WATERTOWN, N.Y. (WWTI) – As Valentine’s Day approaches, the New York Department of State’s Division of Consumer Protection is warning the public about romance and sextortion scams.
The department is offering information and tools to help identify and outsmart scammers who prey on people’s emotions and trust. Romance scams occur when a criminal lies about their identity and uses romantic interest to manipulate or steal from the victim.
Thieves use different variations of these scams to deceive unsuspecting daters. One common variation used is sextortion, where scammers encourage victims to send intimate images of themselves then demand money to keep it a secret and threaten to expose the victim to their contacts, family, friends and colleagues if payment isn’t sent.
Romance scams can hurt financially and emotionally, and this Valentine’s Day, I encourage New Yorkers who are looking for love online to follow basic safety tips to protect themselves and their hard-earned money from scammers.
New York Secretary of State Robert J. Rodriguez
Here are the groups most frequently targeted according to the advisory:
- Teens (especially teen boys)
- College Students
- Men and Women over age 40
- Seniors, especially widows, widowers and recent divorcees
The state also reminded consumers of the common elements of these scams.
- Fake Profile Pictures: Scammers create the illusion of someone you would be attracted to and trust. They seek opportunities to meet someone online and create profiles on a wide range of online platforms including social media, dating sites, messaging apps and porn sites. They often use pictures from the internet for their profile and may disguise their voice on the phone.
- Build Trust: Scammers are patient and will communicate for weeks or months until they’ve earned your trust.
- Unavailable to meet in person: Scammers may propose an in-person meeting, claiming they will travel to see you, but there will be a last-minute emergency preventing it from happening. Be suspicious of anyone who says they want to meet but then always makes excuses for why they can’t.
- Request Money: Scammers often start by requesting small amounts of money and paying it back quickly to build trust. Eventually, the scammers will request a large sum of money, usually as a loan, to be wired to them for things ranging from business investments, property, debts, illness and more. They may even ask for money for airfare so they can visit you. Once they receive the money, the scammer will often ask for more or create a new reason they need to borrow money. This will continue until the victim becomes suspicious, at which point the scammer will usually stop all contact and disappear.
- Request Explicit Images or Videos: Some online encounters end in unwanted behaviors including extortion. Scammers may request or coerce victims into sending intimate, explicit images or videos of themselves. They may even coerce victims to perform intimate acts on camera.
Here are some tips the state recommended to avoid romance or sextortion scams:
- If someone you haven’t met in person asks you for money, assume it is a scam, even if they say they need it for an emergency or traumatic life event. Never give or loan money to someone that you have not met in person.
- Do not give out personal information to someone online, including payment and banking information, especially if you have not met them before.
- Use trusted online dating sites, but still exercise caution. Beware of online interactions that quickly ask you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
- Be cautious of people you meet online who say they are an American abroad or a deployed soldier.
- Schedule a video-chat early in the relationship to ensure they are the person they are presenting in their profile.
- Research anyone in whom you have an interest. Ask questions. Look them up online. Verify details where you can.
- Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile picture. If it is linked to another name or details that don’t line up, it’s likely a scam.
- Familiarize yourself with privacy settings of all your online platforms and consider limiting who has access to your personal information, contact lists and location.
- Turn off or cover your web cameras when you’re not using them.
- To thwart sextortion scams, talk to your children and teens about online safety and online luring. Many sextortion incidents occur on Instagram or Snapchat. Remind them that pictures or videos can be saved by others and used later for blackmailing. Check out additional resources for talking to children and teens on the FBI website.
If anyone has fallen victim to a romance or sextortion scam should report it to the Federal Trade Commission at ReportFraud.ftc.gov or the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. Notify the social networking site or app where you met the scammer, too.
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