Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. With so many dating sites and social networking sites, there are tons of new ways to find someone. But no matter how, or where, you are looking for love, you also (unfortunately) need to be on the lookout for these romance scams.
According to the website for the U.S. Embassy for Russia, almost every day reports are filed complaining of fraud. Girls from other countries (in this case Russia) profess their love and then ask for money or credit card information to pay for travel costs, living expenses or Visa costs.
A typical scam is the “fake check” scam. Someone acts like they have a connection with you and offers to give you a check or money order in return for you depositing it in your bank account and giving him or her cash or wiring them money. The check or money order is a fake and you are responsible for the amount deposited. The post office has made a video demonstrating some of the fake love scams.
Unfortunately internet dating scams are easy to perpetrate and way too common. Here are some things to watch out for when communicating over email with a potential lover:
• Discrepancies in your email conversations; vague or repeated communications
• Email exchanges change in tone, spelling or grammar or an email seems as if it was taken from a prewritten script
• You always receive an immediate response, even when you have not told your “suitor” you will be online
• The person doesn’t give you any personal information about themselves
• If someone looks too good, they actually might be
• He or she begins professing his or her love for you in a short time
And, the number one warning sign? A sob story or a problem that starts out small and then rapidly grows. Maybe a problem that escalates into something only you can solve and with money.
Again, do not cash anyone’s check or money order or give anyone who you don’t really, really know, and actually have met, any money. If you do deposit a check you will be responsible for it—down to the last penny.
According to FraudAid.org, “By law you are legally responsible and fully liable for any and all checks or money orders deposited into your bank account by you or someone else, and for any funds wired into ANY of your accounts by you or someone else.” Funds wired into your accounts may be stolen funds and you and your accounts can be used to launder money. You can be charged with a crime—even if you are the victim.
Here are some other scams done in the name of love:
The Re-Shipping Scheme
The scheme involves stolen merchandise or merchandise bought with a stolen or fraudulent credit card. You meet someone online who becomes your friend or professes love to you, the person then claims that for various legal reasons he or she can’t receive packages shipped directly from businesses into his or her home country. Then, you’re asked if the packages can be shipped directly to you and then you reship them to them. Soon you are getting tons of packages; they keep coming until you’re contacted by the authorities or the merchant. Sometimes you’re not even asked before the packages start arriving, you are simply “guilted” into reshipping them. If this happens contact the authorities—before they contact you.
Mail Order Brides
You answer an ad or join a dating site which specializes in foreign women looking for love. Once you respond to an ad you are swept up in a fast moving relationship. The woman says she wants to come to America to live with you but she needs money and doesn’t know how to go about moving. The dating site offers to help, for a small fee. You send money and usually, right before she is scheduled to arrive, a big problem occurs and you need to send a bunch more money. You never hear from the girl or the dating site ever again.
Another part of this scam involves asking you for money so your “beloved” can get a Visa or other papers or pay some travelling tax, or something like that. Often, either the girl or the dating site will send you an image of her Visa to prove that she is really coming. However, it is way too easy to simply scan and alter someone else’s Visa. If you are not sure if someone’s Visa is real you can send the visa to FPMM@state.gov and they should be able to tell you if it is authentic or not.
There is a Russian Woman Blacklist. If you think that your Eastern European honey is too good to be true, make sure she’s not on this list before you proceed.
Nigerian Scams: Not just for email
By now almost everyone has heard about, or more likely received, an email from someone in Nigeria who needs you to hold some money in your bank account or cash a check or something like that. This person claims to be a government official, a long lost relative, a potential investor or many other things. The newest Nigerian scam involves potential suitors. These people will spend months earning your trust. They troll music sites, fan sites and other sites and then pretend to be interested in the same things you are. Many claim to be Americans working abroad getting paid with money orders. The money orders are “washed”—a $20 money order is changed to look like it’s worth $900. The con artist sends you the money order and asks you to wire the money back to them. It can take your bank weeks or even months to realize that you’ve been duped and then you are responsible for all of the money.
These people prey on lonely hearts. They join chat rooms or groups where single people congregate, often sending gifts and flowers. Religious groups for singles are becoming big targets, as people often feel safer in these groups.
These scams are big business. They follow scripts and there’s a good chance that you’re talking to different people each time.
If you accuse them of scamming you they often admit to it and subsequently profess that they have fallen in love with you and want to visit you or you to visit them, they then try to get you into scamming other people with them.
Finally, a whole other part of the scam is someone pretending to be a detective or investigator or someone who can find the scammer and bring them to justice—for a small fee.
Be especially careful of webcams! Scammers use web cams to see inside your house and to create a stronger psychological bond with you. Do NOT perform a sexual act in front of a web cam for someone you don’t know (or only think you know), you could be performing in front of a large group of people and/or it can be used to blackmail you later. They may threaten to send it to your family and/or workplace. If you don’t pay, they may sell it to a porn site. Do NOT ever turn on your web cam for anyone that you don’t know.
The photos these scam artists use are of real people, people who most likely do not know that his or her photo is being used this way. If you sent photos of yourself, friends or family they may be used in a future scam. Photos are often stolen off of social networking sites like Facebook. Do not send copies of your driver’s license or passport and never, ever, ever give anyone your social security number. Never. No one needs this number but you.
It’s heartbreaking that con artists prey on lonely people. Unfortunately, it happens more often then not. However, there are plenty of good people out there. Don’t stop looking for love, just keep your eyes open, use good judgment and trust your instincts—if something feels off, it probably is.