Love. Romance. A soul mate. These are things almost everyone seek at some point in life. While the quest itself is as old as time, the places people search for love have changed significantly in recent years. More and more love seekers are steering the search for their own Romeo (or Juliet) into the digital realm. Talk to your close friends or family, chances are one of them has recently found, or at least tried, a romantic relationship via a virtual rendezvous.
This may sound like a shiny, wondrously new benefit of our increasingly technological world at first glance. And it is certainly not without its benefits for those seeking romance. It gives you access to more potential matches, the ability to filter your potential suitors by preference and of course the ever valuable sneak peak at their appearance before you meet. But before you set up your account and roll the dice with digital cupid, consider who might actually be lurking behind your new sweetheart’s profile picture.
Online dating sites serve as a virtual goldmine for a growing horde of criminals and scammers panning for victims. These criminals seek to identify, contact, groom and exploit individuals’ emotional vulnerability for financial gain. Essentially, they employ a combination of identify fraud and mass marketing fraud. While victims overall are indiscriminately exploited, the most common targets are older females, widows and the recently separated.
To be frank, these crooks masquerading as keyboard Lotharios are not typically innovative criminal masterminds. Their methods are a field-tested routine that is as simple to spot as polar bear in Time Square once you know their game.
Let’s breakdown this boilerplate strategy:
- Scammers utilize false photographs to present a potential partner they think their victim will find attractive.
- After initial contact, the paramours quickly escalate the relationship by over zealously declaring their unwavering love for the victim.
- The fraudster then moves all communication from the dating site to an email account allowing them to maintain more anonymity.
- Once email contact is established it increases with a flurry of intensity often over a period of weeks, months or even years. This is the “grooming” period. It serves to create the illusion of intimacy with their victim.
- Gifts are often used to “test the waters” in terms of the victims willingness to comply with instructions. Criminals may send small gifts to show a relationship is “genuine” however following receipt they will make requests for minor amounts of money.
- Victims sending money to the perpetrators, even extremely small amounts, is essentially a green light for the large-scale shakedown to begin.
- Virtual “lovers’ are almost always unexpectedly impacted by a serious event that requires the victim’s financial support to rectify. The events can vary from medical expenses to robbery and everything between, but the solution is always money.
A massive fraud of this nature could only previously have been attempted by a skilled and experienced con man and require numerous face-to-face interactions. However, anonymity is readily available on the Internet and the limitations of physical locations do not exist. In turn most of the keyboard Romeos perpetrating these romance schemes fit a similar profile. This shared similarity makes pinpointing would be fraudsters simple.
Consider the following points to help you sort out crooks attempting fraud from the real catches:
- Scammers claim to be a native-born U.S. citizen, however they have a thick accent and/or display extremely poor grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker.
- The overly emotional confessions of love utilized in the grooming phase are often plagiarized completely, if not partially, and presented, as ones own thoughts. A simple Google search of text of this nature can help identified stolen content.
- This example we identified in an online romance con is clearly found on poemlovers.com: “I live to live, to spend a lifetime with you and to grow older with you, loving you for all times from now to eternity. I love to love you so much and am so happy that soonest we will be together”.”
- The perpetuators of these crimes often use the same accounts to lure multiple victims. Research any usernames or email addresses used in communication to see if they are routinely used to commit fraud.
- The unexpected emergencies that inevitably befall these crooks almost always occur outside the US. This requires the victim to send money to a foreign country, which in turn makes persecution and retrieval highly unlikely.
- Be seriously suspicious of ANY request for money or support. Remember this is a person you have not met in person and in reality you know nothing about them.
- It is extremely important that you separate yourself from all emotions if you recognize any of the signs discussed. We are all subject to emotional vulnerability, which can seriously impact otherwise sound judgment.
- Always share information about any new online relationships with your friends and family. Gaining an additional perspective from outside the situation can help you avoid the fog of emotional vulnerability.
While there are numerous scammers and fraudsters lurking in wait for their next victim, avoiding them is not difficult once you know their con. Remember these signs and tips during your online search for the new Mr. or Mrs. Right and you can avoid the scheming Internet inamoratos.
If you think you have already been the victim of an online romance scheme we recommend the following actions: