ST. LOUIS– Dating apps are always busy around Valentine’s Day and their popularity has been growing during COVID-19. A new study by SocialCatfish.com expects there will be a rise in online romance scams this Valentine’s Day as well.
The study, Catfishing: A Growing Epidemic During COVID-19 states scammers are preying on lonely and isolated people during the pandemic.
5 tactics scammers are using this Valentine’s Day:
- Cannot Meet Because of COVID: The hallmark of a catfish scammer is to come up with excuses of why they cannot meet, such as pretending to be in the military overseas. The pandemic gives them a built-in excuse not to meet.
- They Need Money for a COVID Related Emergency: Once they form an emotional connection with lonely victims, they ask for money. During COVID-19, scammers have begun saying they are sick and need help with treatment, or are low on food, water, and other supplies.
- Will Not Video Chat: Scammers are telling victims they can’t video chat due to limited wi-fi access during the pandemic. This is a red flag.
- Poor Grammar: If the person claims to be American, but has terrible grammar, they may be a scammer.
- Confesses Love Quickly: If you are stuck in your house with limited contact with your loved ones, then someone else’s sweet words can win you over. Scammers no the sooner they win your trust the sooner they can drain your bank account. Beware of someone who is moving too fast.
David McClellan is the president of SocialCatfish.com which is an online dating investigation service that helps people verify the information to confirm if the person that you’ve met online is real.
McClellan says since people are staying home more internet activity is increasing at times when people would usually be going out to lunch or catching dinner with friends after work.
He says scammers are preying on people who are typically lonely. They are more susceptible to scams and with COVID he says they are seeing this more and more. However, he says after doing this for more than 6 years, he’s met people of all walks of life that have been scammed.
“That basic human need to want someone else to want us is something everyone wants. So these scammers leverage that to dupe us and steal money from us,” says McClellan.
David Bickel, a Marine from Southeast Missouri, is now working with SocialCatfish.com to help raise awareness after his likeness was stolen to help scam woman.
“Over the past two years, pictures, images have been used from my Instagram page and a lot of fake accounts will create Tinder, Facebook, and Instagram accounts, turn into Fitbits, Linked-ins that are completely not me,” explained Bickel.
He says because he’s in the military, the scammers will say they are deployed and won’t return until later.
Bickel says he’s received thousands of messages on his social media accounts from women thinking they were dating and engaged. He says his wife has also received nearly 300 messages.
5 Ways to Avoid Becoming a Victim:
- Never Give Money: Do not give anyone you meet online money, no matter the reason.
- Meet or Video Chat: Do not form a relationship with someone who will not video chat with you or meet you in person. Bickel says even the military will allow you to do video chats.
- Do not Give Personal Information: Scammers can use basic information to commit identity fraud, get access to your banks and steal your money.
- Conduct Thorough Background Checks: Do not take someone’s word for it. Use reverse look-up sites to verify information, images, email addresses, phone numbers, and online profiles.
- Take Things Slow: If you like someone online, do not let them rush you. Nigerian romance scammers will be pushy about falling in love right away. If that is the case, know something is not right.