Digital Romance Scams: A Billion Dollar Industry

With the recent success of Netflix documentary “Tinder Swindler” viewers’ attention has been brought to the growing world of dating app scams. The documentary follows the victims of Shimon Hayut, who went by Simon Leviev, posing as a Russian diamond tycoon. Shimon through this image was able to scam his victims of upwards of 10 million dollars. Shimon’s current whereabouts are unknown and he is apparently free of charge and completely innocent. Although the “Tinder Swindler is the most recent case of internet scams in the spotlight, this has been an ongoing problem for the past years. As of last year alone, the United States reported $547 million in romance-related scams worldwide, and nearly $1.3 Billion in the past 5 years, making it a very attractive industry for scammers across the globe.

Red flags signaling a possible scam

Regardless of the app, scammers tend to commit frequent patterns that you should stay away from and that should arouse your suspicion.

  • They try to avoid video calls and showing their face: Catfish scammers posing a false identity go to all ends to avoid video proof of their existence. With this said, it should raise a red flag if your lover won’t answer your video calls, or is hesitant to meet up in person.
  • It seems too good to be true: While not always the case, the sad reality is that meeting someone with seemingly no negative qualities is highly unlikely. Always be sure to verify the identity of such a person, before committing into a serious relationship.
  • The conversation turns romantic very quickly: Scammers try to romanticize the relationship as soon as possible to try to connect and convince the victim to do favors for them further on.
  • Using a copied text: A common occurrence from scammers is sending automated messages to multiple people at once. Be sure to copy any suspicious-looking messages into your browser to verify they are not burrowed text.
  • Blatantly ask for money: This is something that may not sound that obvious to some people, however,  a scammer’s ultimate goal is to retrieve money from victims. Therefore, any suspicious request or transfer should raise  a few warning signs regarding your relationship. 

Common types of scams

Some of the most common methods employed by these scammers include the following:

  • Inheritance: As seen in the case of the “Tinder Swindler,”  scammers often convince victims into believing they come from affluent backgrounds thereby manipulating them to give them money immediately as it will greatly pay off later.
  • Military romance: Scammers fabricate a seemingly legit military profile, including badges and base location. They then proceed to form a relationship with generally older women, asking for money for better wifi or plane flights to go see them. This phenomenon has gotten so out of hand that the US Army has even released a detailed spreadsheet on how to spot these scammers. 
  • Emergency loans: After finding a “strong” relationship, scammers will create a fake scenario in which he/she needs a certain amount of money or loan immediately. Manipulating you into sending them money in a life-threatening situation.
  • Intimacy: Catfish scammers tend to promise intimate relationships or pictures in exchange for money. 

How to stay safe

Today’s increasingly internet-dependent age prompts us to become more and more self-conscious and aware of what we interact on all social media platforms. Scammers keep getting progressively smarter with constant new extortion methods. With this said it is important to catch up on the latest ways to stay safe and out of danger. Be sure not to disclose any personal information through the internet and stay off any websites that don’t pass a gut check. In some cases, it is recommendable to use a VPN to further secure your IP address and personal computer. Try maintaining anti-virus software at all times and keep your computer clean.

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