Kokua Line: ‘Sweetheart swindle’ reported among fastest-growing U.S. scams
Question: You write about scams where people threaten you but can you also write about ones where they try to be your friend, or even your boyfriend, and then take your money?
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Question: You write about scams where people threaten you but can you also write about ones where they try to be your friend, or even your boyfriend, and then take your money? That’s what happened to me. It’s embarrassing, but I want to warn people. There are a lot of lonely people and the internet makes us easy targets.
Answer: I hope you’ll feel a little bit better knowing that you are not alone. Romance and friendship scams, also known as “sweetheart swindles,” were among the most-reported scams of 2018, up sharply from the year before, according to the National Consumers League, a private, nonprofit group that advocates on behalf of consumers.
This type of fraud typically occurs online, with a con artist nurturing a relationship via social media or email, building trust and then convincing the victim to send money. Complaints to NCL about such scams rose more than 45 percent in 2018, the biggest jump of any scam in the Top 10, according to a report it released earlier this month.
NCL compiles an annual report based on thousands of complaints submitted to its Fraud.org website. You can link to the 2018 report from the website or read it directly at 808ne.ws/top10scams.
In 2017, friendship and romance scams accounted for 1.54 percent of all NCL complaints about scams online or offline. In 2018, the percentage rose to 2.81 percent. The average loss reported by victims of such scams last year was $18,831, “by far the most financially devastating of the scams reported to NCL,” according to a news release accompanying the report.
“Scammers will stop at nothing to separate victims from their money,” John Breyault, NCL’s vice president of public policy, telecommunications and fraud, said in the news release “They depend on the people they prey on to act on emotions, not reason. There’s no stronger emotion than love, and scammers are all too eager to use supposedly romantic connections to defraud their victims.”
The sweetheart swindle ranked No. 7 overall and No. 6 among Internet scams, based on complaints to NCL. Here is the NCL’s Top 10 list overall of most-reported scams in 2018, in descending order:
>> Internet sales (not auctions): Purchased merchandise is either never delivered or misrepresented.
>> Fake prizes/gifts/sweepstakes: Payments made to claim fictitious prizes, lottery winnings or “free” gifts.
>> Fake checks: Consumers are paid with phony checks for work or for items they’re trying to sell, then instructed to wire money back to buyer.
>> Fake debts or refunds: Scammers claim victims owe money on a fictitious debt or offer to recover money lost in a previous scam.
>> Fake loans or credit: Thieves falsely promise business or personal loans, even if the consumer’s credit is poor, for an upfront fee.
>> Phishing/spoofing/ impersonation: Emails pretending to be from a well-known source ask consumers to enter or confirm personal information. (Complaints in this category rose for the third year in a row, a trend NCL attributes to thieves being able to identify and target their victims with email and robocalls.)
>> Sweetheart and friendship swindles
>> Computer equipment and software scams: Thieves claim to offer “technical support” and charge fees to fix a nonexistent computer problem.
>> Scholarships/grants: For a fee, a “search company” offers a customized search for scholarships or grants for students. Thieves take the money and run or provide a worthless list.
>> Family and Friend Imposters: A scammer calls or emails, claiming that a friend or family member is in jail, the hospital or is otherwise in distress, and urgently needs money.
Write to Kokua Line at Honolulu Star-Advertiser, 7 Waterfront Plaza, Suite 210, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., Honolulu 96813; call 529-4773; fax 529-4750; or email email@example.com.