COLORADO SPRINGS — Since 2016 the number of dating app and online romance scam reports have tripled nationwide. Fraud experts say we should be talking about how these heartbreaking crooks managed to steal a record-breaking $304 million in 2020.
Last year as a state, Colorado ranked 13th in the nation for romance scam cases. The fraudsters found success by hiding behind online profiles as they lied to and manipulated victims in at least 439 cases taking more than $11 million in the process.
"It's not just like, hey I'm john nice to meet you. Give me $5,000. They groom these people over months and months or even years. Seriously, and they get money out of them," Founder of SocialCatfish.com David McClellan told News5.
He says if you're involved in online dating understanding the platform you're using is important.
"A lot of them have scam sections. You just Google them. You can be like Tinder scam section, match.com, all these sites where they educate people on the types of scams they see on their sites," said McClellan.
With the number of romance scams tripling since 2016, online dating and networking platforms are now trying to do more to verify people really are who they say they are.
"Unfortunately where there's money to be made by scammers they're going to do whatever it takes to bypass those systems," said McClellan.
On campus at University of Colorado Colorado Springs students say they know all about "catfishing".
"From what I know about catfishing it's when someone portrays themselves as something on social media that they aren't in real life," said Joey, a female student attending UCCS.
"I think as time goes on it gets harder and harder to tell what is a catfish and what isn't," said Nathan, also attending classes at UCCS.
Students say these online imposters can do some serious damage to young people too.
"I think it's really important to spread awareness about these kind of things because catfishing is a lie and a lot of people do fall for it and it does have safety risks involved," said Joey.
They're now expecting more from online dating platforms when it comes to verifying people are who they say they are.
"Absolutely. I think it is entirely the website and the dating apps responsibility," Nathan said. "I know like on Tinder and Bumble they have this verified sign. You have to take a picture of yourself and then it gets verified with your picture saying this is actually that person."
While fraud experts are encouraged to see online dating platforms doing more to stop these crimes, it's important to know how to avoid these scams in the first place.
Here are some expert tips:
- Don't overlook the warning signs because of the excitement of making the connection.
- Don't ever let them take you onto another platform to continue the conversation
"They'll talk to you and then they'll move you to off platform to Google hangouts, or whatsapp or other chat platforms. That way if their dating account gets flagged and deleted they still have you on the hook," said McClellan.
- Consider delays to meet-up in person as a red flag
- Never click strange links
- Remember to maintain strong passwords
- Never give up money or sensitive information
"If you're not aware then I think it's very important to be aware that stuff like this is happening," said Nathan.
If you need more information on how to identify a romance scam, or would like to find resources to help you research a current situation you're involved in you can visit: https://socialcatfish.com/blog/romance-scams-have-increased-in-2021-due-to-the-coronavirus-pandemic/
You can also report scams in Colorado to the Colorado Attorney General's Office by visiting: https://stopfraudcolorado.gov/