The Commodity Futures Trading Commission advises the public to avoid offers to trade foreign currency contracts (forex), precious metal contracts, and digital assets with people they meet through dating apps or social media, even if the relationship has been building for weeks or months.
Romance scams can target people of any age, including individuals who are comfortable using online dating apps and trading forex, precious metals, and digital assets. The CFTC has received complaints about frauds that originated on dating apps and social media platforms. In many cases, the victims believed they were in romantic relationships that had formed over several weeks. These frauds are often conducted by people and entities outside the United States and use unregistered trading websites or third-party trading software.
Initial contact is made through dating apps, social media, or “wrong numbers” made through private messaging apps. The fraudsters commonly pose as executives, business owners, or successful financiers and use extensive social media personas to support their stories. They often share pictures of home-cooked meals and pets, and research the cities they’re supposedly from so they can reference restaurants and other sites. In a short amount of time, they are calling or texting daily, and using endearing language, but are too shy or unable to video chat or meet in person.
Over a few weeks, conversations subtly turn more and more to money and markets. The fraudsters may claim to be professional traders, trade as a hobby, or have a relative who is a successful trader. Their mood often is colored by their purported performance in the market. They tend to talk about their own extravagant spending, and probe the victims about salaries, debt, or money problems. They start to discuss future goals and dreams together as a couple, planning to meet each other soon. Once trust is built, the second phase of the scam begins. The fraudsters offer to introduce the victims to trading.
The scams concentrate on trading digital assets, or trading foreign currency or dollar-gold contracts (also known as “forex”). In cases involving digital assets, victims are asked to buy virtual currency and transfer it to the scammer’s digital wallet or to a fraudulent trading platform. In cases involving forex trading, victims are told to download forex trading software or mobile apps. Money is then sent to an offshore company that manipulates the trading app to display winning trades and outsized returns, encouraging victims to invest more.
Victims are commonly encouraged to start small. The fraudsters may also walk them through a successful withdrawal to demonstrate the fraudulent broker or website can be trusted. Then, victims are nudged to invest more. Eventually, the victims may be faced with opportunities that require large investments. The offer may be made to couples only, or the love interest may offer to loan part of the required principal to the victim to demonstrate they’re “in this together.” The investment also may involve a sudden deadline or urgent decision.
After making significant investments, even as much as tens of thousands of dollars it becomes impossible to make withdrawals. Suddenly, there are taxes, commissions, or fees that must be paid. Customer service problems are another common ploy. Typically, the only way to resolve matters is to increase the investment. And, any talk of withdrawing money gets pushback from the love interests, who have been in on the scam from the start. They become angry, and shame victims for their fear, mistrust, or lack of commitment.
When victims finally decide to get out, they face the stress of nonresponsive customer service operations and increasingly angry love interests who demand more money, or even blackmail victims by threatening to reveal compromising photos or messages. When victims ultimately refuse to pay, all communication stops, and the fraudulent trading website, “customer service” representative, “broker,” love interest, online profiles, and the victim’s money disappear.
Because the funds are commonly sent overseas or via virtual currency, recovering lost money is nearly impossible.
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This article was prepared by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s Office of Customer Education and Outreach. It is provided for general informational purposes only and does not provide legal or investment advice to any individual or entity. Please consult with your own legal advisor before taking any action based on this information. This advisory references non-CFTC websites and organizations. The CFTC cannot attest to the accuracy of information in those non-CFTC references. References in this article to any organizations or the use of any organization, trade, firm, or corporation name is for informational purposes only and does not constitute endorsement, recommendation, or favoring by the CFTC.