Categorized | Online Dating 101

Internet Scams: Dating and Romance Scams

Unfortunately, some people fall victims of internet scams and frauds. United States citizens should be alert to attempts at fraud by persons claiming to live outside of the U.S., professing friendship, romantic interest, and /or marriage intentions over the Internet.

Typically, once a connection is made, the correspondent asks the U.S. citizen to send money or credit card information for living expenses, travel expenses, or “visa costs”. Sometimes, the correspondent notifies the American citizen that a close family member, usually the mother, is in desperate need of surgery and begins to request monetary assistance. Scams have even advanced to the point where the U.S. citizen is informed of a serious or fatal accident to the correspondent and the “family” asks for money to cover hospital or funeral costs. Several citizens report losing thousands of dollars through such scams.

The anonymity of the Internet means that the U.S. citizen cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent. In every case reported to the embassy, the correspondent turned out to be a fictitious persona created only to lure the U.S. citizen into sending money.

These scammers have created male as well as female characters and entice same sex correspondents as well as those of the opposite sex. A disturbing recent twist are scammers who have connected to U.S. citizens through chat rooms for HIV positive individuals, posed as HIV positive individuals themselves, and asked for money for treatment or travel to the United States.

Correspondents who quickly move to professions of romantic interest or discussion of intimate matters are likely inventions of scammers. A request for funds almost always marks a fraudulent correspondent. U.S. citizens are cautioned against sending any money to persons they have not actually met.

Romance scams involve one or more – sometimes all – of the key signs below:

  • The scammer and the victim meet online – often through Internet dating or employment sites.
  • The scammer asks for money to get out of a bad situation or to provide a service.
  • Photographs that the scammer sends of “him/herself” show a very attractive person. The photo appears to have been taken at a professional modeling agency or photographic studio.
  • The scammer has incredibly bad luck– often getting into car crashes, arrested, mugged, beaten, or hospitalized — usually all within the course of a couple of months. They often claim that their key family members (parents and siblings) are dead. Sometimes, the scammer claims to have an accompanying child overseas who is very sick or has been in an accident.
  • The scammer claims to be a native-born American citizen, but uses poor grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker. Sometimes the scammer will use eloquent romantic language that is plagiarized from the Internet.

Gorgeous People in Trouble – The Damsel in Distress

The Setup: An American man meets an alleged American woman through an online dating service. After a successful online courtship, the two agree to meet. However, before they do, she must travel overseas to attend to some important personal business. While out of the U.S., she befalls an unexpected tragedy. She is now feeling lonely and vulnerable, and is counting on him to help her through this difficult time.

The Tragic Circumstances: The traveler allegedly becomes a victim of a violent crime, and is robbed of all of her belongings. The manager at the hotel where she is staying has seized her passport and is refusing to allow her to leave the premises until she pays her outstanding bill. Alternatively, her mother who was accompanying her on the trip has suddenly fallen ill. She is unable to pay for the unexpected expenses, and needs assistance taking care of the hospital bill. Often, she claims that she has contacted the U.S. Embassy, but has been refused help.

The Expected Payoff: If he is sympathetic and assists her through her sudden crisis, the boyfriend stands to gain a large degree of gratitude from the young lady. If all goes well, her gratitude for his emotional support will translate, he hopes, into significant goodwill and affection from her when they finally meet.

The Financial Catch: Part 1: Eventually her needs change from emotional support to financial assistance. The tragedy that befell her entails monetary costs – she must pay the hotel bill or take care of hospital fees before she can return to see her new beau. The financial needs range from $500 for the hotel bill to $2,000 for the hospital. The unfortunate traveler ends up having serious problems on her way to America. Even after her American boyfriend pays her visa fees and contributes several hundred dollars toward her plane ticket, there are still many more unforeseen expenses.

Part 2: She discovers the host government has a requirement that all departing citizens must prove that they have sufficient funds for travel.

Part 3: To make matters worse, when she finally overcomes all the bureaucratic hurdles – thanks to the boyfriend’s largesse – she has trouble in transit. During her stopover en route, she is allegedly detained by airport immigration authorities who believe her visa to be fake. Now she needs additional funds to pay a fine before embarking for America.

The Emotional Catch: In an effort to move the on-line relationship forward, the scam artist is quick to identify herself as the victim’s “girlfriend,” or even “fiancée,” sometimes with promises of marriage as soon as she can return.

The Bottom Line: The above-described scenario is particularly effective because it is not random spam, but is targeted at a specific victim. This scam has innumerable variations. Sometimes the young woman – or man — in distress claims to be an American self-employed businessman, or Nigerian-American (thus the need to return to Nigeria for family reasons), a British citizen, but occasionally not even American at all. Sometimes victims hear from a Nigerian “doctor” who claims to be treating the victim’s friend. Often the victim claims to have been kidnapped in the Niger Delta (the oil-producing region of southern Nigeria). What all the alleged unlucky travelers to Nigeria have in common, of course, is that they are all very attractive, and they all need money. The scam artist may not even be the same gender as his/her on-line identity. Some victims speak on the phone with their on-line friend/scammer. In some cases, victims have already met their on-line correspondent in person once or twice; other aspects of the scam remain identical.

In all, the American citizen victim can lose any or all of the following: Over $10,000 for hospital bills, $200 for visa fees, $800 for supplementing the plane ticket, $1,000 to supply the BTA [requirement that no longer exists], $500 for the fine at Heathrow, and hundreds in international phone bills.

Given the amount of time and effort spent by the perpetrator laying the groundwork, many American victims have trouble believing they are being scammed. Victims often report that they had been corresponding with the love interest (scammer) for several months, and only grudgingly recognize the scam for what it is after they learn of the economic realities of life in Nigeria.

Internet Scams: Dating and Romance Scams

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