What Is A Romance Scammer?
The Wikipedia definition of a romance scammer is:
A romance scam is a confidence trick involving feigning romantic intentions towards a victim, gaining their affection, and then using that goodwill to get the victim to send money to the scammer under false pretenses or to commit fraud against the victim.
You roll your eyes. Who would fall for that?
Not you, right?
More than one-third of U.S. marriages begin with online dating. So it must be OK, right?
The Statistics, Dating Scams On the Rise
Nationwide, the losses reported to the FBI in 2019 by American victims were more than $475 million. Reports have nearly tripled in the last few years.
The Federal Trade Commission reports that of all scams, romance scams rank number one in total reported losses. AND that’s probably just a small percentage of the actual number of victims as it’s underreported. Many people are too embarrassed to report it. I might be.
Moreover, if you grew up up in the digital age and consider yourself too smart to get caught by computer-based scams, think again. You are not invincible! The thieves have you right where they want you. All age groups are susceptible.
Romance Scam Victims By Age Group
- 18-24-year-olds 27% report to have been targeted
- 25-34 year-olds 24% report to have been targeted
- 35-44 year-olds 35% report to have been targeted
- 45-54 year -olds 37% report to have been targeted
- 55 plus 25% report to have been targeted
While anyone can fall victim to romance scams, older people suffer a heavier financial loss because they have more assets to steal. They have amassed quite a bit of wealth over the years and are naïve about the myriad ways in which fraud is committed today. Retirement funds, large homes, vacation properties, and large savings accounts could all be lost.
Victims are not always women, by the way. It is believed that one-third are men. I once knew a man who was getting dating site attention from a number of sexy young women. Clearly scammers, but he was so flattered.
Not only that, but that correspondence you are receiving from that wonderful guy might actually be coming from a woman. It doesn’t matter as you were never to meet anyway.
Who Are These Horrible People Who Want To Steal Your Money And Your Heart?
Simply put, they are professional criminals. Getting you to hand over your hard-earned money is their job. You might picture a single person sitting at his/her computer working hard to trick a lonely man or woman. Could be. But more likely he is working within a group at an internet cafe.
Romance scamming is run by syndicates that exist internationally, in places like Nigeria, Eastern Europe, and China. Individuals are hired by the syndicate to find vulnerable people online, through Facebook, Instagram, dating sites, and email. Anyone looking for love or companionship is a vulnerable target.
These criminals may work in groups, dividing up tasks like setting up profiles and organizing bank information.
They are given (or have purchased) playbooks of pre-written scripts, directing them what to say and when, including fake profiles, introductory letters, and follow-up questions and answers. Just like a telemarketer. For every question, they have an answer.
Thousands of letters are sent out hoping to receive responses from a small portion. That’s right, that letter you got full of compliments was probably sent to 999 other women.
This is one of the early letters that I received in my dating life:
I am a widower who is new to dating but I have looked at hundreds of nice women here and you are the only one I am attracted to. Your eyes and smile are beautiful. I must confess that your belief system, desires, and personality are so much like my own that I can already tell that we are meant to be together. I believe the most valuable thing in life is to have true happiness.
My job takes me all over the world but as I am nearing retirement and I hope to find my soul mate soon. I live pretty close to you, but of course, for my true love I would be willing to relocate anyway. If I have touched your heart, if you don’t mind, please write back and tell me that you feel the same about me. Please reach out to me at my email address which is…
Hoping to hear from you soon,
Oh my, my first reaction was to be flattered. Silly woman that I was.
And then I realized that the letter hadn’t mentioned a single personal detail about me. It could have and probably did, go out to 1000 women. Creepy.
Dating Scam Progression
Soon after the introductions, the love-bombing will start. This is a method where scammers overwhelm targets with flattering messages, attention, and grand gestures over a short period of time. There will be love letters and poetry. It is all laid out for them in their playbook.
After a target receives an overwhelming amount of love and acceptance from these fakers, the correspondence will become increasingly more personal. And sexual. The victim will be able to read the message over and over again, making her attachment to him stronger. His devotion to her is part of his job. She could find herself talking to him for up to 4 hours a day. She is hooked.
It may take weeks or months to build what may feel like the romance of a lifetime to her and he may even pretend to book flights to visit her, but never follow through.
The victim may then be encouraged to send compromising pictures of herself or himself. She gets addicted to and dependent on all this love and attention. It becomes difficult to refuse him anything for fear of losing it.
Boom, he then asks for money. Subtly and for small amounts at first. Think gift cards. Always with the promise of repayment, maybe even with interest. Such a good guy. All for a good cause that will lead up to you 2 being together for the rest of your lives. You may be a little concerned about sending money in the very specific way he is asking, (non-traceable) but heck, he loves you and is such a wonderful guy. Right? The scammer may also claim he really wants to visit but cannot afford to unless you are able to lend him money to cover flights or other travel expenses.
You’re dying to meet him so why not lend him the airfare.
Here Is Another Scary Scenario
The scammer might send you valuable items such as computers and mobile phones. He will then invent some reason why he needs you to send the property elsewhere. Or he may ask you to buy goods yourself and send them somewhere else. You might even be asked to accept money into your bank account or alternatively open a new account for this purpose. You will then be asked to receive and send money from that account and unknowingly become a money mule. This is a form of money laundering. A criminal offense! Never agree to transfer goods or money for someone else.
What Does A Fake Profile Look Like?
All the scammer needs to do is go on the internet and steal a picture of a handsome, successful-looking gentleman.
This happened to Representative Adam Kissinger of Illinois one of the thousands of good-looking United States service members who have had their identities stolen in a Facebook dating scam. It happened to him dozens of times over a decade.
Representative Kissinger is a lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard. Now trying to force Facebook to take responsibility, he has written a letter to Mark Zuckerberg and is preparing legislation to address the problem. Unfortunately, I don’t think he has been successful thus far.
Typically, the stolen identity is of a man who is unrealistically good-looking with a strong physique, over 40 years old, and very established in his career. He may be a company executive or a career officer in the service. He will not be available for an in-person meeting due to conflicts such as work commitments. If in the military, he is deployed overseas. If he sets up a date, he will postpone it.
The female scammer will be younger and very hot. She may be a bit needy and play up to a man’s ego. There will be no in-person meeting with her either.
Might pictures like these get your attention? The scammer steals them from the internet.
OK, that’s the bad news.
The Good News Is That You Can Protect Yourself From This Fraud
Here are my suggestions:
- Become a skeptic. Remember, if a man or woman looks too good to be true, he or she probably is.
- Keep your profile as anonymous as possible. Never include your last name, place of work, address, or anything else that will give away your identity.
- Keep contact details private until you have met face to face. This includes your email address, home address, and phone number. He will try to move you from anonymous communication to email or text very quickly.
- Create a separate and anonymous email address if and when you decide to share your email. There are many free anonymous email providers. Here are a few for you to check out. Scroll down for The Simple and Short Method.
- Look out for any communication that looks like it has gone through translation or looks even a little bit off. Don’t assume typos are innocent. Bad grammar and spelling mistakes are red flags!
- Is he real? Run a Google reverse search on his profile picture. Click here for instructions.
- Also beware of long, flowery messages too early in the relationship. Definitely a red flag.
- Never send compromising photos of yourself over the internet. To these criminals or anyone else. If you do, you are leaving yourself open to blackmail.
- Never send money in any form to a person you have never met face to face. Remember, the keywords are face to face. The minute he asks you for money, end it and contact the authorities. Do not feel guilty. Remember, he is not real. He will not be insulted. He doesn’t care about you.
How To Report The Romance Scam To The Authorities
- If you’ve sent any money, contact your bank immediately.
- Collect all the records of your relationship including conversations and transactions.
- File a police report.
- Report the scam to the following agencies: FTC ftc.gov/complaint and FBI at ic3.gov
- Report the scam to the dating site, Facebook, or wherever the scam was initiated.
Let’s be real. You’re on a dating site because you’re lonely and looking for a connection. Nothing wrong with that. But you want a real connection, not a fake one. Take it slowly and carefully and follow my suggestions.
AS ALWAYS, TAKE CARE. YOU CAN DO IT!