Online dating is one of the most popular ways to meet new people. Unfortunately, along with the claims of love many people that put themselves out there are also subjected to online dating scams. In 2016, alone the number of reports received by FBI exceeded 150,000 concerning online love scams and associated with them a total loss of $230 million. Considering that only one in every four cases is reported to the authorities, one can easily understand that these numbers are probably much higher.
This guide will highlight:
- The most common types of online dating scams – Detailed description of the most common scamming scenarios, including Facebook dating scams.
- Most Likely Victims – Which types of people imposters usually target at and why? How do you fit in this category?
- 10 Red Flags – What telltale signs to look for to stay alert and protected against attempts to scam you by taking advantage of your feelings?
- Tips to Prevent Being Conned - How to avoid, deal, and to get over online love scams, which could cause emotional and monetary loss?
- How to report dating scams – Your options to report a scam, from filing a complaint with the dating site and the police to reporting to the FBI.
3 Most Common Types of Online Dating Scams
Although online dating sites implement fraud checks , some imposters do get past these checks, and try to trick victims with one of the following scams.
The «Bring-Me-Home» International Dating Scam
It is one of the most popular scams in online dating, where the scammer pretends to be from the USA, UK, Canada, Australia, or another western country and forges a bond with you. Everything goes smoothly for a few weeks or even months (it’s part of their plan to build trust with you), until one day they come forward with a sudden emergency in Egypt, Ghana, or Nigeria (see quote below). The stories range from a US soldier in urgent need of money to a helpless woman having an accident while in Africa, and they all want money to get back to the States. See, for example, this pissed consumer’s report her experience with Love And Seek dating scam:
“I thought I had met Mr Right but I didn't, his name is John Grandison and he took money from me that I didn't have. I had to borrow money to send to him. He lives in Nigeria and Kenya. He is a scam artist, please check out all of your people that come on this site. He took a whole sum of 15000 from me he said he was from Atlanta Georgia and he said he was coming over here to pay off all of my debts.”
If you send the money, it will be the last you see or hear of it (your money) as the scammer usually drops communication completely after he/she gets the payment, leaving victims heart-broken, frustrated, and confused, to say the least.
The Visa International Dating Scam
This is a common ploy used by Filipino and Russian women that want to come meet you (or so they say) but don’t have enough money to pay for the visa or plane ticket. They may even send you scanned copies of a ticket to convince you that they are indeed planning to visit you. At first, they just present the fake ticket, making the victim believe that he will finally meet with the beautiful woman he has been chatting with for some time. However, there is a last-minute problem that makes the scammers request for a large amount of money so that the trip can be possible. Rest assured that these scammers know immigration regulations and rules by heart so don’t be surprised if their reason for requesting money actually checks out.
The Medical Emergency International Dating Scam
It is the type of scam where an online partner (usually Africa-based pretending to be a western man) suddenly faces a medical emergency, such as a costly surgery they cannot afford. They seem to have taken the whole scam to an upper level. Don’t be surprised if you receive a call from a person pretending to be a doctor or a lawyer telling you that your online partner has been involved in a serious accident. You can guess the next query, right? Of course, you need to send money so your online sweetheart can start the treatment. Medical complications may also come into play, to make you send more money.
- The fraudster may also pretend to be someone from a western country who is temporarily staying in Nigeria for work. Most of the times, he asks you to cash some money orders because they cannot do so themselves.
- Fraudsters may also use social networks to find their next victim for the same scamming purpose. In fact, there is an increase of Facebook dating scams, where scammers borrow pictures from the Internet and create multiple profiles using different names to approach their victims. One of the most recent Facebook dating scams is that involving Dr. Steve G. Jones, a New York-based hypnotherapist, whose pictures were stolen and used by scammers to create fake Facebook profiles. The scammers approached women posing as Dr. Jones, asking for money and promising long-lasting relationships.
Most Likely Victims
The overwhelming majority of people affected by online love scams are women and men in their 50s and older that feel lonely and vulnerable, or people that had experienced a negative life event in the past 2 years or so. Imposters use fake profiles on online dating sites and, once they track a person that fits the above-mentioned criteria, they start building rapport, promising love and marriage. According to a website that posts warnings about fake online profiles, women in the Philippines appear to be the prime targets of imposters while it seems that imposters do not care much if the victim is a wealthy individual or not.
Also, a study showed that many victims of online romance scams have professional careers or successful businesses. What makes them vulnerable is the fact that are less able to control their feelings, and that they can be easily persuaded into doing things. Moreover, many victims were also mistreated/abused in a previous relationship.
10 Red Flags: What to Watch Out For
You should be extra cautious, if you notice the person you communicate with is acting like this:
- Asks for money (for any reason).
- Contacts you from another country but says he is an American citizen (most of the times, his or her bad grammar and linguistic anomalies will betray them).
- Is unwilling to talk on the phone or meet you in person – Their profiles may say they live nearby but they could be operating out of foreign countries as well.
- Comes on very strong right away, expressing deep emotions and love, pushing for a serious relationship.
- Pressures you for your contact information right away (i.e. phone number).
- Has a hard time following the thread of your conversation and replies with off-topic messages.
- Refrains from answering questions about his/her life while asking too many questions about yours.
- Tries to offer you a great job opportunity or a deal on something – chances are the person needs to get hold of your private information.
- Insists on leaving the site and continuing conversations via phone, email or other means of communication (online dating sites can monitor members with problematic behaviors or possible scammers so they want out).
- Displays enormous wealth so that you believe you loan them money.
Tips On How to Avoid & Deal With Online Dating Scams
Instead of suffering in silence, take some action.
- First of all, stop your communication with the person you believe might be a scammer and take the matter to the relevant authorities. It can be very easy to give a person you are excited about what they want, from money to ITunes cards, like this pissed consumer who shares her online dating experience Plenty of Fish dating site scam:
“Started talking with first person for a few months, then they started asking for money. Ended making promises, and they started asking for itunes cards...”
Try to resist temptation and be clear-minded.
Unfortunately, when you fall prey to a dating scam, you are also susceptible to an identity theft. So, it is critical to never disclose personal information online or to people you know very little of. Also, always check the location on the profile of the person you are communicating with. Most online dating sites use GPS software and automatically list their members’ location on their profiles.
- Now, if you are approached by a person that claims to be in the military stationed abroad, research every detail he says and try to verify as much as you can. Ask him to have a Skype video call with you or to make a phone call. Both phones and Internet are usually available when abroad. If you are presented with an official military document as a means to convince you to send money, visit the Army Criminal Investigation Command website to check whether the document is among the most commonly used false documents. Finally, if your USA soldier wants assistance with cashing checks or requests anything else that is provided by the Military, you are probably dealing with an imposter so stay away.
If you have sent funds with Western Union (most online dating scams are committed through WU), check with the company to see if they can cancel the payment before it is picked up.
Note: When an imposter finds a victim and succeeds in robbing them off their money, he or she puts the victim on a contact list for other scammers . Refuse any type of contact (i.e. email or chat) with random strangers. If somebody doesn’t fall within a specific geographic range, just block contact with them. Eventually, they will be forced to remove you from the contact list, once the fraudsters realize you are on to them. However, stay vigilant and report scams.
How to Report Dating Scams
Not long ago, law enforcement authorities had no way to help victims of online romance scams. But now you not only have the chance to report a fraudster but also to see him or her behind bars. Here is what you can do to report a scammer to the proper authorities.
- Report to the Dating Site – The online dating website’s administration should know of this person so do report the scammer to them. Most likely, they will remove the imposter’s profile so that he or she cannot victimize anybody else on the website.
- File a Complaint with the Police – Once the police receive your complaint, they will get in touch with you for more details about the case. They may ask more information about your communication with the scammer, among others. So, make sure you can provide proof that the person has indeed tried to scam you (or that it has scammed you). Such evidence could be text messages, chat conversations, emails, or anything else that provides the proof the scammer has asked for money. You may not get your money back, if you have given it , but you could get the scammer arrested. Also note that due to the increasing number of imposters from Nigeria, the law enforcement authorities have asked for (and received) help of police from across the world
How to Report Dating Scams: USA and International Victims
USA residents that have been victims of dating scams use the Internet Crime Complaint Centre. The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre is the website you need to use if you live in Canada. UK citizens should contact the police immediately while Australians should visit the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network respectively. For other countries, kindly check it with your country’s cybercrime offices.
After you file a complaint with the police, they will probably contact the website’s administrators too for additional information about the imposter’s profile and activities on the website. If all goes well, the person that has tried to or already scammed you may be arrested for his or her crime. If you are lucky, you may even get your money back too.
Although online dating is a nice way to meet a new partner, it is crucial to make sure you stay safe. So, keep your eyes out for tell-tale signs of imposters that want to take advantage of you before you get too close. And, if you do get conned by a fraudster, do not hesitate to report him or her to the authorities. It is your only way to see him or her get what they deserve.
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While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal, medical, accounting, investment, or any other professional advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.