When it comes to falling for online romance scams, those seeking suckers found slim pickings in our state.
Arkansas actually fared very well in a recent study by the website Social Catfish using population-adjusted data from 2022 reports from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and the Federal Trade Commission.
The most gullible Americans lost a record $547 million to romance scams in 2021, up 80 percent from 2020.
Our state’s 153 disappointed love-seekers reported overall losses of $1.2 million, averaging $40,526 for every 100,000 residents. That made us the state with the second-least amount of money lost per capita to cyber thieves. Only Maine ranked better.
Criminals, often from foreign countries, reportedly became increasingly ubiquitous on dating and social media apps during the covid lockdown, and aggressively preyed on lonely singles.
“Even though dating life is back to normal, more people are using dating apps than ever before and, consequently, romance scams are increasing in numbers and complexity,” the site reported.
North Dakota, of all places, led with $1.56 million in losses per 100,000 residents, followed by Nevada with $486,000, Alaska with $482,000, California $465,000, Colorado $424,000, Washington $415,000, Rhode Island $412,000, Maryland $335,000, Florida $327,000, and New Jersey $324,000.
Compared to those largely blue states, Arkansas’ online seekers of affection appear considerably wiser when it comes to such matters.
As for avoiding related scams in 2022, the site offered the following advice:
Stay alert for “Money Mules,” where the scammers don’t ask for money directly. Instead, they claim their bank is having issues and they need the victim’s assistance; they will ask for the victim’s bank account information, send them money, then ask if they will wire it to the thief’s troubled family members out of the country.
Once a victim agrees to help, they have unknowingly participated in money-laundering activity. The bottom line is never provide your bank information or agree to send or accept wire transfers.
The next way to stay safe is by avoiding “CryptoRom” scams. Cryptocurrency-related romance scams accounted for 2021’s largest losses of $139 million, up more than 25 times over those reported in 2019. In this ripoff, scammers gain the victim’s trust and, instead of asking for money, they convince their target to invest in a bogus crypto currency app.
Social Catfish says never accept or invest money with anyone you meet online. Those who want to invest in cryptocurrency can use well-known apps like Crypto.com, Coinbase and PayPal.
Teens in particular should be wary on sites like TikTok and Instagram and never send money or gift cards (a favorite of scammers) to someone who reaches out to them online.
Then there’s the “Social Media Influencer Scam.” The FTC called social media a “gold mine” for the crooks, since more than a third of romance scams in 2021 originated on Facebook or Instagram. Scammers create fake profiles, sometimes stealing the likeness of attractive and successful “influencers,” then engage in various romance scams.
Those who suspect something like this can do a reverse image search to confirm if the person in the photos goes by the same name as the one who initially friend-requested them on social media.
The site advises avoiding anyone who doesn’t want to video chat and whose voice doesn’t seem to match their profile, which is easily faked. Check also to see if the person has a limited number of followers, which is often a tipoff to fraud.
Victims of love-bandit ripoffs can report them to the FBI and the FTC, the website says.
How sad that our society, already ailing from runaway inflation, baby formula shortages, sharply rising food prices, record and ever-increasing
fuel prices, supply-chain failures, urban crime waves, mass shootings, an inexplicably wide-open border, covid-19, ultra-expensive and foreign affairs giveaways and blunders, is also beset by low-functioning criminals preying on our citizens’ need for love and companionship.
Speaking of our national condition, there’s no question we are a diverse nation filled with people of different cultures, skin colors and beliefs. Isn’t that melting pot what we have long represented to the world? A country with a tradition of encouraging freedom of expression and speech, thanks to our Constitution.
But now, rather than agreeing to disagree, we have an sizable element that rants, slanders and even acts against those who fail to march in lockstep with their opinions. Diversity of thought, which promotes learning and a vibrant exchange of ideas, is a threat to their perceived superiority.
This disgrace is most apparent on social media where users can freely hurl insults and slanders in the comfort of their bathrobes. Sad deal.
Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist, was editor of three Arkansas dailies and headed the master’s journalism program at Ohio State University. Email him at [email protected]