Romance Scams: Stay Safe and Avoid Financial Heartache

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Dating services, whether online or “real life,” can lead to more than romantic encounters. Dating businesses – particularly online dating services – come with risks and can lead to heartache, financial ruin — and even unwitting criminal activity. 

Risks consumers should be aware of: 

  • Financial risks – being scammed out of your financial resources, becoming a victim of identity theft, or being saddled with an expensive contract that does not provide results and cannot be cancelled, which can lead to collection efforts and negative information that affects your credit report and credit score.
  • Security and safety risks – becoming a victim of stalking, assault, or sexual assault if your personal information is misused by other dating service members, company employees, or others who gain access to information about you. Many free dating apps do not screen whether users are registered sex offenders.
  • Privacy risks – becoming a victim of identity theft or having your personal information made available to a wider audience than you expect, such as your co-workers or family members.
  • Criminal activity risks — scammers exploit fake relationships to turn victims into unwitting criminal accomplices to fraud, known as “money mules.”

To protect yourself from becoming a victim, the Attorney General recommends you:

  • Read your contract (terms of agreement) carefully before signing it – including all “fine print” – so you know exactly what you’re buying. Some contracts make it easy for the dating service to avoid responsibility, but difficult for consumers to get their money back.
  • Never give someone you haven’t met money — scammers are smart and will play on your emotions to get information they need to carry out their scam or get you to give them your money. The Federal Bureau of Investigation reports that in the United States, romance scams account for the highest financial losses of all internet-facilitated crimes.
  • Be cautious with your personal information including your financial information, contact information, and photographs of yourself.
  • Never agree to meet for the first time in a private setting. Insist on a public place where there are sure to be other people around and tell a member of your family or a friend where you will be and when you will contact them again after the meeting. Arrange your own transportation to and from the meeting and have a working mobile phone with you, if possible, with a pre-programmed, one-touch emergency number. Make sure to leave all available information about the person you will be meeting with your contact.
  • Do not cash a check and then send that money to someone else if you are asked. Be suspicious.Criminals convince their victims to open bank accounts under the guise of sending or receiving funds. These accounts are used to conduct criminal activities — often by foreign actors who need a United States bank account to launder their illegal funds.

Online dating – privacy and security risks

Consumers are often asked to provide exhaustive personal information before they can register with an online dating service. How this information will be handled varies widely between companies. Most companies keep certain information private while making other details available to other members or even to anyone with internet access. 

Tips for protecting your privacy and using online dating services:

  • Limit the personal information you give out. In the beginning, stick with the chat function within the app. Consider using a burner phone and an email address used only for this purpose.
  • Don’t share any of your financial information and if you do have a good reason to send someone money (like to split the cost of a meal or concert tickets), use a secure peer-to-peer payment app like Venmo, Apple Pay, or PayPal.
  • Conduct an online reverse image search to see where else the person’s image appears and whether it has been altered before you swipe right or pursue a relationship based on an online profile image. Watch this video to learn how to do that.
  • Be suspicious if the other person refuses to talk on the phone or do a video call before you meet in person.
  • Check to see if the other person is using a script to converse with you by running parts of it thru a Google search or online forums where former victims share their stories.

Contact the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection team or your local police department if you fear for your safety.

If you have a general consumer complaint, you may file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection team:

Consumer Protection team
P.O. Box 30213
Lansing, MI 48909
517-335-7599
Fax: 517-241-3771
Toll free: 877-765-8388
Online complaint form

 

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