(WPTA21) — It is a scam that can take months to develop and the emotional harm can be even more painful than the monetary loss.
The Better Business Bureau is warning people about the dangers of romance scams. In recent years, the spread of online dating sites and apps have made this scam even easier to commit.
In the last three years alone, victims in the United States and Canada have reported losing nearly $1 billion. There may be more than a million victims in the United States alone. However, because most people do not file complaints about romance scams with the better business bureau or law enforcement, the BBB says this may just be the tip of the iceberg.
The Better Business Bureau recently released a study looking at how these scams work, who the scammers are and what is being done to combat them. In the study, experts identified several distinct stages of the scam.
Stage 1: Contacting the victims
The Better Business Bureau reports romance scammers use dating websites, apps, Facebook and other social media to find their victims. Many of these scammers use stolen credit cards to join the sites and make fake Facebook pages for their aliases.
Once the scammer gets in contact with a potential victim. The BBB says they work to move them to a different form of communication such as text or email. The scammers do this in case the dating site identifies them as a scammer and shuts them down.
Stage 2: Grooming
During this phase, the scammer learns about the victim’s life and builds trust. The BBB says this stage can go on for months and include daily texts or messages.
The scammer may also send small gifts or flowers. The scammer may also request small favors, testing how open a victim may be to helping when an “emergency” pops up.
The BBB says the grooming process focuses on isolating victims from their friends and family. The scammer tries to convince victims that their friends and family have questionable motives to criticize the scammer.
Stage 3: The sting
The scam comes into high gear when the scammer asks for money. This is usually explained as an emergency, business problem or a plane ticket to finally meet. The BBB says if the victim sends money, the scammer finds ways to keep asking for more.
The scams can also be dangerous. The BBB says victims have unknowingly been pulled in to money laundering or drug trafficking and, in a few cases, even convinced to fly overseas to meet their love interest only to be kidnapped and held for ransom.
Stage 4: The fraud continues
Even if the scam’s target realizes they fell victim, the fraud may still go on. The BBB says the scammer may use a new scam pretending to help them get their money back.
In this new scam, a person claiming to be a law enforcement official may reach out to say the scammer was caught. The scammer says the victim can get their money if they spend several thousand dollars in fees.
In other cases, the Better Business Bureau reports the scammer reaches out and admits the relationship started as a scam but they actually fell in love. This continues the cycle of the scam.
For more information about where the scams originate, how scammers trick their victims and how to get their money back, read the Better Business Bureau’s report below. For more tips on how to protect yourself from romance scams, click here.