He’s perfect. He likes everything you do; he’s funny, witty, and has a great job. He says all the right things. His photo made you go “oh, hi there!” While you just recently met online, you just know that he’s perfect in every way.
The online messages, emails, texts, and calls get serious quickly; he professes his love, though you’ve never met in-person. You feel the same. He tells you that he just “knows” you are the one for him. He even sent you roses after you told him what a horrible day you had.
Is this truly your dream-guy (or girl)? Maybe; unfortunately, there’s a greater chance that it’s a scammer sitting in a cybercafé in another country using a well-rehearsed script they’ve used to scam hundreds of others looking for love, leaving victims financially devastated and facing criminal charges for committing a federal crime.
Too good to be true?
Men and women looking for love via online dating sites face more challenges than just trying to tell if the photo is current or from 15 years ago, and if the other person is looking for a serious relationship or a one-night-hookup. Smooth talking (and texting) criminals can make you believe they are someone else entirely and empty your bank account at the same time.
How do I know if I am being scammed?
Age: Online dating scammers usually target people older than the image they are portraying. Meaning, if they claim to be in their 20’s, they will target people in their 40’s and 50’s. Scammers, especially those from foreign countries, view U.S. citizens 40 and older as more financially secure and a better target.
Let’s take this outside: Scammers will quickly want to take communications to text messaging, personal email, etc., and not continue communicating via the online dating site where you met. Online dating sites have ways to monitor messaging services to catch scammers and they don’t want to be caught for the fraud they are. It’s always in your best interest to keep communications inside the online dating site. If someone is pressuring you to take conversations outside of the app / website, it might be a scam.
Where they are: Scammers usually claim to live near you or have family roots near, but are currently away and looking to return very soon. They may even talk about well-known landmarks (easily researched on the internet!) or common family names in the area (also easily found on the internet!). Ultimately, they claim to have some emergency that came up and ask for your help &/or your money.
Let’s Talk Money: Scammers will quickly come up with some reason they need you to send money, claiming otherwise they will never meet you. These reasons vary. If you have children, they will probably state that their young child is very sick and needs medical assistance they can’t afford. If you talk of your mother often, they will probably tell you their mother was in a horrific car accident, and they need help financially getting her emergency care. They will play on your sympathies and emotions. Many scammers out of Eastern countries claim they need to obtain a BTA (Basic Travel Allowance) to be allowed to leave their country to visit the States. Problem is, there is no such thing as a BTA and this is an immediate sign you are being scammed.
Cyber Smart: Clever Ways to Uncover a Scammer
Does their photo make sense?: Scammers usually send photos that look like they were taken in a photography studio. If you simply Google the persons name, everything the scammer told you will be true about the person but that person is also a victim. Scammers who prefer to target male victims will typically send images of women in skimpy clothes or bikinis. Often, online dating scammers are men pretending to be women online.
Do a photo search. Go to Google.com and click on “images” – in the box where you would type what you want to search for there is a camera icon. Click on the camera. Now you can upload the photo the person sent you and search for other sites the photo was used in. If you find their photo on multiple dating sites using different names, be very alarmed!
If in doubt, have a phone call. Ask for their phone number (they probably won’t want to give you one). Phone calls can often unravel a scammer. Do they have an accent or use odd phrases that do not match their supposed origin? Ask them questions that they should be able to answer immediately, like question something about a previous conversation. If they hesitate, it’s because are trying to look up what they previously said to you.
Also beware of cell phone numbers that don’t match the area they claim to live in or areas they claim to be from. If they claim to live in OK and are currently stationed in Cuba, but the cell phone area code is from 495 or 499, invalid area codes in the U.S., then you’re probably being scammed because these are prefixes for Russia.
Let’s Face Time! Even better than a phone call, try video apps such as Face Time or WhatsApp so you can see who you are talking to. Scammers will make excuses of why they can’t do this if they’ve stolen the identity of someone else.
Safe Dating Tips (even online):
• Don’t discuss specific information like your home address or home phone number. Remember, there are predators out there in addition to scammers.
• Google their email address. When you do this, it will tell you who owns the address and if there are any complaints about the user(s) of that address, if they have scammed others, etc.
• Even if asked, never discuss your financial position with someone you met online. Most scammers want to know from the start what you do for a living, how much you make, and what types of things you own. This tells them what type of financial situation you are in. If you feel compelled to answer, try telling them you are barely scraping by (even if this isn't true); someone truly interested in you won't care. A scammer will.
• Don’t go into too much detail about your children, family, or other things that could help someone find you if you decide at some point that you don’t want anything more to do with the person. Disclosing family info could also make them a target for a scam.
• If they ask for money, for any reason, don’t communicate with them anymore. Scammers will quickly use your feelings against you; no matter what you think you have found, if someone immediately starts asking for your money, they are only in this to scam you, not to find true love.
• If you are contacted by someone using the mobile prefixes of +4470, +4475, +6010 or +6013 prefix, it’s probably a scam. These are the prefixes used by scammers in the UK and Malaysia. Additionally, there are over a dozen other prefixes largely associated with these (and other) scams to watch out for. Check out this recent article.
Be careful out there! While most people on online dating sites are there for the same reason you are, there are many others who are just looking to rob you of everything.
For more information, please visit:
FBI: 81-year-old victim of a romance scam, describes how she became a money mule and is now paying the price. Two Federal Convictions for her part in this scam.
FBI Alert: Romance Scams Can Cost You Everything
NY Times: Retirees are losing their life savings
AUTHOR: Rayleen M. Pirnie, BCJ, AAP, CERP
Director, Risk & Fraud
Rayleen is the Director of Risk & Fraud at NEACH overseeing the organization’s comprehensive risk management program, advancing strategy to support both industry and member efforts to identify and mitigate fraud. With over 25 years of experience, she is an expert in fraud mitigation and a regular contributor to multiple education groups to help educate various industries and consumers on fraud mitigation. Connect with Rayleen to read more of her blogs, articles, and posts.
Disclaimer: This resource is intended for general knowledge purposes and nothing in this document should be considered legal advice. NEACH makes no warranties, expressed or implied, regarding a person’s use of the information found in this resource as a tool for general knowledge. You should contact your own attorney, accountant, or tax professional with any specific questions you might have related to this topic.