There are a great many quite legitimate dating service websites that allow members to establish online relationships. Often, these online friendships blossom into genuine long-term relationships. An increasing number of people have found life-partners via relationships started online.
Sadly however, scammers have managed to effectively exploit this trend to further their own nefarious ends. Many people around the world have been duped into sending money to Internet fraudsters posing as would-be girlfriends or boyfriends.
A typical Internet dating scam goes like this:
- A person registers at an online dating service and creates a profile. The profile will include information, and possibly a photograph, of the person along with a way for interested people to make contact.
- In due course, a scammer contacts the person posing as someone interested in exploring a possible romantic relationship.
- The victim responds and the pair begins corresponding regularly. They may soon bypass the dating service contact system and start communicating directly, usually via email.
- Over time, the scammer will slowly earn the trust of the victim. He or she may discuss family, jobs and other details designed to make the correspondent seem like a real person who is genuinely interested in the victim. Photographs may be exchanged. However, the “person” that the victim thinks he or she is corresponding with, is likely to be purely an invention of the scammer. Photographs may not even show the real sender. The victim’s apparent love interest may look completely different to the person in the photograph and, in reality, may not even be the same gender.
- After the scammer has established the illusion of a genuine and meaningful relationship, he or she will begin asking the victim for money. For example. the scammer may claim that he or she wants to meet in person and ask the victim to send money for an airfare so that a meeting can take place. Or the scammer may claim that there has been a family medical emergency and request financial assistance. The scammer may use a variety of excuses to entice the victim to send funds.
- If the victim complies and sends money, he or she will probably receive further such requests. With his or her judgement clouded by a burgeoning love for the scammer’s imaginary character, he or she may continue to send money.
- Finally, the victim will come to realize that he or she has been duped, perhaps after waiting fruitlessly at the airport for a “lover” who, will, of course, never arrive.
- Meanwhile, the scammer pockets the money and moves on to the next victim. In fact, the scammer may be stringing along several victims simultaneously.
In many cases, the victim will not only have lost out financially, but will also be left broken-hearted and thoroughly disillusioned. These scammers tend to prey on victims that may be especially lonely, shy or isolated and therefore more vulnerable.
There are a number of variations on the same basic scam. In some cases the scammers may be the one to create a profile on a dating site and wait for a potential victim to contact them. Typically, the profile will include a photograph of a very attractive young woman who will have no trouble attracting would-be suitors.
In other cases, the scammers may simply send out random unsolicited emails professing a desire to begin a relationship in the hope that some gullible recipients will favourably respond. Alternatively, they may strike up a conversation with a potential victim via an Internet chat room.
In some variations of the scam, the fraudsters may not ask for money directly. Instead, they may ask their victim to cash money orders or cheques and wire them the proceeds. The money orders or cheques will turn out to be fake or stolen and the victim will be left out of pocket and possibly held responsible for receiving stolen funds. The scammers may also try to trick victims into revealing sensitive information such as credit card numbers.
If you begin corresponding with a person with a view to a possible romantic relationship, remain cautious even if the relationship seems to be progressing very well. These scammers are very skilled at building trust and know how to make vulnerable victims fall in love with them. Regardless of the strength of your feelings towards a correspondent, you should view any requests for money as highly suspicious. Internet dating scammers often used the same names, family details and cover stories in multiple dating scams. Therefore, you may be able to expose a scam by conducting Internet searches on the names used by the scammers or key phrases from their emails.