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Dating Disasters: Online Romance Scams

dating game

Dating options have come a long way. With so many dating apps, matchmaking websites, and social media, there are more ways than ever to connect with people. Unfortunately, some of those connections are scammers in disguise. These scammers play on others emotions; luring them into what appears to be the “perfect” relationship, only to break hearts and bank accounts in the process. Before embarking on an online relationship, look out for some triggers that can let you know if you’re being catfished by a dating scammer.

The Con

Typically, these schemes start online on dating websites, through social media or even email. The con artist creates a fake profile to attract others. They often use phony photos or some even take on the identity of other people, using their pictures, name, or profession to create accounts. More often than not they claim to be abroad, or out of the country for various reasons: in the military, working abroad, or providing aid in overseas.

Initially they contact their victims by sending messages expressing their interest, offering details about themselves, and what they are looking for. Many use the farce that they are widowed and are now looking to find someone to settle down with. Once they have got the attention of their victim, they shower them with compliments and soon profess their affection has grown strongly in a very short period of time. They prey on the victims emotions to gain their trust, filling them with false hopes of meeting and growing a relationship.

Once the defenses are down the scammer may subtly ask for money, gifts, or even financial information. They commonly claim to have some sort of family crisis, unexpected expense, financial trouble, or medical emergency for which they need money. They may even claim they need funds to cover travel expensed to come and visit. They’ll ask for cash, to have the money wired or transferred to an account, maybe even put on prepaid cards, all so the transaction is untraceable. Once they have what they want, they disappear just as quickly as they arrived. Communication is cut off and the other person is left to pick up the pieces emotionally and financially. Many have lost a lot of money; some have given up all they have to take care of their own personal matters.

One individual recently reached out to us regarding a man she met online. He contacted her, in a similar fashion as mentioned above, and they sparked up a relationship.  He claimed to be an engineer and used the photo of an actual professional who owns his own business. After a few weeks of sweeping her off her feet he claimed to be coming back to the states with plans to meet up with her. He then lamented that he was in a bind because he had not been paid for the project he was on and could not afford the fee to bring his equipment back to the states. He knew his victim was on a fixed income and trying to recover from recent medical bills, but this didn’t deter him from persuading her to wire him thousands of dollars. He promised she would be paid back as soon as he was back in the States. Sadly, for her once she sent him the money he disappeared. The only trail she is left with is a web of lies and phony information that goes nowhere.

Be On Guard

By now we’ve identified how the scam typically works. Here are a rundown of the warning signs to look out for. Be cautious if your new love:

  • tries to lure you from the dating site immediately and wants to communicate by personal email, text,  instant message, or phone.
  • professes love for you almost immediately
  • claims to be from the U.S., but is traveling or working overseas
  • says they are planning to visit, but then claims they are unable to due to a traumatic event or a business deal gone bad.
  • asks you to wire them money, send gifts, provide your financial or identification information, send cash, or set up a bank account.

What Can Be Done?

Protecting yourself is crucial. Not only can a dating scam drain you financially, you may open yourself up to someone that can harm you physically as well as emotionally. No matter how convincing the person may sound or be, use sound judgment to determine if you could be dealing with a scam artist.

There are a few tricks you can use to see if your online sweetheart is catfishing.

  • Do an image search on their photos to see if they show up other places.
    In the example above, Business Consumer Alliance searched the images of the man that swindled our victim and found he had conned several people. He was listed on many of the online dating scam websites and pretty much used the same tactics to scam others.
  • Google search their email address. This may tip you off to other scams that the person may have been involved in.
  • Search for sentences from their initial message or profile description. Many times they use the same language with slight variations in their scam.

Some other things to look out for are spelling and grammatical mistakes, inconsistent stories, and if they make excuses or are resistant to video chat. Be careful about sending personal pictures or videos with persons you do not know especially intimate ones. Scammers have been known to use these things in blackmail attempts. If you plan to meet the individual, tell others you know and trust where you will meet. Preferably don’t meet them alone. Never go abroad or overseas to meet someone you do not know.  Be leery of requests to wire money. It is not uncommon for the scammers to resurface months or years later, under another name and profile to try again.

Online dating scams are on the rise. Due to the nature of the scam and victims feeling ashamed and embarrassed as well as hurt from these schemes, oftentimes they don’t report it. This is what crooks depend on and it is also how they continue to thrive. If you have been affected by a scam or know someone that has report it to BCA for assistance.

About Business Consumer Alliance Business Consumer Alliance (BCA) is a non-profit company that started in 1928. The broad purpose of BCA is to promote business self-regulation. BCA's mission is achieved by assisting consumers in resolving complaints with businesses and using that complaint information, along with other relevant information such as customer reviews, to forecast business reliability. With community support, BCA can identify trustworthy and ethical businesses and warn the public to avoid unscrupulous businesses whose purpose is to defraud the marketplace. BCA also helps businesses promote themselves by providing services and tools to protect their business and reach out to their customers. BCA obtains its funding from member businesses who support the mission and purpose of the organization and who agree to abide by high standards of ethical business practices.