Don’t let online love scams leave you brokenhearted, broke or worse!
They say love is blind. In the world of online dating this is all the more true. And although modern-day research supports the view that the blindness of love is not just a figurative matter – a research study in 2004 by University College London found that feelings of love suppressed the activity of the areas of the brain that control critical thought, it does not make online dating scams any easier to bear and wade through.
Technically, online dating scams are part of what are known as “advanced fee” scams.
The scammer usually requests money to visit the victim, usually to pay for a visa and airfare, but then suddenly runs into other “unexpected” difficulties that cost the victim additional money. The closer the date appears to be getting to the victim, the more unexpected calamities appear. Scammers often use dating websites, apps or social media while pretending to be prospective companions. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide the money, gifts or personal details they’re after. Sadly, many victims lose substantial sums of money, often their entire lifesavings. Some wealthy victims have lost millions of dollars – selling off every available asset, convinced that their online love needs just a bit more money to make all their dreams come true.
The warning signs
- You meet someone online and after just a few messages they profess strong feelings for you, and ask to chat with you privately. If you met on a dating site they will try and move you away from the site and communicate via private chat or email.
- Their profile on the internet dating website or their Facebook page is not consistent with what they tell you. For example, their profile picture looks different to their description of themselves, or they say they are university educated but their English is poor.
- They look “model” beautiful. It seems it’s easier to fall prey to a scammer’s requests for money when they appear younger and overly attractive. The person in the picture usually has perfect hair, perfect makeup (if a female), perfect eye brows, and dazzling eyes and lips. They almost always copy pictures of people who are professional models or who could easily be professional models. Usually the actual people in the pictures aren’t aware of the scam and aren’t involved in any way. If every picture looks like it came from a fashion magazine, it probably has.
- They are from or traveling in a foreign country. Your lack of familiarity with their country lets them make claims that are not easy to verify. For example, the scammer often claims not to have access to a phone even when they have access to the internet. They might say they need to pay a special, expensive black market visa fee to travel to the your country. The distance ensures that it is not easy or cheap for you to meet them in person. Most dating scams are perpetuated by foreigners because of the difficulty for victims in pursuing legal solutions when the scam is discovered across international boundaries.
- Their email address doesn’t match their name. For reasons they try to explain away, their email address doesn’t come close to matching their claimed name. I don’t mean that their claimed name is Brad Black and the email address is email@example.com. I mean their claimed name is Brad Black, but their email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. If questioned they will say they are using a relative’s email account, using work email, or something like that. Have you ever run into a real-world person that used an email account with someone else’s name embedded in the email address?
- After gaining your trust – often waiting weeks, months or even years – they tell you an elaborate story and ask for money, gifts or your bank account/credit card details.
- Their messages are often poorly written, vague and escalate quickly from introduction to love.
- If you don’t send money straight away, their messages and calls become more desperate, persistent or direct. If you do send money, they continue to ask you to send more.
- They don’t keep their promises and always have an excuse for why they can’t travel to meet you and why they always need more money.
Protect your heart and lifesavings
- Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
- Always consider the possibility that the approach may be a scam, particularly if the warning signs listed above appear. Try to remove the emotion from your decision making no matter how caring or persistent the ‘prospective partner’ is.
- Do an image search of your admirer to help determine if they really are who they say they are. You can use image search services such as Google or TinEye.
- Be alert to things like spelling and grammar mistakes, inconsistencies in their stories and others signs that it’s a scam like their camera never working if you want to Skype each other.
- Be cautious when sharing personal pictures or videos with prospective partners, especially if you’ve never met them before. Scammers are known to blackmail their targets using compromising material.
- If you agree to meet a prospective partner in person, tell family and friends where you are going. Scamwatch strongly recommends you do not travel overseas to meet someone you have never met before.
- Be wary of requests for money. Never send money or give credit card details, online account details, or copies of important personal documents to anyone you don’t know or trust.
- Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for up-front payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card or electronic currency, like Bitcoin. It is rare to recover money sent this way.
- Do not agree to transfer money for someone else: money laundering is a criminal offence.
- Be very careful about how much personal information you share on social network sites. Scammers can use your information and pictures to create a fake identity or to target you with a scam.
What to do if you discover a dating scam?
Unfortunately getting your money back may prove near impossible. To save others from a similar fate, get fake profiles shut down. Report any confirmed fake identities to the websites and email companies that were involved. With dating scams so popular, the process is usually automated. Simply go to the social media site and look for a Report Fake Profile button, and the rest happens automatically.
Although many have found true love via the greater online dating system available today, the stories of scams, thefts, stalkings and sexual abuse are far too many to ignore; and requires as much – if not more, attention, awareness and discernment than the “real” in-person, physical interaction does.
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