middle-aged (from about 40 years upwards) and are found in all levels of society.
There is no clear assignment to social groups
according to the Berlin police.”

– Anja Dierschke, deputy press officer of the Berlin police

A worldwide issue

Authorities all over the continents warn about increasing numbers of frauds linked to the coronavirus. Depending on many factors, the numbers of romance frauds vary worldwide. Canadians are in lockdown since the 11th of May, and since then romance scams are growing, reports show.

Britain’s cases of romance scams are meanwhile decreasing, stated the City of London Police on Datingroo’s request.

The National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB) of the City of London Police provided Datingroo with the official numbers of romance-scam crime reports.

A graph that shows the reported romance scams

Reasons for differences in the country-specific numbers of love-frauds are most certainly the differences in population density and differently timed lockdowns of the UK and Canada.

People in less populated nations like Canada are hit harder by the enforced isolation, as even the little bits of socialing are now omitted, also Canadians are almost 2 weeks ahead of Great Britain in terms of being locked down.

But not only love-frauds are spreading faster due to isolation, the US-Department of Justice has published a list of particularly widespread Covid-19 fraud models besides romance-scam:

  • Automated phone calls with masks promised that were never delivered
  • Fraudulent calls for donations, for example in social networks
  • False promises of state aid payments if the victim submits data
  • Selling the wrong test kits, COVID-19 cures, immunity pills or protective equipment

While corona-fraud is mostly hurting individuals, countries like Germany encounter more and more financial frauds linked to their states’ aid-programs that are meant to bail-out small businesses and freelancers, as Forbes reports.

How to avoid romance-scams during the coronavirus isolation?

The desire for meeting someone significant makes many people blind and very often turns them into victims of online fraud. The financial damage is also considerable. Our insights will guide you through a scam-free online dating experience.

Red flags of romance-scam

When you found a trustable platform for dating and socialising that fits your needs, check out the profiles you are matching with. These following red flags should not be ignored.

  • All photos look professionalCheck the overall profile. If you get suspicious, use the reverse image search by Google. If your potential flirt’s photo appears in other contexts, you are probably chatting with a scammer.
  • Your match is exceptionally attractive while overly attached
    Most people dream about being desired by attractive people.
    If someone who is obviously out of one’s league is suddenly interested and gets overly friendly and romantic on a liaison-site very fast, one should be alarmed.
    Scammers use the vulnerability of people to fall for the idea of an outstandingly attractive affair and partner.
    If it´s a scam, the person will give you a feeling of being loved very fast while not giving you a chance to meet them in person. They will find all kinds of excuses to avoid meeting you.
  • Your flirt asks you for personal information
    When questions get into a very personal direction very quick, about your family or your financial situation, your alarm bells should ring.
    Dating sites have options to report or flag inappropriate users. You should report your concerns to the site so they can take proper measures.

“The underestimation of fraudsters, an uncritical handling of information that a person shares online and the trust that fraud won’t happen to ‘oneself’ increase the risk of becoming a victim of such crime.”

– Anja Dierschke, deputy press officer of the German police in Berlin

  • Suspicious links and advertising
    Dating profiles usually don´t contain links. Scammy profiles, on the other hand, are advertising services like webcam-sites and fake dating communities. Be aware that even a click on one of these links may result in downloading a virus.
    Check the profile of your potential flirt for those kinds of links and for spelling and grammar. Bad grammar in combination with suspicious links is certainly a fake profile.
  • Parts of the story change over time
    When facts, dates, or other aspects of your matches life story change, be aware. Lies must be kept up and remembered, scammers can easily be recognized by changing their stories or opinions to let you feel more comfortable.
  • Chatbots are getting smarter
    Fake profiles and programmed chatbots seem to be overly interested in you and the things you like but don’t reveal much about themselves.
    If you have doubts on the authenticity of a conversation, write something unexpected or start an unusual topic and see how your match reacts.
    Modern chatbots react to keywords with predefined answers, so write something with a twist to outsmart and reveal a bot.

via GIPHY

Types of romance frauds during the coronavirus lockdown

Romance-scams always follows a certain routine. They lure you with promises and pretend to feel the way you need for your current mental wellbeing, be it with empathy, friendship, love, or other traits you need in that moment. The lockdown intensifies loneliness and makes people more vulnerable to fall for false promises and expressions of positive emotions.

Classic love-scam

It’s all about the money. At some point in your conversation or even relationship a scammer will try to convince you to send them money.

They come up with crucial situations involving medical conditions, family members and other emergencies.

They also might use the fact that you won´t be able to meet them without sending money for a flight, a train ticket or something like that.

If you offer to visit them, they will find excuses why you can´t meet in their town or home, for example: because they work abroad or can’t take vacations from work.

A common variety of this is the military scam.

The scammers are posing as soldiers on foreign duties, which means that they currently do not have access to their private money. Then ask for financial support and promise to pay the money back.

A man with his laptop in a mask

Remember to NEVER give your credit card information or other personal data away to internet flirts that you never met in real life. And even if you meet them, this kind of private information and all kinds of money transfers are not part of any kind of fresh relationship.

Beside the obvious scam-techniques, the following types of fraud are widely common:

Webcam blackmailing

It begins with a harmless chat on a dating-service or social media, and the potential flirt lives abroad, often on another continent like South America, Asia, Africa or East Europe.

They befriend you on different social media channels and things get romantic. They plan to meet you someday but until then you are invited into videocalls.

Their webcams are usually not working and they can’t show up via video but still want to see you and talk to you via videocall.

They convince you into revealing acts like undressing and other things in front of your webcam.

Afterwards they disclose their fraud and claim to have a recording of your video performance and threaten you to share it with your social media contacts and to disclose it to the public, if you don´t buy yourself free.

Guide to avoid romance-scam in lockdown

Security-ID Scam

The scammers use an appealing profile and lure you into conversations where they demand a kind of security ID from you to know that you are “real”.

The first red flag is hoisted when they send you a link to that mysterious security ID site. The sites are mostly named after the service you are using including the sites name in their URL like “tindersecurity” or similar.

Those ID´s are never free and require your credit card info or payment via services like PayPal.

After you purchase the fake security ID, your match will disappear, and you will receive a worthless fake ID number with a ridiculous badge. Sometimes they don´t even bother to send you anything.

While these rules are not always taken seriously by men, there have been situations where men were lured into secluded places and robbed or even worse, so keep that in mind.

Scammers that meet you in person

First dates can be exciting and full of sparks. Especially in Covid-19 lockdown, a date seems so desirable.
Beside the fact that you currently should not meet up with strangers at all, you should in general never meet at a secluded space where you`re not able to reach out to other people in an emergency case.

Especially while dating casually, you need to be thoughtful about the first location you choose. This applies to women and men.

How and where to report romance-scam

You can report cases of romance-scams to

http://cybercrime.org.za/reporting
http://cybercrime.org.za/docs/Advisory_on_Reporting_Cybercrimes_April_2013.pdf
https://www.saps.gov.za/alert/cybercrime_prev_tips.php

Originally posted 2020-06-03 00:19:36.

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