“Hello, my name is Chris, i saw your profile now and i will like you to be my good friend. I also have some thing important to discuss with you. Please you can get in touch with me at my email firstname.lastname@example.org to tell me more about yourself and i also send you photo and more about me too waiting ok email@example.com”
No matter how appealing you might find “Chris”, things aren’t what they may seem to be. The reality is that the person that you are talking to is not named Chris and is actually a criminal sitting in a cybercafé with a well-rehearsed script that he’s used many times before. He’s prowling dating sites, chat rooms and social networking sites, searching for his next victim. People prefer to believe what they prefer to be true, and lonely people really want to believe that they have met someone to love and who will love them in return. This lowlife criminal is cashing in on romance, targeting single men and women who are searching for love online.
Most people think that they could never be taken in by fraudsters. They think that they could easily see through someone faking romantic interest. The truth is that so many people get taken in by romance scams, that they have now become the most common wire transfer fraud, accounting for about 20 percent of the criminal activity uncovered by MoneyGram’s fraud department, according to Kim Garner, sr. vice president of global security and investigations. Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o is only one of the many thousands who have become victims, being fooled even as to the gender of the person that they were falling for.
Some romance and dating scammers operate through fake dating websites where you pay a fee for every e-mail or message you send or receive. The scammers simply attempt to hook you into a protracted conversation which keeps you writing back and paying the website’s charges. Other, more serious scams operate through legitimate dating websites. Those scammers contact users, send a few enticing messages or surprisingly attractive photos stolen from other websites, but soon enough (generally within a couple of weeks if not days), they get around to professing their love and asking you for a favour. That favour could be a little money to help them or their family with some fabricated financial difficulty; to transfer money out of their country; or maybe just to cash a cheque for them using your bank account. They may ask for your banking details, your credit card info, money transfers, or explicit photos. They will use sweet talk, poetry and sometimes even small gifts to get you under their spell. The ultimate goal is to get your money, either voluntarily but under false pretenses, or using more traditional frauds. If they can’t defraud you, they will use those racy photos to extort money from you.
HOW CAN YOU PROTECT YOURSELF?
If a romantic partner you’ve never met asks you to send money to him or her, you should terminate the relationship immediately. It is a virtual certainty that it is scam. Never give out your credit card, online account details or send money to anyone whom you do not already know and trust. To be clear, meeting someone in a chat room or e-mail is not “knowing” them.
Avoid giving out personal information when chatting online or in e-mails. While we’re on this topic, may we say that many people unnecessarily expose themselves to criminal activity simply by posting too much information on social media, without thinking of the consequences? If you tell everyone that you are having a great time in Puerto Vallarta, should you really be surprised if your home is broken into while you are away?
If you use dating websites, be sure that you are doing business with reputable sites. Fake websites often have web addresses that appear similar to legitimate dating websites.
If you aren’t sure whether your newly found online romance is a scam, take this test: http://www.romancescam.com/cgi-bin/scamtest.cgi
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE THE VICTIM OR INTENDED VICTIM OF A ROMANCE SCAM
If you realize that you have been or are being scammed, what should you do? It sure would be satisfying to tell this scammer that you weren’t really fooled, how you knew that they aren’t who they are pretending to be, and just what you think of people who take advantage of other people in this way. Please don’t do that, because it will only improve this criminal’s ability to hurt other people. These people have no shame and no remorse. They will use any disclosure of how they failed this time to their advantage, fixing their mistakes so that they won’t fail to get money from their next intended victim.
Don’t return their phone calls and don’t think that perhaps you can get back some or all of any money that you have sent – you can’t.
What should you do instead? Most importantly, stop communicating with the scammer and block them from all methods of contacting you. Don’t reply to their e-mails and don’t answer their phone calls.
In Canada, report the attempt to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Center here: http://www.antifraudcentre.ca/reportincident-signalerincident/index-eng.htm
In the United States, report any attempted financial fraud here: http://www.stopfraud.gov/report.html
In addition, you should report any criminal activity or attempted criminal activity to your local police service. They can provide you with additional resources and might be able to investigate any crime, warn other potential victims, or to coordinate with other government agencies to fight this and other frauds. Sadly, because the criminals are usually located in another, often corrupt country, arrests and prosecutions for this sort of fraud are quite rare.
If you had contact with the scammer through the internet, especially if you may have downloaded any photograph or other computer file, you may have a virus or other malware on your computer. Run a full system check using up to date security software. Also consider changing (from a secure computer) any online passwords that you are using, as these may have been compromised.
While finding romantic partners online is now commonplace and socially acceptable, that doesn’t mean that it is always safe. Use your common sense and don’t let wishful thinking take the place of caution and the exercise of sound judgment.