HOUSTON — Many say love is free, but online scammers seem to think differently. The pandemic has made it easier for them to prey on the innocent.
"We are definitely seeing an increase in various online scams during the pandemic. Many (people are) working from home ... interacting from home ... because they are so isolated during these times," said Leah Napoliello, with the Better Business Bureau.
According to the bank fraud manager at PlainsCapital Bank, there has been a 35 to 40% increase in online scams to her banking customers since the start of the pandemic. The majority of the scams involve people on social media platforms and dating sites.
"(It's) One of the hardest frauds for us to investigate. Because individuals do not believe that it's fraud when there are emotions involved," said PlainsCapital Bank fraud manager Denise Owens.
Scammers trick their online significant others out of their savings, and even their unemployment benefits, by claiming they need help paying for COVID-19 related emergencies. The fraudsters groom their victims over time and gain their trust to demand what they want, whether that’s cash or gift cards. The newest trend is asking their victims to commit bank fraud.
"They (the) fraudster will forward money to the victim by means of unemployment benefits or fraudulent wire or check and ask them to send those proceeds," Owens said.
But before you end up broke and with a broken heart, look for the red flags.
"And they suddenly start wanting money from you and you haven’t even met them in person. Maybe you haven’t done a video chat they are asking this from you. That is a big red flag," Napoliello said.
The bottom line is if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
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