They pose as shy demure ladies or earnest men seeking a serious relationship – but all they really want is to gain your trust so they can take your money.
Although they can live in any country in the world, most romance scammers operate in Nigeria and Ghana where they use the Internet as their tool to con people looking for love on matchmaking websites half a world away. Once they’ve set up their fake profile, the next step is to send out mass e-mails to every man or woman on the site, hoping someone will take the bait.
Some are more clever than others. You can spot the clumsy ones: a photo that looks like a supermodel, fields in their profile filled with “cut and paste” text like “I’ll tell you later” and an invitational e-email cooing about how they think you’re just the person they’ve been looking for – along with a request that ongoing correspondence be conducted via their yahoo or hotmail address.
Others are more seasoned hunters who know it takes time to capture their prey. They have the patience to win the confidence and affection of their targets. Once the emotional bond is in place, there comes the inevitable request to wire money to save them from some kind of emergency – sick mother, broken down car, stranded at the airport.
The increasing problem has forced crime agencies, such as the Serious Organized Crime Agency (SOCA) in England, to send officers from its Anti-Kidnap and Extortion Unit to West Africa to help train police there. SOCA reports that millions of people are being targeted by organized criminal gangs that use the latest mass marketing techniques to defraud their victims of an estimated $5 billion a year.
Police have urged victims of scams not to stay silent but to report their experiences to raise awareness of fraud. Meanwhile, the scams are becoming more sophisticated and plausible as criminals attempt to keep one step ahead of publicity and law enforcement agencies.
The romance scammers start by asking for small amounts of money, and as trust builds, they ask for increased amounts. Frequently, when police inform someone of a scam, the victim refuses to believe it because of the trust they’ve built with the perpetrator of the scam.
A recent story on MyFoxTampaBay.com by Felix Vega tells how con artists are after people’s money and will do anything to get it, including promises of love and romance over the internet.
The article provided the following example:
Like so many people looking for love these days, “DJ” turned to a dating website and met a man she thought would change her life. He said his name was Mike Smith.
DJ, who did not want to give her full identity, says she spent four or five hours almost every night talking to “Mike.”
So when Mike started asking her for small amounts of money, DJ thought nothing of it, hoping that he would use the money to eventually come visit her. Before it was over, DJ was even drawing $1,500 cash advances on her Discover card each time he asked.
DJ had fallen prey to just one of a growing number of online frauds. In her case, Mike turned out to be a man in Ghana, Africa, who spent the better part of six months gaining her trust and scamming her out of thousands of dollars.
With big money being lost by unsuspecting Americans, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, or IC3, is hoping it can stop the con artists and warn the public of other potential scams before they become a victim like DJ.
The IC3 gets more than 20,000 complaints a month from fraud victims. The number and types of scams currently under investigation are as far-reaching as the internet itself. Most involve establishing some level of trust with the internet user to gain access to sensitive personal and financial information.
If you think you have been the victim of an internet scam, you can file a complaint with IC3. The website includes a list of scams the FBI is currently tracking.