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Broken hearts and stolen identities: The rise of romance scams

opinionBroken hearts and stolen identities: The rise of romance scams
The rise of online dating apps has made it easier for scammers to find potential victims. MUMBAI: Romance scam is a type of online fraud that preys on people’s emotions and their desire for companionship and love. These scams typically involve a perpetrator creating a fake online persona on dating websites, social media, or other online platforms to gain the trust of their victims and then deceive them into sending money or personal information. The rise of online dating apps has made it easier for scammers to find potential victims. The scammers will create a fake profile and use flattering messages and compliments to lure the victim into a false sense of security. Once the victim is emotionally invested, the scammer will start asking for money or personal information, claiming they need it for an emergency or to meet the victim in person. One of the reasons romance scams are so successful is because they rely on the victim’s emotions, who are more likely to let their guard down and ignore warning signs. They use a variety of techniques to compel the victim to form intense emotional feelings for them. STAGES Usually, the scammer takes the victim through a number of stages prior to asking for any money. a. At a very early stage the scammer declares their love for the victim and requests that their relationship move from the dating site to any instant messenger, phone and email, stating they want an exclusive relationship with the victim. b. Thereafter, the scamster grooms the victim, using online media, in particular, to develop a close, intimate relationship with the victim. c. Communication is frequent and intense, over periods of weeks, months or even years. d. Victims usually then self-disclose intimate secrets about themselves and develop a trusting relationship with the scamster. During the grooming stage they fall in love with the scamster. e. Towards the end of this stage the scamster: (1) either wants to give gifts and take it through the process and at the time of receiving, some amount is required to be paid as customs duty (which is not real); (2) either asks for gifts (e.g., perfume, mobile phone) as a testing the water strategy. Following receipt of such gifts the scammer will make requests for small amounts of money, which then accelerates to larger amounts of money. Sometimes this involves other characters being brought into the narrative. Like a “doctor” might contact the victim telling them their loved one is in hospital. Money might be requested to pay fictitious hospital bills, or for airplane tickets. f. The fraud ends only when the victim learns they have been scammed and ceases to give money or the scamster disappears from all the channels of communications (ghosting). CONSEQUENCES Romance scams can have devastating consequences for the victim. No doubt that romance scams do more harm than just money loss. There are also significant social and psychological aspects to it. Not only can they lose money, but they may also experience shame and embarrassment for falling for the scam. Victims may feel like they have lost the chance at finding love or may have difficulty trusting others in the future. In extreme cases, some victims may become suicidal. Be aware of the warning signs:
  1. The other person is too good to be true. They are extremely attractive, wealthy, or successful and seem too perfect.
  2. Their intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself to the victim, and gain trust. Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. Eventually, they will ask for money.
  3. They ask for money or personal information, especially early on in the relationship.
  4. They refuse to meet in person or make excuses for not being able to meet.
  5. If someone you meet online needs your bank account information to deposit money, they are most likely using your account to carry out other theft and fraud schemes.
  6. They are highly trained professionals who are experts in creating highly validating narratives. Such narratives are able to gently “groom” their target. OBLIGATION OF PLATFORMS IN ROMANCE SCAM Platforms such as dating apps/matrimonial apps have a responsibility to take a proactive approach to preventing romance scams on their platforms. By verifying the identity of their users, educating them about the risks of scams, responding quickly to reports of fraudulent activity, and fostering a culture of trust and transparency, dating apps can help to protect their users from the emotional and financial damage of romance scams. Platform can take measures such as: a. While dating apps cannot control the actions of individual users, they can implement policies and procedures to detect and remove fraudulent profiles and provide resources for users who have been targeted by scammers. b. To verify the identity of their users. This can involve requiring users to provide government-issued identification or conducting background checks to ensure that the user is who they claim to be. These apps can also use algorithms and machine learning to identify and flag suspicious activity, such as a user with multiple profiles or a profile with inconsistent or fraudulent information. c. To educate their users about the risks of romance scams and how to protect themselves. This can include providing information on the warning signs of a scam, such as requests for money or personal information, and encouraging users to report suspicious activity. These apps can also provide resources and support for users who have been targeted by scammers, such as access to counseling or legal assistance. d. To respond quickly and effectively to reports of romance scams on their platforms. This can involve removing fraudulent profiles, banning users who engage in fraudulent activity, and cooperating with law enforcement to identify and prosecute scammers. These apps can also provide support and resources to victims of scams, such as offering refunds or helping them to recover stolen funds. e. In addition to these obligations, these apps can also work to create a culture of trust and transparency on their platforms. This can involve being open and honest with users about the steps they are taking to prevent romance scams and how users can protect themselves. Whilst there will be understandable feelings of anger and frustration, what is of particular concern here is that the victim might feel significantly embarrassed about what happened. This situation can contribute to the victim delaying or aborting a search for help which, in addition to their initial situation, adds to their feeling of loneliness which could manifest as more serious problems and depression. But one should not forget that cheating and cheating by personation are punishable offenses under the Indian Penal Code and Information Technology Act 2000.
  1. File a complaint with the police: You can file a complaint with the local police station or cybercrime cell. Alternatively, you can upload a complaint on cybercrime.gov.in (option of being anonymous is also available). Cybercrime Helpline is 1930. Provide all the details of the scam, including the scammer’s profile and communication, bank account details, and other relevant information.
  2. Report to the bank: If you have transferred any money to the scammer’s account, you can contact your bank and report the fraud. They may be able to reverse the transaction or block the scammer’s account.
  3. File a complaint before the adjudicating officer as provided in the Rules under the Information Technology Act 2000. It’s essential to act quickly if you suspect that you are the victim of a romance scam. The longer you wait, the harder it may be to recover your money or track down the scammer. In conclusion, romance scams are a serious and growing problem, affecting people of all ages and backgrounds. The perpetrators who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring, trustworthy and believable. By understanding the warning signs and taking proactive steps to protect yourself, you can reduce your risk of falling victim to these scams. Remember that there is no shame in seeking help and support if you have been scammed, whatever has happened, it is not your fault.
Khushbu Jain is a practicing advocate in the Supreme Court and founding partner of the law firm, Ark Legal. She can be contacted on Twitter: @advocatekhushbu
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