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Love Scammers Exploit Emotions to Reap Billions

In the lead-up to Valentine's Day, Erste Bank issues a warning about a surge in romantic or love scams a variant of the so-called Nigerian scams that have proliferated online in recent years through emails, social media, and dating sites.
According to Erste Bank, these swindlers create the illusion of a romantic relationship with their chosen targets, striving to earn their trust and convincing them of a genuine love connection. Victims often willingly transfer money to their “beloved” or recklessly provide access to their banking details and online banking credentials.

“The emotional and financial damage caused by love scams needs to be addressed. Most victims are too ashamed to seek help, so it’s crucial that banks and authorities are informed about these cases to prevent and potentially reduce the extent of the damages,” as quoted by Anna Kósa, Erste’s Head of Compliance. With Valentine’s Day approaching, the bank has taken to its website and social media platforms to raise awareness of these scams and has also gathered tips on how customers can keep their money safe.

Globally, the reach of romantic scams is widespread. In the United Kingdom, authorities received over 8,000 reports, with losses exceeding 92 million pounds (equivalent to 41.6 billion Hungarian forints), while in the United States, the FBI received more than 19,000 reports in 2022 with nearly 740 million dollars (approximately 265 billion forints) transferred to criminals.

Even though there are no similar statistics available for Hungary, data from the Hungarian National Bank shows that criminals caused over 9 billion forints of damage in the third quarter of the previous year with fraudulent transfers related to scams, which is more than in the entire year of 2022. Many of these scams include some form of psychological manipulation.

Erste’s experiences also suggest an increase in attempts by romance scammers, particularly targeting middle-aged single women in their forties and fifties, though an increasing number of lonely men have become victims as well. The bank also shared specific examples:

- A female client was planning a life and house purchase with her overseas “lover” she had never met in person, to whom she provided access to her own bank account for transferring money needed for the real estate purchase.

The bank also provided tips on avoiding such scams:

- Be vigilant when socializing online! If anyone asks for bank details or money transfers, be suspicious and contact your bank.

- Never share your bank card details, PIN, or online banking credentials, as doing so grants access to your money.

- If someone comes up with an incredible story that seems too good to be true, be skeptical.

- Exercise caution with messages on dating sites, as you cannot always be sure who is behind the profile.

- If you can, look up the person on social media and the internet to check if the information they've given you matches up.

- If the person contradicts themselves or tells the same story differently multiple times, be wary.

Finally, the bank advises that victims of such scams should call their customer service and, after consultation, file a police report, which should also be forwarded to the bank to assist with their investigation.
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