Romance Scam: Threatens Both Male and Female, Revived in Cyberspace, Left Broken Hearts and Wallets
Romance Scam Factoid 3 out of 4 romance scam victims in Australia, even after being told they have been victimized, continue to send money to the romance scammer. (source)
Romance Scam, also known as dating scam, is not new, but it is growing year to year. Report by Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) issued in 2012 revealed that 51% of all romance scam complaints are people over 50, with total reported losses over 56 MILLION dollars. This was up from previous year's report of just over 50 million in losses. What's worse, the older the victim, the heavier their losses.
The actual losses are believed to be much much higher, esp. because older victims are less likely to report the crime.
Australian detectives estimate that one million Australian dollars have gone to West Africa EVERY MONTH due to romance scams, and that's NOT counting amount lost to Asian and European scam gangs.
What's interesting is majority of victims are women in the past two years, especially older women. What was commonly perceived to be a crime perpetrated against lonely lecherous men is now an equal opportunity crime aimed at both genders.
In this article, we will examine who are behind dating scams, how a dating scam works, anatomy of a fake profile, and tips on how to avoid dating scams.
Who Are Dating Scammers?
Dating Scams are usually perpetrated by groups of individuals operating out of Africa or Eastern Europe, though recently there has been a surge of similar scam groups in Malaysia, Philippines, and even in UK itself.
A scam group scan be comprised of up to 30 people, using multiple laptops, operating out of a single office in an obscure part of town, mooching internet connections from cybercafes or share 3G mobile hotspots, and collude on how to scam lonely people, esp people in the following demographics:
- Older people (likely to have a bit of savings)
- Widows or widowers (likely to have money from dead spouse)
- Disabled (likely to have received settlement payments)
They will often pick a particular target group to go after. For example:
- Fake younger attractive woman would be used to scam older gentlemen
- Fake Mature man would be used to scam older ladies
A single scammer, usually male, will control a dozen of these puppet profiles, though they usually specialize in either fake male or fake female. It is rare for a scammer to run both.
Romance scam group members often share scripts they had written with each other, to save on "setup time". It takes time and effort to create puppet profiles and they are often cloned.
Nigeria busted one such group in January 2013. There are hundreds of these groups all across the world still scamming.
How a Romance Scam Works
All scams have four stages: tease, please, seize, squeeze.
Tease: If you have a dating profile online at any of the dating sites, such as Match, OkCupid, Badoo, and so on, you may get a request / flirt or find a perfect match: similar interests, looks absolutely beautiful or handsome. Alternatively, you may get a friend request from your social network such as Facebook or MySpace. Again, similar interests, looks absolutely handsome or beautiful. This is the "tease" stage. They have to get your interest.
Please: You two proceed to chat, about inane things. The other party will quickly call you by an endearing nickname, like honey, baby, sweetie, etc. Sometimes, the other party may insist on taking the chat off the platform's chat function to something "more private" like texting or such. That's the "please" stage, where your relationship is cemented. You feel like you're practically engaged to this person, your soul mate.
Seize: After a few weeks, now comes the "seize" stage, where you are requested to send some money, probably not for himself, but for his relatives, his charity, his business, and so on. This may be a smaller amount, but it's not uncommon for a scammer to ask to borrow $10000 USD. There is usually some sort of excuse, like "foreign law prevents me from sending money myself". Sometimes, it's "for a plane ticket to visit you in person" (which will inevitable be postponed due to "unforeseen circumstances")
NOTE: Even if you tell them you have no money they'll probably plead and cajole and ask you to borrow it from your friends and relatives "for a good cause". If you have no friends to borrow from, see "variations" below.
Squeeze: If you sent money, you will proceed to the "squeeze" stage where the scammer will try to continue to squeeze money out of you, a bit at a time, until you realize you're in a scam, was "rescued" by the authorities or friends/relatives, or you have nothing to give.
Variations: sometimes, romance scammers don't need the victims to pony up the money him- or herself. This often happens when the victim confess to having no money at the "seize" stage. The victim then is handed to a subset of the group that specialize in setting up the victim for the "cash back" scam or "reshipping scam". Basically the victim is convinced to cash a fake check and keep a part of the proceeds, or victim receive merchandise bought with stolen credit card and was asked to reship it to some other address. You just became accessory to fraud.
Anatomy of Fake Profile
The most important part of a fake profile is the primary photo, the picture that appears first. It must be attractive enough to grab the attention of the intended target.
Facebook is a Godsend to scammers as that provided a ton of pictures to pilfer, and sometimes, cloned.
Other favorite sources of scam profile pictures includes porn archives, model portfolios, and more. Here are some examples:
Facebook based fakery
Here's an engagement announcement on Facebook between a victim Sandi Martini, and a scammer 'Shawn Maupin', who used an innocent guy's photo. The photo belongs to a real ex-military guy whose name is Corby Maupin, married, and on Facebook as Corby181.
The scammers kept the last time because Mr. Maupin sometimes appear in his military uniform which has his name tag on it showing his surname, but scammers then simply created fake first names for the fake profiles.
Facebook timeline provides a LOT of pictures for any would-be scammer to clone someone else's life. You may not even realize who's the clone and who's the real thing.
In this particular case, the victims had been warned.
If the profile is of a young attractive woman, it probably came from a softcore porn archive. Here are some examples.
To the right is a young attractive girl in pigtails and a pink shirt. Yes, she's cute.
But is she prospective date material?
Perhaps not when you consider she's found in no less than a DOZEN different profiles, all different names.
Some of these names don't sound "white" at all. They sound like randomly made-up names by people who barely know English, and chose two first names, like "Brooke Bella" or "Ruth Abbey".
Some of these names sound distinctly African, like "Gabbish" or "Amoako Alex", which would be VERY unusual on a girl who's "white as snow" (okay, slight exaggeration)
And the first search result is WHoScammedMe scam archive, which indexes these fraudulent uses of photos.
Then you find she's none other than the teen soft porn star "Megan QT". Who can probably be found on sites that contains the words like "coed" and "cherry" and "xxx" and "revealed" and such.
Such soft porn sites are FULL of pictures that would make GREAT profile photos... because they *are* profile photos.
I'm sure you randy males would LOVE a chance to bonk someone like that, but it's pretty obvious that NONE of these profiles are real. They are probably all created by dating scammers.
Some things really are too good to be true.
VARIATIONS: some fake profiles steal pictures from smaller European social networks, making them much harder to detect. Beware.
Model Portfolio and other profile-based Fakery
To target older women, photos featurin gmature male with "salt and pepper hair" (white, gray, and black hair) are in high demand, and those are pilfered from wherever they can be found, with professional male model's online portfolios being a favorite source.
As an example, let me introduce Kevin Rockwood, a professional model in Hawaii (and San Francisco).
Care to guess how many scam profiles was created using his pictures? Too many to count.
And they are all over the place... Facebook (multiple profiles, some still active), dating sites, alternative social networks, etc. So many in fact, that there are dedicated sections just for scammers who stole Kevin Rockwood's photo on the various scambusting sites.
Anti-Scam Forum on KR
Romance Scam forum on KR
Fortunately his modeling photos dominated his search results, and his various talent agencies have all but eradicated bogus results from the search engines, but here's a couple that were archived by fellow romance scam busters.
The truly despicable scammers steal photos from ex-soldiers and create fake profiles based on their names, which are often released as part of public relations campaign, along with sufficient background information, like unit served, current location, and so on for the scammers to weave a convincing fake background. Not just American soldiers, but UK soldiers, Australian soldiers, and more.
What's the Worst That Can Happen?
Usually most romance scams left broken hearts empty wallets.
But in the most extreme cases, it can result in kidnapping and death.
You can be kidnapped for ransom. In March 2013, Nigerian Police rescued a Spanish man who had travelled to Benin City to meet his love, then was held against his will by her "partner" in crime. He was rescued when his sister back in Spain lost contact, informed the authorities, who informed Interpol in Nigeria who then rescued him. The pair was holding him, having taken all of his money and valuables, emptied his bank account, and had him contact his sister to wire over another 2000 Euros.
And he was the lucky one, as he got to go home. A woman from Australia did not.
You can be murdered in a foreign land. In February 9th, 2013, Jette Jacob was found murdered in her rented South African villa on the outskirts of Johannesburg. She had moved there from Australia to be with her lover she met online, and she had previously sent over $80000 AUD to him over the past four years. All of her valuables, including laptop, jewelry, credit cards, and such are missing.
Local Australian police fraud unit, under the name "Operation Sunbird", had written a letter to her warning her of the possibility that it was a scam, and her son had tried to talk her out of going to South Africa, but she will not be swayed.
And now she's dead because of it.
Perhaps you're too smart to travel to another country to meet your love, so you can't get scammed, right? Wrong.
You can be blackmailed, when the "lover" turned psycho and threaten to "expose" you to all your friends and family on the social network if you don't send more money. This is worse if you're female and you were convinced to do a webcam strip-tease for your "lover".
You can be enlisted in a remailing scam, when the packages (ordered using stolen credit cards) show up at your door, and you're requested to remail it to some other address (probably Africa or Asia) to his/her "relatives", and the police would trace it to YOUR door.
You can be enlisted in a "check kiting" scam, when a cashier's check arrive in your box (fake, of course) and you're asked to deposit it, keep a portion to yourself as "commission", and send the rest via Western Union or some other untraceable means to his "relatives" elsewhere. The check's fake, but YOU're the one visited by police.
You can also be so embarrassed or so stricken by emotion... You commit suicide. Back in 2010, a 67-year old New York Man, committed suicide by putting a gun to his head. Checking email shows that the man had emptied his savings and sent total of over $50000 to Ghana to "Aisha", who was supposed to arrive in the US that day of the suicide. A ghoulish message in the inbox claimed Aisha was prevented from leaving the country and committed suicide.
There are many ways you can be victimized.
Romance Scam Factoid: Up to 200000 Britons may have been victims of romance scams according to a 2011 study.
How Do You Avoid Dating Scams?
Dating scams are not that hard to spot if you pay attention. They share some common signs:
If the primary photo is stolen from some other profile, then the profile is obviously a fake one.
If a photo is duplicated on several profiles, it's probably stolen and therefore the profile is probably fake.
If a photo looks pretty obviously digitally manipulated (the head doesn't quite fit the body, etc.) then the attached profile is probably fake as well.
If the photo itself is fake, it's pretty obvious then the rest of the credentials are fake too, and in general, they are vastly exaggerated. No scammer would claim to have only a high school education. Most claim to have graduate or doctorate level education. Also see below.
Bad Grammar / Spelling / Diction
Different countries teach different grammar, diction, and even spelling, even though they are technically all English.
British English, even when written are quite different from American English, which is also quite different from Australian English.
So if a man who claimed to be American uses British spelling of words like theatre and sceptic, be wary. Unfortunately, this doesn't quite come across in written words unless you know what to look for. I suggest reading British newspapers and/or books by British authors and see if you notice a different "tone" from your typical American writing.
And of course, bad English from alleged "Ph.D" is just a huge red flag. As are using homonyms (probably using dictation software instead of actually writing something)
Getting Too Friendly Too Fast
Most romance scams move at "warp speed"... an hour a day or more chatting, talking of engagement within a month, and marriage within 3 months... or even faster. The scammer will start using endearing terms at 2nd or 3rd chat, professing "instant" connection, "signs" that you're the one and only, blah blah blah.
Love is Blind (and Deaf)
Another sign of scam is you never saw the other person face to face (or even via Skype), maybe not even voice. It's all chats. This is often done by male scammers pretending to be female, as they can't fake that.
Plagued with Medical Problems
If the other side claims to have medical problems, or have relatives that have medical problems, beware that it's probably an excuse to get you to open your wallet later, or to avoid "flying out to meet you in person". The really good ones will simply mention the situation and NOT ask you for money. Your "sympathy" should be enough to open your wallet.
A Real Klutz
Another favorite scam excuse is to claim they got into some sort of accident and cannot travel. Could be a car crash, could be sprained ankle, could be sports injury... Anything will do.
"Can't leave the country unless bribes are paid"
Another way to scam money out of victims is the scammer will claim not to be able to leave even though the victim had purchased the ticket for him/her. The usual excuse is "I don't have money to bribe the customs officials". The truth is Africa is not as corrupt as it used to be, and this excuse is getting really lame.
This excuse can be easily followed up by "my relatives fell sick" (as mentioned earlier) esp. if the hint had been dropped earlier. It can also be followed up by the "klutz" excuse.
Inheritance "coming soon"
If the other side drops hints that s/he will get some large inheritance soon, and then you can be together, it's probably an excuse to get you to pay "her solicitor" and such advance fee scam, in that s/he will pay you back when he got the inheritance. There is no inheritance and you'll never see the money again.
Asking You To Send Him/Her a Mobile Phone
Usually used by male scammers on female victims, he would ask her to send him a mobile phone so he can call her daily and assure her of his love. What really happens is this ends up in the scam gang arsenal and is used to scam others as the phone would be showing caller ID of the victim's location, thus thinking the scammers are not in Africa or Eastern Europe. Never mind the long distance charges piling up on the victim's phone.
In one case caught by Australian 60 Minutes, the man caught red-handed at a hotel to pick up money from the victim had 81 victim phone numbers in his phone.
Asking You for Your Physical Address
The ostensible reason is to visit you once he got out of the country, which is why he needs your address. The real reason is probably so he can use you in some other scam, such as reshipping or check kiting scams mentioned earlier.
Do You Know Any Victims of Romance Scams (Including Yourself)?
What Do You Do If You Are In One? (Or Suspect so?)
The first thing to do is seek help in checking out your "date".
There are many forums on the internet dedicated to helping romance scam victims. Some of them are
You will also need to report this to the authorities.
If you're in the US, report it to IC3 http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx
If you're in the UK, report it to SOCA http://www.soca.gov.uk
Or contact your local law enforcement agency.
If you are victim of a romance scam, or you suspect your friend is being currently victimized by a romance scam, speak up!
All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.
-- usually attributed to Edmund Burke
If you're a victim, report it to the places above! And get in a support group! You need help, and you need to tell your story so others may learn from it!
If you suspect your friend is a victim, intervene! Get help for him or her! Usually those people are so blinded by love they can't see straight!
Romance Scam not only steal money, it also breaks hearts, and sometimes, kills its victim.
Don't let it spread.
More on Romance Scams
- Official UK Police Warning on Romance scams
Dating or romance fraud is when you think you’ve met your perfect partner online, but they aren’t who they say they are. Once they’ve gained your trust, they ask for money for a variety of emotive reasons.
- Official Australian ScamWatch Warning on Dating Scams
Dating and romance scams try to lower your defences by appealing to your romantic or compassionate side. They play on emotional triggers to get you to provide money, gifts or personal details. Beware of the warning signs.
- Official US State Department Warning On Romance Scams
Official US State Dept Warning: U.S. citizens should be aware of individuals they meet on internet dating websites who feign friendship, profess romantic interest, and/or express marriage intentions over the internet.