Protect Your Brand Online

As we leave yet another Valentine’s Day behind us, many people have been talking about the newest docu-drama to hit Netflix, “The Tinder Swindler”. The story is one that seems familiar - a scam artist gains the trust of their victim and is able to convince them into sending money that the victim will likely never see again. However, many people are still unaware of these scams and end up becoming sucked in and left high and dry once they’ve paid their contact.

What sets these online romance scammers apart from other scams (think someone calling claiming they’re from a government agency and pressuring you into paying them), is they take a lot more effort and time into setting their victims up. Their profiles are often created from real enough information and pictures that have been found on social media or search engines, which make them all the more easier to go undetected.

These scams are very common and happen to more people than you would think. Here are some red flags to watch out for so you can stay protected:

● Claims of traveling or working outside of the country such as offshore oil rigs, deployed Military personnel, or medical staff working for an international organization.
● Claims of being an international student.
● Pictures or profiles that seem too good to be true. Professionally shot photos or photos that appear to be professionally done but are very grainy and low quality (indicating multiple copies and saves).

These scammers typically don’t ask for money straight away; they want to earn their victim’s trust so they’re more likely to comply with their requests for money. Often times they will ask for money in the form of:

● Paying for travel expenses due to an emergency.
● Covering medical costs.
● Paying fees to Customs to retrieve an important item.
● Paying off debts to avoid violent situations.

Since the idea of wire fraud scams aren’t new, these crooks know they have to be creative on how they receive the funds so they aren’t tracked and the funds are nearly impossible to recover. Be extremely cautious if you are ever asked to send money in any of the following ways:

● Wiring money, especially internationally.
● Using reloadable debit cards purchased at the store.
● Purchasing e-gift cards and providing the codes (i.e. Amazon, Google Play, iTunes, etc.).

It is always important to be cautious while using the Internet and social media in particular. It is safe to say that if you’ve never met the person requesting money, it is going to be a scam. If you or someone you know suspects they may be involved in a romance scam, here are some tips:

● Stop communication immediately.
● Take screenshots of messages and save them as a backup.
● Talk to a trustworthy friend or family member about the situation and listen to their advice, especially if they are concerned about the situation or have an uneasy feeling.
● Do a reverse image search of the scammer’s profile pictures to see if they turn up elsewhere attached to other profiles that don’t match up.

Sometimes it’s too late and the scammer has already received their money. There are still steps to be taken to protect your financial information and potentially recover the lost funds:

● Contact your financial institution immediately to report the scam and follow their advice to secure your account information.
● If the scammer has been paid in a gift card, contact the gift card company and explain the card was sent to a scammer to see if a refund is available.
● Report the incident to the FTC at Provide as much detail as possible.
● Contact your local law enforcement agency and provide them with the details as well, especially if you are concerned about your identity being stolen, too. No one wants to be the victim of a scam and many people think it could never happen to them, but there is always an exception. By following these guidelines, you can keep yourself and your friends and family safe from scammers.

(Source: Federal Trade Commission)