| Detroit Free Press
The AARP has a new bare bones warning that seems quite fitting around Valentine’s Day. Hot off the scam alert: Don’t send nude photos. Sure, it sounds a little wacky. The AARP advising its members ages 50 and older not to be flashing the flesh? But it’s a new twist on the old romance scams that drive people to lose their shirts. Think about it: Do you want a picture of your junk to end up in the hands of your mother? Or your boss? Or your pastor?But that’s exactly the kind of threat scammers will make to break your heart and extort the first $500 — and then another $500 and more. “Wow, wouldn’t that be mortifying for your mom to be seeing” a photo of your privates, said Amy Nofziger, director of victim support for the AARP Fraud Watch Network.”Could they send it to somebody’s mother if they had her email address? Absolutely,” she said.But she argues that the odds are really good that the scammers only want your money. They’re not going to really expose your private, er, moments. More temps, more hours: Signs of an improving economy emerge despite pullback in hiring’Looking down their nose at you’: Why do Americans hate hedge funds?The scammers aren’t likely to post those tell-all photos on social media, either.If you don’t give in easily, they’re going to dump you faster than that bad date in high school. They’re just out for quick kicks — and cash. The first line of defense is not to play along when someone you’ve been chatting with online — and never is available to meet in person — asks you to send a photo that you’d never want to show up anywhere else. What online lovers don’t want you to discover”It’s happening a lot and people don’t want to talk about it,” Nofziger said.It’s far easier, after all, to admit that you fell for the old Microsoft tech support scam or the scammer who threatened to arrest you at home if you didn’t put money on gift cards to pay your taxes. Nofziger, though, has talked with several victims who have called the AARP Fraud Watch Network hotline to talk about this nude photo scam, which she says has been on the rise since the fall.Victims, she said, can be in their 30s or 40s or their 60s or 70s. It might be another version of the sextortion scam that I wrote about back in 2018 where scammers threatened you by claiming to expose your porn habits. One scam report to the AARP in May from consumers in the Grand Rapids metro area claimed that fraudsters wanted $3,000 in bitcoin payments in the next 24 hours or else an embarrassing sex-video would be posted on Facebook. FTC has launched a new website — ReportFraud.ftc.gov — where consumers can report a scam whether they have lost money or not. As part of this new service, the consumer also receives some advice on what to do when it comes to a particular problem. The site is also in Spanish at ReporteFraude.ftc.gov.Scam victims may call the FTC Consumer Response Center at 877-382-4357, which is toll free.To reach the AARP Fraud Watch Network, call the toll-free number 877-908-3360.As part of the latest skin scam, the crooks will try to put you on edge and demand that you send money very quickly, maybe even in the next 30 minutes, to avoid those embarrassing photos being leaked to your loved ones or the powerful people in your life. Too many victims of this scam think that sending the first $500 will be the end of it. It’s not.Once the scammer gets the few hundred dollars, there’s always a request for more money and more.”They will ask you and threaten you for money for the rest of your life,” Nofziger said.She’s often heard from people who sent money once and then received additional threats. Often, she said, people are asked to send that money via CashApp, PayPal or Venmo.Sending money to an app is easier than leaving the house and telling your wife or husband why you’re going out to buy gift cards when it is 11 degrees outside. Nude photos, the love ’em and leave ’em scamNow that we’re moving into year two of the pandemic, it’s getting harder to meet that special someone at a wedding or a ball game. Or frankly, even the company cafeteria, where I met the love of my life. “People aren’t going to the bars. They aren’t able to go to the clubs. They’re taking it online,” Nofziger said. We look for love – or a few laughs – wherever we might find it. Many people feel lonely and vulnerable. And the scammers know it. “Since the pandemic began, more people than ever have reported losing money to romance scams,” according to an alert from the Federal Trade Commission.According to the FTC, $201 million was lost due to romance scams in 2019, which was a 40% increase from $143 million in 2018. And the numbers were likely higher in 2020. Maybe our inhibitions are down after we’ve had a few drinks while flirting online. Maybe we’re thrilled to hear someone say we’re handsome or pretty. What could it hurt to send a few sexy shots? The naked photo scam appears to be a one-night-stand for scammers. They aren’t trying to get you for $20,000 or $30,000 here, as is the aim in some romance scams, so they don’t have to play the game for weeks at a time. Even so, some of the old warnings and red flags apply. The scammers might troll for victims on dating apps or social media sites. You might not even be looking for romance. One consumer told me his romance scam started after he posted a comment on a Facebook public group site named Vintage Baseball Photos.The scammer liked his comment and the woman asked to become friends. One message led to another and before you know it, the so-called Marine was asking for money on Steam Gift Card to cover some emergency. The consumer didn’t lose any money because he told the woman that the gift cards could be bought online. The fake photo can trap you into sending money or even a real photo in the buff. Romance scammers don’t worry about whether they packed on pounds during the pandemic or if the gym is closed or isn’t during the pandemic.They just go online to steal hot looking photos of a social media influencer or someone in the military. I wrote a column last November about a man, who spends the winter in Florida, who has heard from a dozen upset women who say they’ve been scammed by crooks using his pictures. And how about that pretty woman — the one who goes to church and everything — and really seems to have made a love connection with you? Your new soulmate?She is probably some ugly dude in another country trying to rip off consumers via the latest hot scam.”A lot of times, these are guys pretending to be women. Guys know what guys want to hear,” Nofziger said. Contact Susan Tompor via email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @tompor. To subscribe, please go to freep.com/specialoffer. Read more on business and sign up for our business newsletter.