Shopping and romance scams are two of the most common types of cybercrimes that people fall victim to. Shopping scams involve fraudsters leveraging the rise in popularity of online shopping to dupe victims out of money or information, and romance scams use fake relationships to persuade victims to hand over funds.
While these crimes are increasingly prevalent, knowing what to look out for can drastically reduce your risk of becoming the next victim. Below, we dive into more detail about how these scams unfold and reveal what you can do to protect yourself.
Shopping scams are schemes designed to trick people into giving away their money or personal information. They can take many different forms, including fake online stores, phishing emails, and fraudulent ads on social media. Some common warning signs of shopping scams include unrealistic discounts, pressure to buy quickly, unexpected charges on your credit card statement, and requests for personal information such as your Social Security number (SSN).
Phishing emails or texts are a particularly prominent form of shopping scam. These involve messages that seem to come from reputable companies you trust but are actually designed to steal your information. For example, they might appear to come from banks, payment companies such as PayPal, or online retail stores.
The messages usually ask for personal information, such as your login credentials (to verify your account), or banking information, for example, to pay some miscellaneous charges. In reality, that information falls in the hands of criminals who will sell it on or use it to access your accounts or steal your identity.
The best way to avoid shopping scams is to be aware of the common warning signs and to use caution when giving out your personal or financial information online. Some steps you can take include:
Look Out for Phishing Emails
Poor spelling and grammar, a misspelled sender domain, and a sense of urgency are tell-tale signs of a phishing email. Avoid clicking any links or attachments in an email unless you absolutely trust the source and are expecting the link/attachment. Note that hovering over a link in an email will show you the true URL it will take you to.
Scammers often use the same ruse over and over, so if in doubt, try running a Google search of the company name with the word “scam” to see if this is a known scheme.
Check with the Real Company
If you’re still unsure about the legitimacy of an email or phone call, contact the company in question through a phone number or email address found through an online search. Don’t respond to the original email or continue the phone call.
Only Shop on Reputable Websites
Try to avoid purchasing from companies you’ve never heard of and stick to reputable businesses you know and trust.
When in doubt, always err on the side of caution and remember that if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you believe you are being targeted in a shopping scam, make a report to the relevant authority, for example, FTC Report Fraud in the US.
Romance scams, also called catfishing schemes, sweetheart scams, dating schemes, or confidence scams, involve fraudsters reeling in their targets on the pretense of a romantic relationship. There’s been a large increase in the number of romance scams during the pandemic as scammers prey on isolated, lonely individuals with lots of time on their hands.
In the past five years, victims in the US have reported losses of over $1.3 billion to romance scams, with losses in 2021 more than doubling compared to 2019. That said, the true numbers are likely much higher. When victims suspect they are being duped online, it’s common for them to feel too embarrassed to share the situation with others.
A romance scam usually begins with the fraudster going to great lengths to create elaborate fake profiles on social media or dating apps. These profiles look very convincing but are created with the sole purpose of luring and engaging victims.
This typically starts as a casual conversation but escalates quickly and victims find themselves talking to their “love interest” multiple times a day. Fraudsters try to stir up romantic feelings and quickly build a connection. As the victim shares more about their life, the intimacy increases.
Once the scammer believes they have their target hooked, they’ll start making requests. Their ultimate goal is typically money or access to accounts, but in some cases, romance scammers even persuade their victims to engage in illegal activity such as drug smuggling or money laundering.
The best way to avoid romance scams is to be aware of the common warning signs and to use caution when giving out your personal information or financial information online. Some tell-tale signs of a romance scam are:
Quickly Ramping Up the Affection
While romance scams are often lengthy ordeals, fraudsters tend to move quickly at the beginning, bombarding their victim with affection in a tactic known as love bombing.
Making Excuses About Not Being Able to Talk on Video
Romance scammers usually pretend to be someone entirely different, so they will often avoid phone and video calls (and of course, in-person interactions) at all costs.
Try to Move Conversations to a Different Platform
Some dating apps have controls in place to detect scammers, so fraudsters will want to move the conversation off those platforms quickly.
Asking for Money
Once the inevitable ask comes, it’s certainly time to question the legitimacy of the relationship. Monetary requests usually center around financial assistance to pay for things like travel or medical expenses. These requests are often made with a sense of urgency, for example, needing to buy a ticket, get emergency medical assistance, or get out of legal trouble.
If you think you or a loved one is the subject of a romance scam, it’s important to report it to the relevant agency in your jurisdiction, for example, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in the US.
An identity theft protection company such as Identity Defense can help safeguard you against these and other types of fraud. Identity Defense monitors your information, issues alerts when suspicious activity occurs, and helps you recover stolen funds. It even provides identity theft insurance that covers up to $1 million in eligible losses.*
*Identity Theft Insurance is underwritten by insurance company subsidiaries or affiliates of American International Group, Inc. The description herein is a summary and intended for informational purposes only and does not include all terms, conditions, and exclusions of the policies described. Please refer to the actual policies for terms, conditions, and exclusions of coverage. Coverage may not be available in all jurisdictions.
Have you been a victim to a shopping or romance scam? Do you know someone who has suffered from this type of crime? What did you – or they – do? Did you report the case or did you remain silent?