The Department of Banking and Securities warns consumers about the dangers of online scams when a person on the Internet is not who they claim to be – so-called “catfishing” — and offers advice on how people can protect themselves from these financial frauds.
One online scam that can be particularly popular around Valentine’s Day is the “Romance Scam.” This all-too-common scheme preys on victims’ hopes of emotional connection and can result in them opening their wallets to someone they have never met in person. The department’s recently updated publication on scams [PDF] points to no shortage of online schemes,including foreign lottery emails, fake charity solicitations, and classified advertisement scams, all of which rely on a lack of face-to-face contact with the victim.
According to a report from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, 372 Pennsylvanians lost more than $6 million to confidence fraud/romance fraud in 2015. Every age and demographic is a potential target of this scam.
“While some people do develop legitimate social and business relationships online, it is important for consumers to recognize potential red flags that may indicate an online ‘connection’ has ulterior financial motives,” said Secretary of Banking and Securities Robin L. Wiessmann.
Consumers can employ a few tactics to protect themselves from potential scams, including:
- Avoid giving too many personal details about yourself to anyone on the Internet until you are confident that you have come to know that person well;
- Search for information about people you meet on the Internet using Google or other search engines and pay attention ifinformation about a person shows up with multiple names attached or if his or her photo appears on a stock photowebsite; and
- Never send money or provide financial information to someone you have not met.
“Using a few simple strategies can help protect your financial interests against online predators,” noted Wiessmann. “If you have been the victim of an online scam, including the ‘Romance Scam,’ you should cease contact with the scammer, contactyour financial institution or money transmitter immediately to attempt to stop any transactions, and notify law enforcement.”
Victims of the “Romance Scam” or other online scams can complain to the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General at 1-800-441-2555 or file a complaint online with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (here). Consumers can also ask questions about financial transactions or companies at the Department of Banking and Securities at 1-800-PA-BANKS and learn more abouthow to protect themselves from financial scams (here).