The Emoji Prince thinks he’s found true love online, but he soon becomes the victim of a romance scam. BITS fraud expert Roxane Schneider explains how you can avoid romance scams over the Valentines Day holiday.
Do people really fall for Romance Scams and what are they?
The most common romance scams included malicious actors (scammers) who create fake profiles on dating websites and establish relationships with other site members. Once a sense of trust is established, the scammer fabricates an emergency and asks the victim for financial assistance. The scammer generally claims they will repay the victim as soon as the crisis is over, however, if the victim sends money, the scammer will prolong the scam, sometimes stealing thousands of dollars from the victim. In the effort to prevent others from falling victim, FSR’s Director of Fraud Risk, Roxane Schneider, narrates the story of the Emoji prince and his unfortunate experience.
Consumer’s transactions with a scammer often begin well in advance of visiting their banking branch location. A consumer may unknowingly correspond via email with a fraudster or speak to a scammer in-person or via telephone.
The financial services industry can get ahead of the transaction by providing customers with awareness of common scams. Bank of Hawaii takes an aggressive approach to providing fraud awareness education to customers and community members. The institution has published a series of brochures and presentations that were performed under the bank’s Smart Money series. In the last few years, the bank has successfully delivered more than 50 in-person presentations to community based groups (such as but not limited to: senior care homes; community centers; church groups; schools; business professional groups; etc.).
What age and demographic is impacted by Romance Scams?
Every year, thousands of Americans lose billions of dollars by falling victim to romance scams. Nearly every demographic is at risk, but the people who are the most susceptible are older Americans and women over age 40 who are divorced, widowed or disabled.
Bank of Hawaii’s Brian Ishikawa tells the story of a 48-year-old female customer who visited a branch and reported that four wire transfers totaling $178,053.75 that she had initiated involved a fraud scheme and she was the victim.
Here’s a breakdown of this particular scheme:
The first wire transfer was sent for $33,650 to the United Kingdom, the second wire transfer sent a month later for $15,000 to Florida, the third transfer a month later to the United Kingdom for $38,508.75 and the fourth wire transfer was sent days later for $90,895 to the United Kingdom. The Bank of Hawaii customer was indeed a victim of a dating scheme, first meeting her “lover” in-person, but sadly, followed a series of enticing investments with promised rewards and no return.
Most romance scams start online. These scams often target the elderly, who are some of the most wealthy and vulnerable customers. Given the prevalence of Alzheimer’s disease among the elderly, this creates a potentially large pool of victims for financial exploitation cases. Cases have been expected to grow from 5 million cases to over 13 million cases between 2010 and 2050 for those over the age of 80.
Bank of Hawaii reported an elder case of a 68-year-old male customer once requesting branch personnel to send a $26,000 wire transfer to enable his “fiancé” to fly from the Philippines to his residence in the US. Upon further questioning, the client decided against sending the wire transfer, but after a thorough review of the client’s two accounts, it was discovered that a series of eight outgoing wire transfers totaling $46,900 were sent by the elder customer to the same beneficiary in the Philippines. An investigation revealed the non-existence of a proposed “fiancé.” Bank of Hawaii senior management pride themselves of their focus on education, ensuring that branch personnel are properly trained to question customers who request large dollar wire transfers.
What are some useful consumer tips for prevention?
• Use discretion when posting personal information on social media. Scammers will often use your personal information against you.
• Before posting any information, ask yourself: What does this information say about me? How can this information be used against me? Can this information be combined with other public information about me to be used against me?
• Remind friends and family to use caution when using social media. Request that they do not post personal or revealing information about you.
• Verify the identity of anyone who contacts you through different means.
• Do not send money to people you have not personally met or trust.
• Refer all individuals who claim to be in distress overseas to the local US embassy or consulate. Assisting US citizens overseas is the US Department of State’s top priority.
What are specific tips for recognizing an online dating scammer?
• Compels you to leave the dating website you met through and to communicate using personal email or instant messaging.
• Professes instant feelings of love despite never meeting you in person.
• Sends you a photograph of himself or herself that looks like something from a glamour magazine.
• Claims to be from the US, traveling or working overseas but has a thick accent and/or uses poor grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker.
• Makes plans to visit you but is then unable to do so because of a tragic event, or
• Asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergency, hotel bills, visa travel issues, etc.).
For additional information on the romance scam, contact Roxane Schneider, Director of Fraud Risk.