The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has warned of a rising trend in which scammers are defrauding victims via online romance.
In a public service announcement, the United States agency said criminals are persuading individuals to send money to invest or trade cryptocurrency.
In the first half of the year, FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received over 1,800 complaints, related to internet romance scams, resulting in more than $133million losses.
Investigations showed that the fraudsters mostly establish contacts with their victims through dating apps and other social media platforms.
They establish a relationship and claim to have knowledge of cryptocurrency investment or trading opportunities that will result in substantial profits.
The swindlers then direct the victim to a fraudulent website or application for an investment opportunity.
Once the person invests an initial amount and sees “profit”, the scammers allow the victim to withdraw a small amount of money so as to further gain trust.
In the next stage, the victim is encouraged to quickly invest larger amounts of money and when he/she is ready to withdraw funds again, the scammers create reasons why this cannot happen.
The individual is informed that additional taxes or fees must be paid, or the minimum account balance has not been met to allow a withdrawal, hence the need for more funds.
The FBI explained that in some cases, a fake ‘customer service group’, also part of the fraud, gets involved to make the process seem real.
“Victims are not able to withdraw any money, and the scammers most often stop communicating with the victim after they cease to send additional funds”, the agency noted.
In safety tips, the FBI warned individuals to never send money, trade, or invest based on the advice of someone met online.
“Do not disclose your current financial status to unknown and untrusted individuals.
“Do not provide your banking information, Social Security Number, copies of your identification or passport, or any other sensitive information to anyone online or to a site you do not know is legitimate.
“If an online investment or trading site is promoting unbelievable profits, it is most likely that—unbelievable.
“Be cautious of individuals who claim to have exclusive investment opportunities and urge you to act fast”, the advisory added.