The romance scam (or love scam) phenomenon is becoming increasingly widespread in Switzerland. Nasty fraudsters are tricking unsuspecting social network or dating site users out of huge sums of money. We’ll explain exactly what a romance scam is and how you can protect yourself.
These days it is easy to meet your supposed soulmate on the Internet or through social networks. Countless dating sites and apps promise you can find “the one” and enjoy true happiness.
But love is blind, and Cupid's arrow is sometimes painful. Increasing numbers of fraudsters are using dating platforms and social networks to trick unwitting users and scam them out of large sums of money. The number of fraud cases in Switzerland this year has already doubled compared to last year.
How does the scam work?
Scammers steal photos to create a fictitious profile which they use to contact their unsuspecting victims. The fraudsters use the phoney identity and clever messages to make victims believe the false picture they create and bombard them with increasingly frequent and intense messages. The victim develops strong feelings and becomes emotionally dependent. They discuss the future and marriage and make plans to meet up in real life.
The phoney Romeo (or Juliet) is plunged into a sudden state of distress by an imaginary stroke of fate, an accident or illness, and he or she asks the victim for financial support. Blinded by love, the victim transfers the requested amount to an overseas account. The demands for money now start to increase as the fraudster uses sophisticated tricks to pressurise the victim into transferring money or threatens to publish private photographs.
Follow these tips to reduce your vulnerability to romance scams
Do not accept friend requests from people you do not know on social networks.
Check the profile picture of the person you're chatting to with a Google image search to make sure it does not appear elsewhere on the Internet. If it does, the image may have been stolen.
Be suspicious if the person you have met online starts talking about being in love and your future together before you have even met in person.
Put an immediate end to contact if you are asked for money or asked to receive packages or send goods.
Never share intimate or personal photos of yourself on the Internet.
Do not share personal information, e.g. copies of ID cards, addresses or login details (including Swisscom data), with third parties.
If you have already fallen victim to this type of scam, do not send any more money and report what has happened to the police.
Then cease contact immediately and block the scammer. A new brochure published by the Swiss Crime Prevention Association contains more information about romance scams.
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