By Pat KRAMER
In this day and age it’s not uncommon for people to try to meet someone online through one of the many well-known dating sites. But as more people have chosen to trust unknown others with their hearts, a criminal element has developed, seeking to scam people at a time when they are most vulnerable. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, romance scams cost victims about $120 million in the first six months of 2016.
In an effort to address this new crime trend, law enforcement representatives from the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Fraud and Cyber Crimes Bureau, Human Trafficking Bureau, and the FBI Cyber Task Force met in Artesia, California on Feb. 2 to present “Love Hurts: A Forum and Discussion on Online Dating Safety.” In doing so, they shared ways for the public to more safely engage online to avoid fraud and identity theft by “would be” predators.
It is known that predators are now using dating sites with fake profiles to snare their victims and gain access to their bank accounts. The topics covered in the forum included online dating safety and ways to prevent romance scams and sextortion (a term to describe the coercion or bullying of money or a broad range of actions from the victim). Here are some of their suggestions:
•When looking at personal profiles, compare photos against physical descriptions and look for inconsistencies in photos, such as wedding rings.
•Look for spelling and grammar inconsistencies, as it might reflect a person communicating from another country.
•Ask questions about where an individual lives to confirm if they know that city and its locales.
•Never send sexually explicit or compromising images that can be used as leverage in an extortion attempt.
•Be wary of online daters who become affectionate too soon or may use pet names such as “babe,” “sweetie,” “hon” and “love.”
•Use caution if the person shares grandiose stories of wealth and stature or says they have inherited money.
•Do not send money, gift cards or wire money transfers.
•If asked to switch to another online form of communication, be wary. This is a tactic commonly used by scammers.
•Note that many male scammers list their occupations as engineers and many female scammers list theirs as models.
•When meeting someone, always meet in a public place and don’t give out your home or work address.
By using common sense and paying attention to their instincts, people can often recognize when they are at risk. Anyone who believes they are communicating with a scammer who is trying to commit fraud should stop all communication and block access to their profile, email and phone number. The LA County Sheriffs’ Dept. advises if victim has already wired someone money to contact the wire service to stop the transfer, then notify local law enforcement.
To view the “Love Hurts Community Forum” held on Feb. 2, go to https://youtu.be/Nui4rcQfi4g.