FBI warns about prevalence of online romance scams

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LELAND, NC (WWAY) — The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) says lots of people fall prey to online romance scams also known confidence fraud especially around Valentine’s Day.

Scammers often target people looking for romantic partners on dating websites, apps or social media by obtaining access to their financial or personal identifying information.

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Jen Adler is the director of the CARE Violence Prevention and Response Program at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.

“We are the office on UNCW’s campus that offers support and advocacy for people who have been impacted by interpersonal violence so that could be sexual assault, relationship abuse, stalking and harassment,” she said. “We also have a robust prevention program.”

One presentation Alder’s colleagues share with students is called “Love Me Tinder” and it specifically adresses safety concerns while using dating apps.

“We see an average of about 130 students each semester, most of those situations are things that have happened when they were younger or over summer vacation,” and she added, “We have a pretty safe campus.”

When students come into her office presenting a confidence fraud concern, Adler says her staff looks at each situation on a case-by-case basis.

“We know these are issues where power and control have been taken away from them and so everything that we do is to give them options and control over what they want to do next,” she said.

Some things the CARE Violence Prevention and Response Program advocates can help students with includes working with local law enforcement to make police reports, accompanying people to the courthouse if they want to take out charges with the magistrate, or assisting with filing for Protective Orders.

If a situation involves another student on campus, Adler’s office will work with the Title IX Office in order to address the issue on a conduct level at the university.

Adler recommends anyone using a social media app to know the signs for identifying a potential romance fraud.

“When they push very quickly to be talking through someone’s cell phone directly and not on the app, that can be a red flag,” she said.

Some of the other warning signs include when a person rushes the intensity of the relationship, if they seem too good to be true, if they talk about traveling all over the world or have unusual stories about their experiences.

Some additional red flags include when the other person refuses to meet the person, Skype or talk on the phone, if they ask for an address to send flowers or gifts or if they ask for money for any reason.

The FBI recommends the following tips for avoiding romance scams:

· Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
· Go slow and ask questions.
· Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to go “offline.”
· Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests.
· Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
· Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.

If you believe you are a victim of a romance scam, click here to file an Internet Crime Complaint Center with the FBI.