Watch FBI Special Agent Jeff Lanza focus on how criminals try to trick us, steal our identity, and commit cyber fraud. You will learn how to spot an online trick, a fake website, and a phony link.

Jeff Lanza virtual example identity theft and cybercrime - YouTube.

Jeff Lanza Identity Theft & Cybercrime handout

Romance Scam

Romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. Scammers using stolen pictures from the internet build fake personas on social media sites or dating platforms. Scam artists often say they are in the building or construction industry and are engaged in projects outside the U.S. Using the illusion of a romantic or close relationship, they quickly endear themselves to the victim to gain trust and coerce them into sending money. Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. The FTC noted that the COVID-19 pandemic provided an additional opportunity for romance scammers to put off meeting in person. 

Victims reported most often sending money to romance scammers by wire transfer or gift cards, with reports of gift cards rising almost 70% since 2019. The amount of money consumers reported losing to romance scammers has increased by 50% since 2019 and has risen more than fourfold since 2016. Last year, consumers reported losing a record $304 million to romance scams, with a median loss of $2,500 reported to the FTC, more than ten times higher than the median loss for all other types of fraud. People aged 40 to 69 were the most likely to report losing money to romance scams, and people 70 and older reported the highest individual median losses at $9,475.

Tips for Avoiding Romance Scams:

  • Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to understand and target you.
  • Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
  • Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
  • Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
  • Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could be used to extort you.
  • Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why they can’t. If you haven’t met in person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
  • Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.

  • Learn which types of hazards are most likely to affect your area. The American Red CrossFEMA, and the S. Geological Survey's Natural Hazardsite provide frequency and risk data about natural disasters—such as flash floods, earthquakes, and tornados—across the U.S.
  • Create a Personalized Emergency Plan
    • Your plan should determine an escape route out of your home and two safe places where all family members can agree to meet if you're separated. Choose one meeting place that's nearby and another meeting place that's outside your neighborhood
    • Teach children to use the emergency call feature on a cell phone to call 911
    • Keep a printed copy of your plan in a prominent place in your home, and reviewing it with the entire family at least once a year
  • Making a list of emergency contacts:
    • Local police and fire departments
    • Nearest emergency room
    • Gas, water, and other utilities
    • Family doctor and hospital
    • School, daycare, and workplaces
    • Neighbors or family members
    • Established veterinarian
  • Take steps to protect sensitive information
  • Be cyber savvy