With Valentine’s Day soon approaching, it is a good time to remind people about a new type of fraud: online dating scams.
A recent study indicates that up to 10 percent of Americans use online dating websites or mobile applications. As the number of people looking to meet new people online grows, so does the opportunity for fraud.
Some scam artists use bogus profiles to con the people they meet out of hundreds or thousands of dollars. Criminals who perpetrate online dating and romance scams use emotional appeals to quickly gain their victims’ trust and then, just as quickly, exploit it. This leaves many victims not only embarrassed, but also in financial distress. It is important for online users to be on the look-out for online dating and romance scams. It can happen like this:
“Maria” signed up for an online dating service and was contacted by “Andrew,” who claimed to be an American overseas on business in Australia. Maria and Andrew seemed to hit it off and began planning a road trip for that summer when Andrew would come back to the U.S. Andrew sent Maria a check for $5,000 to cover the cost of their trip, but then suddenly asked her to send $4,500 back to him because he needed money for rent after being laid off from his job. Maria deposited the check and sent the money, but was soon contacted by her bank, which told her the check was bad and she had to repay the $4,500. On top of losing her money, the fake “Andrew” disappeared, and Maria never heard from him again.
The Phony Profile
Romance scammers often create a phony profile. The scammer may use photos from magazines and portray him or herself as talented and successful. Fake profiles may have discrepancies or inconsistencies, like disproportionate height and weight, or be suspiciously vague. Romance scammers often claim to be a U.S. citizen working or serving abroad to explain their inability to meet in person.
Gaining Victims’ Trust
Online dating and romance scams often begin like any other online relationship: interested individuals exchange basic information, like their line of work, their city, and their hobbies and interests. Scammers may then ask their victims to leave the dating site and use personal e-mail or instant messaging (“IM”). Con artists may express their “love” quickly and effusively, find similarities with the victim, and claim the online match was destiny.
This is all a build-up for the scam artist’s real goal: conning a victim out of money. Once the victim becomes attached, the scammer looks for ways to dupe the person into sending money, which can happen in two basic ways. In the first scenario, the scammer may indirectly ask for money. For instance, some romance scammers express concern about their financial situation or ability to visit the victim in the hopes that a person will offer to send funds. In the second instance, the scammer asks for money directly. A scammer may beg for hundreds or thousands of dollars, claiming a family member became suddenly ill, he or she was robbed, or the person is having difficulty obtaining travel documents after spending all his or her money on a plane ticket to visit you. A victim may even get a call from an accomplice who claims to be a lawyer or doctor to lend credibility to the tale.
Be wary of sending money to someone you have never met in person, especially via a wire transfer service like Western Union or MoneyGram or a prepaid money card, like Green Dot. Once a person wires money to a foreign country, the money is generally lost for good.
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