The Internet Crime Complaint Center, known as IC3, has issued a warning about romance scams in which scammers target individuals who use online dating services. Online the scammer appears like a normal person looking for love. In reality, he/she could be a criminal sitting in a cyber café with a well-rehearsed script that scammers use with great success. Scammers search chat rooms, dating sites, and social networking sites looking for victims. The principal group of victims is over 40 years old and divorced, widowed, elderly, or disabled, but all demographics are at risk.
Scammers use poetry, flowers, and other gifts to reel in victims, the entire time declaring their “undying love.” These criminals also use stories of severe life circumstances, tragedies, deaths in the family, injuries to themselves, or other hardships to keep their victims concerned and involved in their schemes. Scammers also ask victims to send money to help overcome a financial situation they claim to be experiencing. These are all lies intended to take money from unsuspecting victims.
In another scheme, scammers ask victims to receive funds in the form of a cashier’s check, money order, or wire transfer, claiming they are out of the country and unable to cash the instruments or receive the funds directly. The scammers ask victims to redirect the funds to them or to an associate to whom they purportedly owe money. In a similar scheme, scammers ask victims to reship packages instead of redirecting funds. In these examples, victims risk losing money and may incur other expenses, such as bank fees and penalties, and in some instances face prosecution.
Victims who have agreed to meet in person with an online love interest have been reported missing, or injured, or in one instance, deceased. IC3 complainants most often report the countries of Nigeria, Ghana, England, and Canada as the location of the scammers. If you are planning to meet someone in person that you have met online, the IC3 recommends using caution, especially if you plan to travel to a foreign country, and, at the very least:
- Do not travel alone.
- Read all travel advisories associated with the countries you will visit. Travel advisories are available at http://travel.state.gov/.
- Contact the United States Embassy in the country you plan to visit.
Even though it seems to be contrary to the thought of starting a new romance, do not be afraid to check a new acquaintance’s story online. Remember, like most fraudulent schemes, scammers use whatever personal information you provide to quickly paint themselves as your perfect match. If your new friend’s story is repeated through numerous complaints and articles on the Internet, it is time to apply common sense over your feelings.
(February 2, 2012) To launch the second annual “Online Dating Safety Awareness Month” (every February), Online Dating Magazine has released a video giving a quick overview of romance scams. Did you know that romance scams generate hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue a year for scammers? That makes it one of the most profitable scam ventures in the world. And who are the victims? Those who participate in online dating and buy into the clever lies and web of deceit spun by the scammers to get you to fall in love with them.
How far will romance scammers go to profit from you? They’ll convince you they are “real” by having phone conversations with you in addition to your online communications. After the video, we’ve posted some things to be aware of to avoid romance scams.
Romance Scams Video
Tips to Avoid Romance Scams
- Don’t communicate with someone who says they are in the military/army/navy and currently stationed overseas.
- Don’t communicate with someone who says they travel a lot.
- Don’t continue communication with someone who makes excuses for not meeting you in person.
- Be leery of someone who tries to move the relationship with you forward via the computer.
- You may think that an overseas scammer wouldn’t pursue the scam on the phone, but that’s not the case. The scams have advanced to the level of phone conversations to help get you to fall in love with them.
- Romance scammers don’t ask for money right away. They wait until they know you have fallen in love with them then they create a dramatic, yet believable “emergency” requiring them to ask you for money (or something like a “new laptop”). Because love is blind, the scams are extremely successful.
- Scammers lie about everything. Their photos are fake, their profile is fake, their job is a lie, etc. If you allow yourself to start developing feelings for a “persona” you are communicating with, then that is a major red flag that you are susceptible to the scam.
Some college students at the Community College of Denver got together to write, produce, and star in a video about online dating safety. They call it an “Online Dating Safety Public Service Announcement”. The video, audio, and acting may not be up to par with what you are used to viewing, but the information is good and the students definitely did their homework before producing the video.
Online Dating Safety Public Service Announcement
The following video, from the CTnow TV’s Morning Show (out of Connecticut) is a news piece on the subject of online dating scams, that aired on Valentine’s Day 2011. The news segment includes an insightful interview with Howard Schwartz who is the Executive Director of Communications for the Connecticut Better Business Bureau. He provides some insightful tips on avoiding online dating scams, reminding you that the reason there are so many victims is because the perpetrators work hard via computer and phone to get you to love them, then to trust them, allowing them to be more successful with scams. Below the video are some tips from the Connecticut BBB.
If you’re participating in online dating and a person you’re communicating with fits some or all of the following then you are likely being targeted by a scammer:
- Acts charming, understanding, flattering, sensitive and caring
- Tries to move the online relationship forward quickly by talking about love.
- Communicates only via email, cell phone, and instant messaging.
- Always has an excuse for not being able to meet you face-to-face.
- Often overseas for work or other reasons
- Has a sudden emergency, some which involve a made-up “young child”.
- Has an excuse for being unable to get their money, thus “needing your help”.
- Asks for more money (for the same or different reason) once you give an initial payment.
- If you have no money, they find a “client” who can send you money orders, with instructions to wire the money to them. (The checks are counterfeit, but you will likely find that out too late.)
Susan Jones was a victim of an online dating scammer and in this video she tells her story on how her first try at online dating ended up with her meeting a scammer who romanced her with roses, easter baskets, and other gifts before the scammer made his move. Her victimization also ended up creating other victims as she relates…