How to protect yourself from online romance scams during COVID-19 pandemic

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NASHVILLE, Tenn (WKRN) — As the loneliness of the COVID-19 pandemic continues, more people are turning to online dating. But authorities report that romance scams are on the rise too.

Cathy Gover says she fell for a scam and ended up sending someone more than $3,000.

“We were supposed to meet the second week in July and get married and all this other stuff,” Gover said. “And for six months I didn’t know he was a scammer until he ghosted me. I ended up sending him $3,100 dollars for medicine.”

Gover says she built an emotional connection with a man over the phone. But they never met in person or through video chat, which is something that experts describe as a red flag.

David McClellan with SocialCatfish.com says his organization helps people control their online privacy and researches internet romance scammers.

“Everybody’s at home and everybody’s doing more of this stuff. The scammers have more opportunities to contact more people,” McClellan said. “We’re seeing a lot of them using COVID as an excuse. So they’re like hey I’m overseas and I can’t get over here because of COVID because I need help. I need money.”

The Federal Trade Commission says Americans lost $201 million dollars in romance scams in 2019. That number is projected to skyrocket in 2020 as the pandemic continues.

“It just hurt. It hurt really bad,” Gover said.

To protect yourself from online romance scams, McClellan recommends the following:

  • Never Give Money: Do not give anyone you meet online money, no matter the reason.
  • Do not Give Personal Information:  Scammers can use basic information to commit identity fraud, get access to your banks and steal your money.
  • Take Things Slow: If you like someone online, do not let them rush you. Nigerian romance scammers will be pushy about falling in love right away. If that is the case, know something is not right.  
  • Meet or Video Chat: Do not form a relationship with someone who will not video chat with you or meet you in person. 

“Stop giving money. If these scammers stop getting money from us they will stop using this scam and move on to other things,” McClellan says.

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