Avoiding Romance Scams: How clever serial daters steal your heart then reach for your wallets!

NH Personal Finance Articles: Avoiding Online Romance Scams

 


Avoiding Online Romance Scams

How to identify dating frauds before they reach into your wallets or send you to jail!

by George C. Jobel
Last Update: 1-17-16

Today online dating is everywhere, and for many people it works! For untold others, it's just another way for scammers to prey on lonely hearts for cash.

Romance scams are a simple 5 step process: 1) Get someone to become romantically invested, then 2) Ask them for money. 3) Ask for MORE money, 4) Blackmail you if they can, then 5) Disappear when the well runs dry.

The really, really sad part of this scam, is that usually before you lose any cash, you have already lost your heart. These scammers are patient, and will sometimes be spinning their little web around you for weeks. It will all feel so right, and end so horribly wrong.

The VAST majority of these scammers are located in former Soviet states like the Ukraine, or in Western Africa (think Ghana, Benin and Nigeria) but usually pretend to be located somewhere else, even in the USA. In order to make the scams work they need anonymity. They'll have screen names and give you a (bogus) full name, but good luck getting a mailing address, name/address of their employer or other significant details. It's rare to get a phone number, and if you do, they frequently restrict it to text messages only, or VERY brief phone calls.

WARNING SIGNS: None of the following, by themselves, is an absolute indication that you are being set up for a scam, but the more factors present, the more likely your heart or your wallet will be broken.
1)  The grammar, vocabulary, phrases, capitalization your date uses has numerous small errors.

2)  Your date swiftly tries to move you to a chat tool. Often Scammers prefer Yahoo Instant Messenger or Skype ~ It makes it very convenient to engage in multiple conversations.

3)  In chat (her) answers/sentences/questions are very brief or (he) is very slow to reply. When you are one of 6-12 simultaneous conversations, what do you expect?

4)  You soon learn that some of the original profile facts are not as represented. "Oh, well I am from Atlanta but I am on a 3 month assignment to Western Africa to help with an inoculation program, or, I am currently deployed to Afghanistan."

5)  There is a longstanding sob story to explain their 'predicament' or 'miserable life'. "I never met my dad and my mom died when I was 16 so I had to move in with my gram ~ we're just barely making ends meet!"

6)  (Her) replies talk mostly about feelings, and have lots of questions for you to answer. Scammers get easily caught when contradicting themselves, and if you are lying to 30 people at once, it's hard to remember which lies you have told to whom, so they keep YOU busy typing.

7)  You can't call them directly or if you do, it has to be VERY brief. "I had to sell my good phone a couple of weeks ago, and all this one does is allows me to access the internet." Or "I am so sorry Honey, the internet/phone connections here are very poor." Or "International connections cost a fortune on my phone and I can't afford it."

8)  Your date's early replies seem to be answered quite personally, but as time goes on, questions often go unanswered and (his) correspondence feels more and more generic, until they get around to the 'great pitch'. The scammers are working. They are developing numerous 'prospects' and once you're hooked, you get less attention until 'bam-time'. Also watch out for occasional letters that are repeated or don't make ANY sense.

Scams typically also involve a 'rush' circumstance and/or may include someone professing to be an 'agent', or 'middleman' (think landlord, brother, broker, neighbor, friend, cousin, translator, etc.)

Easy, Rudimentary Ways To Screen For Scammers

Before you get too involved with anyone try the following few steps. It will probably identify 3/4s of all scammers. It's also a good idea to try these same steps every couple of weeks, just to see if any new information has been added online.
1)  Enter your date's full name, email address and/or screen name in a search engine. Many scammers have already been identified/reported by email address or screen name. Conversely, you might discover them on sites that seem to confirm their details.

2)  Enter a few sentences from their initial or recent correspondence in a search engine (especially emails). Scammer reports often contain the full text of their emails. If you get a near exact match, BEWARE.

3)  Run a few of your date's photos though Google Images just to see what you discover.

Click the little camera icon in the query field to open the submission window and submit the photo to the image engine. It will return all matches that it is aware of, then click through to the original page(s). Does the image appear to be the photo of someone else? Is the image used on other dating sites with different profile information? Has anyone identified it as belonging to a scammer?

4)  Spend a little time online. Research your date's hometown. Cleverly and subtly ask a few questions that would confirm their truthfulness and/or first hand knowledge of the city. If they dodge the question, ask it again another way later. If they remain evasive, NEXT!


5)  Ask your date open ended questions that require long answers. Does (her) reply seem to fully answer the question, come in a cohesive response, or is it often unanswered, tritely answered or frequently interrupted?

6)  Ask how you can call her. Does her friend have a phone, can you mail her a phone card for the charges? [DO NOT WIRE HER MONEY for this purpose.]

7)  Your date may make a lot of grammatical and spelling errors, inconsistent with where they reported growing up or their reported education level. Also watch out for British flavor spelling or English monikers. 'Flavour' or 'Colour', etc.

Making The Appeal: The common things that scammers ask for include any urgent need, especially if it's connected with seeing you or remaining in contact: cell phone bills, translation services, food, electricity, rent, medical needs, money for passports, or travel arrangements. If you get one of these requests, you are likely being scammed. If you want further proof before you let go, offer to help connect them to the Salvation Army or Red Cross for assistance, or, offer to send the needed money via an air delivery bag (that requires you getting an address.) If (he) insists on Western Union, it's a scam, just let it go.

A Sad Twist: Once they discover you aren't going to play the game, many scammers will blackmail you. Do they have any photos or video that you don't want your family or employer to see?

A Threatening Twist: Your 'date' may sometimes request that you open a checking account for them in your town 'for when they visit'. They are involving you in money laundering. When the Feds come knocking, who opened the account? Or, they'll ask you to forward merchandise for them. Many companies won't ship overseas, so they'll buy the items, ship them to you, and ask you to forward them (usually to the fence...) Again, when the Feds come knocking, investigating purchases made with a stolen credit card, what explanation will you have?

What you can do to protect yourself:

NEVER GIVE YOUR HEART OR CASH, handle cash or merchandise, or send lewd photography/videos to/for someone you have not met personally. If your sweetheart needs help getting here, reimburse (her) on arrival. If that doesn't work, travel there! And don't ask for a scan of their ID. They already have a fake one to give you.

I wish it was more simple....

Tip: Most dating web sites make earnest effort to delete the profiles of scammers. Because they're trying to make money, most scammers loiter on 'free' sites. Like usual, you typically get what you pay for. And beware, there's still another kind of scam. Some pay-for-services sites incentivize women to write to you. Chances are the women *are* genuinely looking for a husband. They're just making a living considering all sorts of men simultaneously. In our humble opinion, sites that charge a flat monthly fee are the least likely scamming dens.


About the Author

George C. Jobel does web development and SEO consulting and has been helping clients develop successful online & multimedia marketing since 1995. The author of numerous articles, George has taught numerous web development, marketing and Internet classes since 2000. You can reach him at his web site, or 603.491.4340.

 

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