Attorney General: Online Love Language Might Be a Scam

Attorney General Letitia James warned New Yorkers Thursday that fraudsters are using dating apps, social media, and unsolicited text messages to befriend their victims and then convince them to make fraudulent investments.

These online romance scams are also known as “pig butchering” – which is language scammers use to describe “fattening up” victims by gaining their trust before finally taking their money, her office warned.

“New Yorkers hoping to find romance and personal connections online are instead being taken advantage of and victimized by heartless scammers,” James said. “Sophisticated fraudsters are increasingly using dating apps and social media to trick users into bogus investment schemes. The personal and sometimes romantic nature of these scams can often leave their victims feeling ashamed and isolated. New Yorkers who fall victim to these frauds should know they are not alone. I encourage anyone who believes they may have been a victim of an online romance scam to contact my office.”

This is how the scams work, James’ office said:

Pig butchering schemes typically target victims online via dating websites and apps, social media, and unsolicited text messages. After a virtual meeting between the victim and scammer, the conversation generally transitions over to an encrypted chat platform such as WhatsApp or WeChat that can shield the scammer’s identity from law enforcement.

The scammers typically spend a substantial amount of time making victims believe that they are in a romantic or otherwise close personal relationship. After the personal connection is made, the scammer shifts the conversation to trading or investment opportunities. Scammers will send screenshots of their own purported high balances on trading platforms or websites, as well as pictures of their supposedly luxurious lifestyles, to reinforce the appearance that they are highly successful investment experts. Once a victim places enough trust in the scammer, the scammer introduces the victim to an investment opportunity, often in cryptocurrency or foreign currencies. Scammers may even refer the victim to what appears to be a legitimate website by slightly misspelling the name of a familiar institution. From there, victims are led to believe that they are making incredible returns with the help and expertise of the knowledgeable scammer.

Throughout the scam, victims typically see their account balances increase on purported online statements or investment platforms. In turn, the victims place more trust in the scammers and invest more of their funds. After the victims have deposited substantial sums of money into the scammer’s platform, ranging from tens of thousands to over a million dollars, they will be unable to withdraw their funds or will be asked to prepay fake withdrawal fees or taxes with the promise that their investment gains will be released. Eventually, the scammers will cut off contact.

People should take these steps to avoid becoming the victim of a romance scam or other online fraud scheme. These include:

  • In general, do not wire money, send cryptocurrency, or give cash to people you don’t know and haven’t vetted because these transactions are irreversible.
  • Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere. Keep in mind that scammers may be using stolen identities to create profiles that appear to be real, and their profiles, IDs, and photographs could be generated using AI.
  • Be suspicious of individuals you encounter online who:
    • Change their phone number throughout the “relationship” and/or tell you to delete the conversations.
    • Promise to meet in person or by video call, but always come up with an excuse about why they cannot.
    • Move conversations from text or email to WhatsApp or another encrypted platform.
    • Attempt to isolate you from friends or family by advising you to keep the relationship or the investment opportunity they are offering a secret.
    • Ask you for detailed personal financial information or explicit or private photographs, which could later be used to extort you.
    • Pressure you to withdraw from retirement accounts (even at a penalty), to borrow money from friends/relatives, or to apply for loans from a bank.
  • Never rush into any investment. Be skeptical if the individual insists that you must invest money within a very short time frame, claiming you will lose out on the opportunity.
  • Before investing, consult a trusted legal professional or financial advisor who can advise you if the investment is proper. You can check investment professional registration at FINRA’s BrokerCheck.
  • Trust your instincts and think twice before investing. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If you suspect fraud, report the individual to the dating or social media app and to law enforcement. Save all communications so that you can provide them to law enforcement if needed.

Anyone who may have been a victim of this type of scam should report it to OAG by filing a complaint online or calling 1-800-771-7755. Any identifying information provided to OAG will be protected according to law and policies on the safeguarding of identifying information.

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