FBI warns of dating app scams preying on isolated victims during the coronavirus pandemic
ATLANTA - The coronavirus has sent more and more people to an online dating app to socialize virtually, but the FBI is warning people sophisticated criminals are looking to prey on unsuspecting victims who fall into an all-to-common and oftentimes expensive trap.
Dating apps have seen dramatic a jump in traffic. People logging on to flirt and cyber chat in the age of coronavirus. FBI spokesman Kevin Rowson says it's the perfect storm for cybercriminals looking to cash in.
"What it does is it presents an opportunity for scammers to take advantage of people to find new victims and pressure them into sending them money," Rowson said.
They usually target men who don’t realize they’re being victimized until it’s too late and hand over cold hard cash.
"Typically, we find is that a lot of these scams are from organized groups. And they've got all the tricks," Rowson said.
One of the most common tricks starts on the app with someone claiming to be of legal age. The conversation between the victim and scamster moves to text and explicit photos are sent. Cybersecurity expert Lisa Good says it's a common racket.
"They probably have anywhere from five to ten victims 'on the hook' at a time that they're working," Good said.
The scam gets aggressive with the victim getting a call from a purported FBI agent or a parent accusing them of actually chatting with a minor. Criminal defense attorney Cynthia Sherwood let FOX 5 News Edge Anchor Tom Haynes hear a call made to one of her clients:
"My client, who I care for very much -- was terrorized. He thought he was going to lose his whole livelihood, for texting with someone he thought was an adult and in fact who says is a minor."
"The goal of the aggressive nature of this call is to strike fear into this person. This person, the victim thinks they were texting with an adult and the law enforcement officer says, 'you've been texting with a minor, you've committed this serious offense and you have a very limited period of time to make this right," Sherwood said.
The scamsters demand money and say they will release the embarrassing exchange or else. Enough to terrify anyone who fears for their livelihoods when they’ve done nothing wrong.
"It's perfectly normal. He's doing something he thinks is perfectly fine, he's excited, he's met a new person...and then his life is turned upside down and he's threatened with losing everything he has," said Good.
The FBI says beware if you think you're a victim and never pay.
"If they purport to be someone from law enforcement and they're asking you for 'any kind' of money you can be guaranteed that it's a scam," Rowson said.
Dating apps carry no stigma but in the age of virtual meet-ups, experts say always be aware of the potential for a scam.
"It's a way for people to connect and meet up in our busy, crazy digital world. There's nothing inherently wrong with that. It's just another way that people can scam you -- and it's easy cause you can't physically see them, that's why it's so easy," said Good.
There are so many other scams out there. You can use the following resources if you think you've been a victim: