BBB Study: Online Romance Scams Coaxing Millions out of Unsuspecting Victims
Columbus (February 13, 2018) – A study released by Better Business Bureau (BBB) reveals an estimated 1 million Americans have been victimized in romance fraud scams over the last three years, with losses nearing $1 billion. BBB warns those who use dating websites to be wary of scammers who prey on unsuspecting victims.
“Romance scams are often under-reported,” says Kip Morse, President of BBB Serving Central Ohio. “Not only is it emotionally devastating, but victims can also lose large amounts of money. If you want to try online dating, it is vital that you know the person you are forming a relationship with is actually who they claim to be.”
The study – “Online Romance Scams: A Better Business Bureau Study on How Scammers Use Impersonation, Blackmail and Trickery to Steal from Unsuspecting Daters” – says the scheme can take a number of months to play out as the scammer gains the victim’s trust. The scammer will eventually ask for small amounts of money to feel out the victim. Victims often turn into unknowing accomplices of money laundering.
A widow from Grove City, Ohio met a man online who used the name Richard Edmond Frederic and claimed to live in Scotland. After speaking over multiple emails, he requested money. He said he had stocks worth several million dollars that he wanted to put in her name, but first she had to open an offshore account and wire $2,900 to set it up. She wired the money to a company and was contacted by someone stating she was late on the payment and needed to wire $3,900 for late fees, but she became skeptical and did not wire any more money. “I believed everything he told me,” she reported to BBB. “He said he loved me. He said we would build a life together.” The victim did not get the $2,900 back.
Among the report’s key findings:
- There is no “typical” victim of romance fraud. They can be male or female, young or old, and of any sexual orientation. The common denominator is that they are seeking a loving relationship, and they believe they have found it.
- Scammers often portray themselves as U.S. military members. Military officials say they receive thousands of complaints yearly from scam victims around the world. Officials note military members will never need money for leave or health care.
- The majority of romance fraud has its home in West Africa, particularly Nigeria. There also are groups that operate in Russia and the Ukraine that employ online dating sites to defraud victims.
- At any one time, there may be 25,000 scammers online working with victims. A company that screens profiles for dating companies told BBB that 500,000 of the 3.5 million profiles it scans monthly are fake.
The study recommends that law enforcement agencies share more information about successful romance fraud prosecutions, do more training and prosecute more cases. BBB recommends online dating sites and social media do more to screen, identify and remove profiles used for scams. There also needs to be more support services offered for romance fraud victims.
BBB offers the following tips for daters to avoid being caught in a romance scam:
- Protect your identity and your wallet. Scammers prefer prepaid cards and money transfers. Never send money or any personal information to someone you’ve never met in person. Visiting with someone via a video call doesn’t mean they’re not a scammer. Also, be cautious to not reveal any personal information or do anything you might regret later when using video applications. Some scammers use software to record video calls and then use it to extort money from victims. Don’t succumb to pleas of financial crisis.
- Think before going from public to private. Be hesitant if the conversation moves from a monitored site like social media or a dating site to a more private form of communication like email or instant messaging. This strategy might be a way for the scammer to draw you in without other people interfering.
- Do your research. Pour over the profile image and description. If it sounds too good to be true, verify it. You can perform a reverse image search to see if the profile photo has been used on other websites. You can also copy a portion of their biography and search to see if it’s been used on other sites. Scammers often use the same profile details and photos on multiple sites.
- Ask for details and get specific. Request other forms of identification, like a photo of them holding a piece of paper with their username on it. Ask specific questions about details in their profile. If they claim to be a military member, ask for their official military address as those all end in @mail.mil. Scammers likely will make excuses for why they can’t provide you more information.
- Pay attention to communication. Be wary of bad grammar and misspelled words. No one is perfect, but if mistakes often are repeated, it may suggest they aren’t from where they claim. Be on guard for use of pet names or discussions of marriage early in correspondence.
- Report it. If you feel like you’ve been victimized, report it to BBB’s ScamTracker, the Federal Trade Commission and FBI.
The report was prepared by C. Steven Baker, BBB International Investigations Specialist. Baker is the retired director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Midwest Region. This is the third study to be released in the past year that focuses and analyzes pervasive fraud issues impacting American consumers.
Attorney General DeWine Warns of Romance Scams
COLUMBUS — Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine warned consumers to beware of online romance scams, which have been reported by several Ohioans in recent weeks.
“Sometimes online dating works out very well, but unfortunately, there are some con artists who pretend to be someone they’re not,” Attorney General DeWine said. “They string people along, and at some point, they start asking for money.”
In the scam, con artists often meet their victims on social media or dating websites. They create phony profiles and communicate with their victims via text or phone, sometimes for months or years. They may send forged photos or documents in order to “prove” their identity.
Eventually they ask for money, using a real-sounding excuse. For example, a con artist may claim to be:
- A doctor working overseas who is robbed and needs money for a new passport.
- An engineer building a bridge in India who is robbed and needs money to come home.
- A U.S. military member stationed overseas who needs money to buy a plane ticket.
- A jeweler traveling in Africa detained after trying to board a plane with a diamond.
The con artist generally instructs the victim to send money using a wire-transfer service, money order, prepaid card, gift card, or other hard-to-trace payment method. Once the money is sent, it is nearly impossible to recover.
In 2017, about 40 Ohioans reported losing money to sweetheart scams. The average reported loss was close to $40,000.
Tips to avoid sweetheart scams include:
- Research someone you meet online. Don’t rely solely on what the person tells you. Search the person’s name and other details the person provides. Conduct an image search of a person’s profile picture. See if it has been used somewhere else. Don’t assume a person is trustworthy just because you met on a legitimate dating website.
- Be wary of relationships that develop very quickly. Be cautious when someone claims to love you soon after you meet online and before you have met in person. As part of the scam, some con artists send gifts or make claims about destiny or fate in order to make their feelings seem legitimate. To help protect yourself, talk to friends and family about any online relationships, even if the other person asks you to keep the relationship a secret.
Don’t send money to someone you’ve only met online, even if you have developed a relationship with the individual. Be especially skeptical of requests for money sent via wire transfer, money order, prepaid money cards, cash, or gift cards. These are preferred payment methods for scammers.
Consumers who suspect a scam or an unfair business practice should contact the Ohio Attorney General’s Office at www.OhioProtects.org or 800-282-0515.
BBB Scam Spotlight: January 2018
(February 7, 2018) — Each year, one in four North American households are scammed. Because money loss and identity theft can happen to anyone, BBB encourages community members to protect and inform others by reporting any scam-related experiences to BBB’s Scam Tracker.
In January, Central Ohio consumers reported losing over $19,327.00 to scams.
BBB analyzed 66 Scam Tracker reports from January 2018 to shed a spotlight on four scams affecting our Central Ohio community:
1. Online Purchase Scam: The top scam reported to BBB Scam Tracker in January was from online purchases, with consumers losing a combined total of $1,220.
BBB offers these tips for shopping online:
- Before buying online, confirm the site has real contact information. Make sure the seller has a working phone number and address on the website, so you can contact them in case of problems.
- If the price seems too good to be true, there’s probably something wrong. Be wary if the item is selling for significantly lower than what you’ve seen elsewhere.
- Review BBB online shopping tips. Many online purchase scams use similar tactics. See bbb.org/shoppingonline for more advice.
For more resources on shipping fraud, see FedEx’s website and UPS’s online resource center.
2. Identity Theft Scam: A man from Hilliard, Ohio reported losing $12,000 in a Walmart gift card scam. He is currently working with an attorney and did not wish to disclose any further details.
The report categorized his experience as identity theft, but due to the nature of how his money was lost, BBB is warning consumers to be wary of unusual payment methods. In any instance, fees or payments should never be paid via Green Dot MoneyPaks, iTunes cards or by wiring money. If someone asks you to send them money any of these ways, or to go to Walmart or another local store to wire money and obtain gift cards for payment, then it is most likely a scam.
3. Employment Scam: A Whitehall, Ohio woman reported a secret shopper employment scam. She received an offer in the mail along with a check for $1,982. They requested that she deposit the money into the bank, withdraw the money, and send them back a portion through two separate money orders.
She withdrew the money, and obtained the money orders through CVS and Walmart. One money order went to an Aldus Bagley in Texas, and the second went to a Stanley Nora in Texas. The next day, the bank called her to let her know the check she had deposited was bad, and she now owed them the full amount back.
According to BBB Scam Tracker, people in the Midwest are most likely to fall prey to employment schemes.
It’s simple for scammers to create fake company websites, emails and job applications. Many work-from-home schemes sound too good to be true and promise a large reward for minimal work. Be wary of any business that only wants to interview you over the phone or asks you to wire money for any fees or supplies.
Indeed.com has guidelines for a safe job search.
4. Craigslist Scam: A woman from New Albany, Ohio placed an ad for an item on Craigslist. She received a text from a Northern California number requesting that she ship them the item after they sent her a check with an extra $40 to cover the shipping fees.
They asked for her name and address, but refused to provide any personal information in return. The consumer found it odd that someone would offer to overpay for an item, then researched similar scams and decided to block the person’s number. She soon received a check for $1,000 in the mail from the same person with a printed note to deposit the check and send some money back.
The consumer knew from her online search that the check would be bad, and she would owe the bank the full amount if she deposited it and withdrew the money.
BBB urges consumers to be cautious when selling and buying items on Craigslist and to consider the following tips to avoid check scams:
Never accept checks for more than the asking price. This should be a red flag. Scammers are great at crafting legitimate-sounding stories, but you should be firm in only accepting checks for the proper amount.
If you’re going to accept checks, ask for a check from a local bank. Dealing with a local bank will allow you to visit the branch in person to find out if the check is real.
Never wire bank funds, for any reason. If a buyer asks you to wire back any portion of the sale price, you are almost certainly being scammed. Stop the transaction immediately.
BBB Reports Top 10 Local Scams From 2017
(January 30, 2018) – 2017 began with the “Can you hear me?” scam and wrapped up with international BBB reports on puppy and tech scams. Throughout the year, over 700 scams were reported to your BBB Serving Central Ohio’s Scam Tracker, with consumers losing a total of $224,252.00.
The most common age group to report scams in the Central Ohio community were those 65 years old and older, followed by consumers in the 55-64 age range. The least common demographic to report scams was 18-24 year olds.
“Consumers are becoming more and more savvy about spotting scams,” said Kip Morse, CEO of BBB serving Central Ohio. “Unfortunately, even as consumers continue to be more educated about scams, scammers get better and better at what they do. We work hard to ensure that any and all information we have about scams in our area are available for the public to learn about.”
The most common scams in Central Ohio in 2017 were:
3. Debt Collection
4. Online Purchases
5. Government Grant Scam
7. Tax Collection
8. Tech Support
10. Fake Checks
Consumers are encouraged to report scams to BBB Scam Tracker to help protect others in the Central Ohio community.
SocialVentures and BBB Announce New Social Enterprise Program
January 26, 2018 — SocialVentures and Better Business Bureau of Central Ohio, in collaboration with Measurement Resources Company, announce the launch of a pilot program to develop a new service that will review, validate, and communicate the social impact created by social enterprises in Central Ohio.
Social enterprises are businesses that intentionally integrate social impact as a non-negotiable component of their business model through the people they employ or the social missions they support. Donors, investors, and civic leaders are increasingly seeking a simple, unified evaluation and reporting platform to assess the impact of social enterprises and nonprofits. And, consumers want to trust that any social enterprise they support lives up to its claims.
The pilot program will utilize SocialVentures’ Marketplace as a platform to connect social enterprises with consumers, advisors, and investors and will leverage BBB’s established position and expertise in managing a large-scale business review and certification programs. The foundation of the program will use Measurement Resources Company’s previously tested and implemented Social Impact Measurement Framework to evaluate organizations.
Leading Central Ohio nonprofit and social enterprise professionals will serve as members of the Pilot Product Development Group, to help develop and market test the validation service, which social enterprises will then be able to use to demonstrate to donors, investors, and consumers that their reported social impact is legitimate. This designation would be available for participants’ marketing, fundraising, and consumer outreach initiatives.
Pilot Product Development Group members include:
- Sarah Duplessis, Program Director, Food for Good Thought
- Kenny Sipes, Founder, The Roosevelt Coffeehouse
- John Rush, Owner/ CEO of CleanTurn Enterprises (which includes CleanTurn Demolition Services, She Has A Name Cleaning Services and Third Way Cafe)
- Steve Votaw, President, Furniture Bank (with social enterprises Furniture With A Heart and Downsize With A Heart)
- Phil Washburn, Program Director, Habitat for Humanity-MidOhio’s ReStore
- Ed Miner, Executive Director, Bikes for All People
- Ramona Swayne, Managing Director, Alvis 180 (with social enterprises Nature’s Touch Landscaping and Transitions Commercial Cleaning)
- Marvin Green, Co-Founder, CAREcutz
- Paula Haines, Executive Director, Freedom a la Cart
- Diana Spain, Owner, Kicks Mix Bookstore
- David Uhl, Director of Business Development, Art & Clay on Main; Square Seven Coffee
The pilot will take place between January 2018 and June 2019, with the goal to publicly launch the service to social enterprises and nonprofits in Central Ohio by the end of 2019.
Founded in 2014, SocialVentures advances remarkably good businesses—businesses that intentionally integrate social impact as a non-negotiable component of their business model. SocialVentures supports these nonprofit and for-profit businesses so that entrepreneurs, consumers and beneficiaries of their mission-driven endeavors are all better positioned to prosper.
BBB’s Local Top Ten
Top Inquiries, Complaints and Reviews for 2017
February 6, 2018 – More than 1.5 million consumers turned to your BBB for information on Central Ohio businesses in 2017. Over the course of the year, BBB took action with over 7,000 complaints while consumers looked to BBB customer reviews over 400,000 times.
“In the past, consumers would come to BBB for complaints,” said Kip Morse, President and CEO of BBB serving Central Ohio. “In 2017, we saw a large increase in the number of consumers who were looking at customer reviews, which shows us that consumers are not only using BBB to research companies, but to share their experiences as well, creating a dialog between businesses and consumers.”
Currently, 5,300 Accredited Businesses are committed to BBB’s high standards of trust and the resolution of marketplace disputes through conciliation. BBB Accredited Businesses have a positive commitment to stand behind their products and services while ensuring proper resolution of any disputes that may arise.
To help consumers make savvy marketplace decisions, BBB’s local database names the top ten most complained, inquired and reviewed industries of 2017.
The Top Ten Most Inquired About Industries of 2017:
1. Roofing Contractors (60,674)
2. Construction Services (60,660)
3. Collections Agencies (37,660)
4. Used Car Dealers (33,601)
5. Heating & Air Conditioning (36,741)
6. Insurance Companies (33,600)
7. Credit Cards & Plans (31,314)
8. Home Builders (28,941)
9. Plumbers (26,107)
10. Painting Contractors (21,360)
The Top Ten Most Complained About Industries of 2017:
1. Credit Cards and Plan (1,194)
2. Furniture Stores (574)
3. Insurance (346)
4. Clothing (302)
5. New Car Dealers (290)
6. Banks (279)
7. Used Car Dealers (250)
8. Collection Agencies (218)
9. Apartments (170)
10. Windshield Repair (164)
The Top Ten Most Reviewed Industries of 2017:
1. Heating & Air Conditioning (848)
2. Roofing Contractors (473)
3. Plumber (407)
4. Publishers Magazine (361)
5. Credit Cards & Plans (213)
6. Used Car Dealers (207)
7. New Car Dealers (194)
8. Apartments (190)
9. Basement Waterproofing (153)
10. Electricians (148)
Consumers can visit bbb.org to search for businesses, file a complaint or leave a customer review.
For more information on finding businesses you can trust, follow your BBB on Facebook, Twitter, and at bbb.org.
For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2016, people turned to BBB more than 167 million times for BBB Business Profiles on more than 5.2 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. There are local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico, including BBB Serving Central Ohio, which was founded in 1921 and serves 21 counties in Central Ohio.
Sources: BBB, AG’s Office.
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