You hear about online dating scams happening on websites like Match, Zoosk, eHarmony, and Christian Mingle, but one place easily forgotten that is a common breeding ground for fraud is Facebook. With 2.375 billion users and counting, Facebook is the most popular site for social connection and meeting new people. Many use it for connecting with family or networking for work, but the most of Facebook users are open-minded to romance and flirting and reaching out to users all over the world.
Thanks to this, Facebook is an easy place for scammers to try and target others to get their money. Facebook romance scams aren’t talked about enough, and today that needs to change. Learning about what they are, how to protect yourself, ways to prevent it, and what to do if you’re a victim will keep you and others safe online when using Facebook.
What a Facebook Romance Scam is
Though Facebook is not a dating website, it’s a common place to find love. In a romance scam, someone on the Internet uses fake, stolen pictures to impersonate a profile. They target singles and strike up an online relationship with them for the purpose of manipulating their emotions and getting money through any means necessary.
On Facebook, these scammers are harder to detect and harder to take care of, since the site itself is so large and profiles are all unique and varied. Romance scams are a major problem in the USA, and with $230 million being scammed yearly online, you need to be up to the challenge of protecting yourself.
How Facebook Romance Scams Happen
Unlike many dating services, Facebook is entirely free to use and used by pretty much everyone with internet access. Since it’s so accessible and inexpensive, many people prefer to use the networking aspects of the site as opposed to subscription dating platforms. Scammers on Facebook tend to have an easier time finding their targets, as well, because you wouldn’t suspect them.
Common Scammer Lies
As alarming as it is, there are several ways that a scammer can lie and deceive you and get right to your heart (and wallet!). There is no how-to guide, at least not one that I know of, for a fraud profile to follow, but there is definitely a pattern that has been spotted by authority figures on the subject.
Many of the reoccuring lies and stories you’ll hear from scammers and see their Facebook accounts based around include:
- The Military Scam: Using stolen pictures from men in the military to excuse the absence of face-to-face contact and give a reliable backstory. They’ll also request funds for things like supplies or communication methods.
- Moments of Distress: They will explain their dangerous situations that require quick money transfers for rescue, and “only you” can help them.
- Marriage License: So, you’ve fallen in love, and marriage is on the table – but for whatever reason, you’re expected to pay for it. This is really not a reliable deal.
- Stranded or Lost: Sometimes, a scammer will try and fool you into believing they’re really native to America, and claim to have been scammed in some way, and are now stuck in a foreign country. They’ll want your money to return and “finally meet you”.
- The Bare Minimum: Profiles with no family or active friends are likely fake. Sure, not everyone uses Facebook, but you can tell a genuine user from a fraud if you look at their tagged posts. Everyone legit is tagged in at least one unflattering family reunion picture.
- The Facebook Ghost: Since Facebook can technically keep records of all your conversations (another alarming tale for another time…), a scammer will probably try to get different means for communication fast, with various excuses.
- The Group Prowler: Facebook is known for the network of groups and potential friends to be made… but FB communities and groups are a great way for scammers to find their target. Specific FB groups for divorced or widowed women and men are ideal for a cruel scammer to weasel in.
These are only a small fraction of the different schemes and lies that a scammer may tell you. The profiles used are minimal effort and hoping to get by as passing for a fairly inactive Facebook user, but sometimes scammers get a little more in depth with their plot. Experience fraudsters will have enough on their profile to fool even the most careful user, so don’t only be on the lookout for the mentioned manipulation tactics.
How They Get Your Money
When put so plainly, it may be hard to understand how anyone falls for a romance scam, but it’s far more common than you’d think. In fact, only a small portion of scams even go reported, so the numbers we can find today are way lower than reality. Sure, it’s easy to think it’s impossible… until it happens to you.
These romance scammers are master manipulators. They’ve done this before, and they’ll do it again. Targets chosen for these scams are profiled before the first “hello”, and it’s downhill from there. The human race are naturally kind people, for the most part, and it’s in our emotional wiring to help others and be loved.
When you’re in love, or feel cared for, it’s easy to be generous… especially if you’re in a vulnerable place. As awful as it sounds, most victims of these scams are getting out of a divorce or had a spouse die, making them lonely and easily fooled. Scammers use this to their advantage and convince you that the feelings are real, and if you just help them with finances, you can be together.
Happily ever after, right? Wrong!
6 Ways To Use Facebook Safely
No one says you should give up social media, or even online dating, entirely. In fact, I really encourage online dating and networking, since you can meet so many more unique and genuine people than you would otherwise. However, it’s important to be aware of who you are talking to, and how you are behaving.
A few great tips for protecting yourself while using Facebook include these 6 items. This is really just the bare minimum you should be doing on Facebook, or any social media site, to keep scammers out of your life.
1. Keep your personal information private
Many people don’t understand the exact mechanics of the Facebook privacy settings, and since Facebook likes to update the format and exact options frequently, it’s easy to be confused.
In the privacy settings, you should review what your account is set on as a default. The safest way to set your account is to friends only, so your private pictures and posts won’t be seen by others who have you added. Also, you may want to consider not allowing search engines to link your profile unless you have a business need for exposure online.
You also want to make sure your email, phone number, and other forms of private contact are kept hidden. Many people don’t have the right privacy settings enabled, so they are discovered quite easily by scammers.
2. Don’t accept friend requests without mutuals
On Facebook, a mutual friend is someone that has a person on your approved friends list also added. You can see how many mutual friends you share with an account hoping to add you before accepting. While Facebook is a fun way to meet potential new strangers online, it’s always best to have at least one existing connection first to ensure they are a genuine person.
One way to avoid getting friend requests from random people is by enabling “friends of friends” only in the privacy settings, as seen above. This way, you can ensure that those reaching out to you are only connected by people you know in real life.
3. If you’re in groups, be careful of what you say
Facebook community groups are a large part of the websites appeal. From township forums, garage sale pages, parenting and hobbies clubs, to even groups associated to your zodiac sign, you can find a group for anything. People from all over the world join groups to promote movements, politics, and ideas. These communities are excellent, but it’s also a breeding ground for scammers.
When in a group setting, especially a large one that is open to more than just your area, just be mindful of what you post and comment. Keep personal details on the private side, and talk with others in the comments instead of direct messages until you build trust together. Groups aren’t dangers on their own, but it can get a little sketchy when you take communication off the page and into a personal message.
4. Conduct reverse image searches
Since a fake profile will never use real pictures of themselves, the best way to discover if the person on the other end is a catfish or a true account is to just do some research. Take their pictures and use the search engines and free programs to trace the origin of the image, as well as other places it has been posted. Usually, you shouldn’t get more than one or two results.
People sometimes upload pictures to more than one place, for example, cross-posting on Instagram and Facebook, or maybe a photography website for professional images on a gallery display. However, a scam profile will reuse pictures and you’ll notice multiple accounts with the same face.
5. Never send money to anyone online
If someone asks you for money… you should just say no. Your help can be given in other ways. Maybe point them to a crowd funding group, or suggest government and outreach programs designed to help those with financial grief. Most of the time, a scammer will jump from casually talking to being very serious romantically in a short amount of time, and with that leap comes the pressure to wire funds over.
You need to remember that these scammers aren’t just random strangers who ask for money, but instead a person who has put time and effort into manipulating your emotions and claiming your heart. It may seem easy to say yes and agree (what’s a few bucks in the name of true love?), but be wary of those red flags.
6. Background check your lover
Made a new friend? Great! Do you feel a lot of chemistry with them? Even better! Run a background check first. This will help but any suspicions or fears to doubt when it comes to verifying their legitimacy online. If a reverse image search comes up empty, you can utilize many different background check programs.
You can even get this done for free! Do your research on conducting background checks and run the name of the profile through the database. You don’t need to be in depth about it, but confirming they are a real person is key. Many arrest records are left public, too, so you can even check the safety of your potential date as well.
Are You At Risk On Facebook?
Now that you know everything about Facebook romance scams, you should conduct a little bit of a self-investigation to see how likely you are to be targeted for a scam. Scammers tend to go for repeat victims, those who fall into the same category and have easy ways to manipulation them. This doesn’t mean that you’re not still at risk if you don’t fit the following aspects, but it isn’t as likely.
You may be at risk for being targeted in a Facebook romance scam if you:
- Are 30-45 years old
- Actively use Facebook, and hope to start a relationship
- Are divorced or widowed, or otherwise single and unhappy
- Have no children and/or live alone
- Gets some sort of large income, either from a job or a death or injury settlement
- Have an open, public profile and accept friend requests easily
- Participate in romance and dating Facebook groups open to those outside of the USA
- Post or share things relating to your loneliness or lack of relationship frequently for others to see
Not everything on this list of risks can be changed, such as your age or relationship status. However, you can adjust a few online behavioral aspects when it comes to your Facebook usage and help minimize your chance for being seen as a prime target for a hurtful scam.
Hopefully you haven’t been totally discouraged yet from allowing Facebook to connect you with someone great. Plenty of great friendships and romances have started on the platform, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stay safe while enjoying your time spent socializing!
Stay proactive and current with your privacy settings, and take things slow when beginning an online relationship. Even if someone is who they say they are, there is no reason to rush blindly into something too fast, especially if you’re required to put your money into it with your heart.
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