Romance scammers offer fake protection from sex offenders, FBI warns

Fraudsters have found a new way to trick their victims into paying for non-existent services. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has warned of a new “verification scheme” targeting online dating platform users.

Criminals are now offering “free” online verification service schemes to users on dating websites and apps. They try to trick victims into signing up for costly recurring payments.

“Unlike romance scams involving investment-confidence schemes, commonly referred to as pig-butchering, where victims are convinced to transfer large amounts of money over time, the so-called “free” verification schemes involve recurring and costly monthly subscription fees,” the FBI public service announcement reads.

This way, fraudsters also obtain personal information, such as emails, phone numbers, and credit card information, for further use in other criminal activities, such as selling the data on the dark web or identity theft.

How the scheme works

Like in usual romance scams, criminals meet their potential victims on dating websites or apps.

“Fraudsters express an interest in establishing a relationship and quickly move the conversation off the dating app or website to an encrypted platform,” the FBI explains.

Pretending to be worried about safety, the scammer sends a link to a fake dating website, advertising a “free verification” to protect from sex offenders, serial killers, or other predators.

The website displays fake articles alluding to the legitimacy of the website. The articles appear to be from trusted media and use scare tactics to coerce a victim to register.

“Once the victim submits the information, they are unwittingly redirected to a private, low-quality dating site charging costly monthly subscription fees. Eventually, the victim's monthly credit card statement displays a charge to an unknown business,” the FBI explains.

Love seekers should avoid moving the conversation from a reputable dating site and be wary of clicking on links, downloading files, or opening attachments from someone they only met online.

“Be cautious of someone you only met online professing their love quickly, expressing a need for help, and/or enticing you with provocative pictures and text topics. Fraudsters use social behavior to deceive you and separate you from your hard-earned money,” the FBI said.

The FBI requests that victims report fraudulent, suspicious, or online criminal activity to the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at Dating site users should report suspicious user profiles to the dating site administrator and cease all contact with questionable individuals.

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