Romance Scams: Stealing More Than Hearts Online

Online dating provides the ideal environment for criminals to remain anonymous while targeting vulnerable individuals seeking companionship. What may start as a simple romance in chat rooms, direct messages or email can quickly evolve into a romance scam, stealing more than someone’s heart. With love in the air for Valentine’s Day, Pasco Sheriff’s Office is sharing ways to stay safe while connecting online and avoid becoming a victim of a romance scam.

Romance scams are a tale as old as time: criminals online try to cheat innocent individuals out of valuable information or their hard-earned money. Never send funds to someone you haven’t met in person. Specific forms of currency can be the same as sending cash, with little ways to trace or recover it. This includes cash substitutes such as bitcoin, wire transfers, gift cards or using mobile payment apps like Venmo, Zelle or Cash App. Once transactions are sent through those methods, they’re likely gone for good! Not all scammers ask for something; some may offer a favor or opportunity to lure unsuspecting victims. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably isn’t true.

By avoiding pressure to act urgently, you can prevent yourself from becoming a victim. Scammers will decline meeting in person to collect funds or receive payment with excuses such as they’re traveling or don’t live locally. They often try to rush individuals and adjust their stories for what they think may work best in each situation. Don’t allow criminals to intimidate you to act quickly. When in doubt about suspicious behavior through messaging or over the phone, end the communication and report it to law enforcement. Rapid reporting can help stop crime and protect others.

Many scammers scroll the web looking for potential victims they can contact through text, direct messages, dating apps or social platforms. Not everyone you meet online is who they claim to be. Don’t accept requests or messages from people you do not know, as they can be a scammer. Be extra cautious of any requests or links asking you to leave a social platform or network. Communicating through another website or platform, such as gaming consoles or other smart devices, can be dangerous as they may be less regulated or difficult to trace. Never agree to meet face-to-face with someone you’ve met online. Report fake accounts and inappropriate posts directly on the platform they are received.

You can stay safe by not giving away valuable information and staying mindful of what you share virtually. Set all social media accounts to private and disable geolocation settings to protect your location. Create appropriate screen names with strong passwords. Most online dating sites and social networks require a minimum age; don’t pretend you’re older than you really are. Published content can be screen-shotted and manipulated; never upload inappropriate content of yourself or someone else. Immediately report any harassing or illegal behavior seen online to law enforcement. Reporting malicious online activity can help keep others safe when connecting digitally.

Practicing internet safety can minimize risks while connecting online. Share these tips with your friends, family and neighbors to help spread awareness. PSO routinely shares common scams on our social media platforms. Follow our pages to learn more and stay up-to-date with crime trends.

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