For me it started many years ago with a personal ad I took out. A picture showed up that seemed way out of my league. Out of curiosity I searched the web and found the photo belonged to a Russian model. Fast forward 15 years, a lady on Facebook asked “does anyone know this guy” on one of the many scam prevention pages that now populate the web. Thanks to Google Images to be discussed later, searching a picture is now as simple as clicking a mouse. I found the photo, another model. I knew it was a scam, but of what kind?
I started writing about it, blogging as the kids call it. Not really knowing what direction the endeavor would take, or just how pervasive the scam is. An eye opener to be sure, even for a skeptic like me. In this article I hope to explore the nature of the scam, the various stories you will hear, and how to avoid becoming a victim.
The “set-up” is as easy as creating a profile on a dating site. There are numerous free sites, but even the paid sites are full of fake profiles. This extends to social networking sites like Facebook and Linkedin. A crafty scammer will often set up multiple profiles on multiple pages, this gives the illusion they are a real person. The bigger the scam, the more social proof you will likely find. This may include web sites, attorneys, shipping companies, diplomats, law enforcement. You name it, they can fake it.
A lot of people often ask, “how does one fall for something like this”? Simple in my opinion, almost all of us now have online relationships of one form or another. Chat rooms, social sites, sports blogs, industry groups, and the list builds. Certainly in my case as someone who works from home, I have more people I connect with online than I do in person. People looking for love are an easy target. Victims are often older, religious, lonely, and are shocked to find someone online with so much in common. But there is a hook, always a hook.
A scammer will likely approach you male or female, I have fake profiles of both. On the male profile, I could probably count on one hand the number of real approaches I have had. On the female profile, a rich older widow I get multiples of messages over the former. Both profiles are older, I have tried with younger pictures and never get the traffic. Scammers know who to target, and who is likely to have money. Just as they will know what to say to win your heart, after all, they are giving the same spiel to 50 other people at the same time.
Distance is almost always going to be between you. The whole ruse relies on falling in love without ever meeting. The easiest way to accomplish this is to pretend to be a deployed soldier, an oil rig worker, a diamond trader in Africa, or living in a refugee camp. Use your imagination, but if they aren’t face to face, that is the first red flag. They may claim to be coming to visit, complete with reservations, passports, requests from a senior officers, you name it. The visit will never happen, emergencies will pop up, and the only solution will be to wire cash. More on that later.
Moving The Scam Forward
Scammers want to get you off the dating sites and onto chat, Skype, the phone, or email as quick as possible. This is nothing more than time management on the scammers part. A good scammer will have multiple chats going at any one time.
Editors Note: The author of this article showed me the CamDecoy System (which is no longer for sale) which was marketed towards private investigators, intelligence agencies, and people wanting to run a private cam show business. However, the following CamDecoy sales video shows how easy it can be for scammers to use the same technology to lure unsuspecting victims:
The easiest protection is to ask the person to do something unexpected. If they are able to fulfill that request, most scammers will feign falling in love very quickly. They will concoct stories such as being widowed, a single parent, very religious, fighting a terrible disease or traumatic life situation. This is all done to elicit a caring response, and to build quick rapport. Some thieves are very skilled and may take months to build up to a big score, sending flowers, gifts and being very attentive all the time.
The set up done, we have just connected with someone online who can’t meet in person, has one or more plights, and seems to be a match made in Heaven.
Scams are simple in their goal, come up with a reason for you to part with your money. Most people aren’t stupid, so there has to be an incentive or a hook. What might you hear from a scammer? The most common version is what is called the 419 scam. There is a sum of money that is in the scammers possession. BUT a catch, they need YOUR help to move it from point A to point B. Of course for your assistance you will be richly rewarded. It may be someone pretending to be a soldier who has a Trunk Box full of gold they want to ship back home. A diamond trader looking to ship precious gems to your doorstep. An oil worker who needs a part to complete his contract, or a simple refugee with nowhere to turn. The stories are just on the other side of possible, and will always require cash be sent on your part. After that, more cash, and after that, more cash. The excuses and snags will never end.
The mule is a slight twist on the above, and may add some credibility to the scam. Please send the money to my “sister”. Or I am going to have a laptop sent to your house, can you send it to me at my base.. Scammers will use those blinded by love to traffic in stolen goods or to perpetrate their scam. Again, the stories will always be plausible, but always a scam.
A slight twist on the above is the travel scam. Your new online romance is dying to come see you. They will produce all sorts of travel documents, all fake of course. Or they may ask you to buy a passport, plane ticket, pay embassy fees, on in the case of soldiers all sorts of travel expenses. It should be noted, this stuff is all fake. With the fake soldiers, they will come up with all sorts of fees for leave. NONE of this is real. Or the other version is a sudden accident, theft, or incarceration. Your love is on their way, but right in the middle of a transfer they are detained. In one case a victim was called from a “hospital” saying their new love was in a serious accident. Any and all solutions will involve wiring cash, and the requests will never end.
The last for this section is outright blackmail, This one is pretty simple, the scammer gets you to take off your clothes and records the web chat. Not that their can’t be other versions, this is the fastest. Soon after your new love will contact you and threaten to share the photos with the world if you don’t pay up.
To recap The Set-Up and The Hook: You meet someone who seems like the perfect catch. The relationship builds, but never in person. They need your help to accomplish a task, the only solution is to send money or goods. Rinse and repeat for as long as they can. So NEVER SEND MONEY OR THINGS, and keep it PG until you know who is really on the other end of that connection.
Sussing out Scammers
The Internet has made it easier than ever to both scam, and to protect yourself from scams. Demand photos, and if you want to be fussy current photos. Then use Google image search , or TinEye to see if the images show up in other places on the web. It really can be that simple. Scammers will steal whole sets of photos that have been posted on social networking sites and use them as their own. There are now plenty of sites that catalog these stolen photos, along with letters, emails, fake documents and in some cases pictures of the real scammer. Side note, don’t let the scammer tell you that HE/SHE is the real person. Oh and for the guys, there are quite a few profiles that have been stolen from models of all stripes. If she is really hot, or the pictures look professional there you go. I have received model quality photos from girls pretending to be in a refugee camp.
If the picture does not yield any hits, Google the email, Skype, phone number, and the text of their letters. Google it all, and you will be surprised how often the email or text can be traced to multiple scams. Pay attention to the writing, spelling errors, and phrases you would not expect a citizen to use. I am John Jerry by name, notice two forenames. I am from United State. Expect the use of cute nicknames, dear, baby, my love. If you are dealing with 50 lovers, hard to remember their names, so pet names are a must.
Be wary of free email services. The only official email address for all branches of the US Military is (.MIL) SGTfirstname.lastname@example.org is not a military address. FBI@yahoo.com is not the FBI. DiplomatUS@Ymail.com is not a diplomat. Free email is fine when getting to know someone, but at some point a true suitor should provide you with their primary address.
Fake documents, fake shippers, and other general fakes. Expect all order of fake documents to come your way as part of this con. Expect to have contact with multiple people. Google these as well. Don’t assume just because it is the name of a real attorney or a real shipping company that you are dealing with anything but a scammer. Often they will use a real name, but a free email address. Phone numbers, locations, and voices can be spoofed. Checking an IP address on emails is a possible step in spotting a fraud. Information on doing this is easy enough to find with Google. Use your head as well, how often do diplomats show up in your life? And most importantly is money involved?
After The Scam
Not only do Romance Scams take a financial toll, they take an emotional toll. If you need it seek professional help. For many the emotion is the same as losing any loved one. I am unqualified in this area, only to say their are some support groups on line and others who were scammed now write blogs about it. You are not alone, but impossible for me to say what is best.
DON”T contact the person in the photo. They know, trust me they know and are every bit the victim of this scam that you are. The have real families, real children and real lives away from the world the scammer created. Let them be, PLEASE!
The Reload, YOUR SCAMMER HAS BEEN ARRESTED says CIA@freeemail.com . No he hasn’t, this is part of the scam called the reload. These scammers will claim they can get your money back, or punish your scammer. It may even be the same person you were dealing with all along. As with the original scam you will be asked to send money.
Report your scammer…