Online Friends in Low Places: Recognize the Signs of a Companionship Scam

Tips By April Payne January 11, 2022

It is often assumed that the targets of a relationship scam are single or widowed individuals hoping to pursue a romantic relationship. While it is true that scammers are eager to take advantage of lonely hearts, the unfortunate reality is that those looking for love are not the only ones who could be potentially swindled by an online scam. Fraudsters can leverage any type of online connection, companionship, or friendship to take advantage of trusting individuals.

Scammers do not limit their communications to dating websites, apps or social media when looking for potential targets in a companionship scam. Watch out for the red flags of how a scammer could earn your trust and attempt to sneak into your heart and inner circle.

Social Media – Scammers may exploit available online personal details to create a phony profile that steals the identity of someone you know, or they could create an account that looks trustworthy and shares commonalities with you, such as living in the same neighborhood or enjoying the same hobbies. Be sure to examine friend requests closely and use caution when corresponding with someone you met online. If you receive a message from a “friend” requesting money, it is likely a scam.

Internet Message Boards – Whether your interests include fishing, embroidery, or connecting with groups such as congregations, alumni associations, or professional organizations, there is sure to be an online community that shares your passion. Con artists are known to slip into these groups and build rapport to earn the trust of these friendly internet circles. Be wary of anyone requesting monetary support claiming there’s been an emergency (a natural disaster, medical problem, or a business crisis) and urgently needs money.

Home Health and Help – Background checks and fully vetting anyone you may seek to assist around your home is crucial, but it is essential that you keep safety a priority at the very beginning of the hiring process. If you are hoping to employ a contractor, landscaper, caretaker, housekeeper, or other professional service, ensure you are dealing with an expert, and not a scammer posing as one online. Ask people you know and trust for recommendations rather than turning to apps or social media groups for advice. Always request to speak to previous clients or customers for references; Legitimate small businesses and industry professionals should be happy to provide you with this information. Be leery if asked for a large initial payment or upfront deposit for their services.

Online Support Groups – During difficult times in life, it is common to join support groups to share your thoughts and seek guidance from people who have shared experiences. While support groups are immensely helpful, scammers may take advantage of these vulnerable parties by pretending to deal with the same struggles of these intimate online groups. Remember that just because someone has exchanged personal stories and experiences with you online, it does not mean that you truly know that person. A scammer will manipulate emotions to get you to open your wallet.

Online Games and Apps – People are turning to virtual gaming worlds for escapism, and cons seize this opportunity to take advantage of those trying to relax and unwind. Online card games, chess tournaments, or word challenges that pair you with another online player is a great way to put your skills to the test, but it also gives scammers the chance to engage directly with unsuspecting targets to steal sensitive information. Only communicate with existing friends, ignore unsolicited in-game chats and shady messages from any user that you do not personally know.

 

Ways to identify if you are being targeted for a companionship scam

Falling for an online companionship scam will drain you emotionally as well as financially. These tips will help you identify the warning signs that may help indicate when you are conversing with a scammer.

Requesting Money – Asking for money is the largest red flag of a potential scam. One of the most common cases involves an online “friend” requesting money to help with expenses for their children, recent bills, or other financial and seemingly temporary hardships. Scammers will often begin with a seemingly bashful and sincere-sounding plea for a small amount of money to gauge how receptive you are to the request. Then as they continue to gain your trust, they will slowly begin requesting larger sums. You should also avoid situations where you are asked to send a money transfer, prepaid card or gift card to a third party or business for any reason.

Fast Friendships – If the person that you are communicating with conveniently has everything in common with you that it seems too good to be true- that could be because it is. A scammer could be mirroring your likes and interests with the goal of forming a quick bond that you instinctively trust. Be careful who you confide in, and do not be afraid to do your own research on the person you are corresponding with. If you feel or find something seems off, it could indicate a scam.

Communication and Conversations – If you’ve made a connection via a website, message board or app, proceed with caution if someone is quick to request that you move your conversation to another channel. Trust your gut – if the progression of your friendship feels like it is moving unnaturally quickly, it could indicate a scam. Advance your correspondence at a pace that is comfortable to you and don’t reveal too much personal information to someone you’ve only chatted with online. Be alert if the person you are communicating with claims deep feelings of kinship shortly after meeting. Their goal is to progress the friendship as quickly as possible, with as many victims as possible.

Protecting yourself from the online companionship scam

Scammers have a knack for taking advantage of intelligent, well-meaning people.  If you’ve sent money to someone via Western Union and suspect you’ve been scammed, report it immediately by visiting WU.com/fraudawareness.