It seems like for every legitimate use of the internet, a parallel criminal industry exists to fleece innocent users out of their money. One of the saddest (and most profitable) is the epidemic of romance scams. It takes many forms, but the common thread is to take advantage of people’s need for love and connection in order to get them to part with their money.
Most often, victims first encounter romance scams either through social media or on legitimate dating sites. If the victim is male, the scammer will usually take on the identity of a beautiful young student. If the victim is female, the scammer’s fake identity will be a successful professional. Usually an engineer, a doctor or a soldier stationed overseas. Whatever the disguise, the story progresses very quickly from introduction to declarations of love. Not long thereafter, as soon as the thief thinks that the victim is sufficiently fooled, the requests for money begin.
Throwaway Lines Typical of Romance Scams
These may take several forms. The “beloved” may need money for a plane ticket in order to join their partners. Perhaps they or a family member need urgent and expensive medical care. Or criminals or corrupt government/immigration authorities are holding them illegally. In that case, they need cash to pay their captors off be able to leave the country. In another common thread, the mysterious love interests claim to be extremely wealthy. But they suddenly must pay taxes or some sort of processing fee to obtain their million-dollar inheritance. There are endless variations on the theme.
Once the victim sends the money, another excuse or emergency will pop up. The scammer will always claim to need more money before the lovers can finally meet. The first request for cash is just the tip of the iceberg. The scammer won’t stop until you do. And you won’t stop until you realize the love of your life duped you. The bottom line is that the scammer manipulated your emotions right from the start.
Extortion in the Guise of Love
Another approach used by online romance scammers is extortion. For example, romance scammers will eventually entice their victims into sending selfies. Sometimes, the requests will specify that the victims pose in some sort of compromising position. Or that the photos or videos be explicit. Even if they’re not, they can still show something that is potentially embarrassing. Or even illegal. Once in possession of the photos or videos, the scammer will blackmail the victim. If you don’t send money, the scammer will threaten to make the material public. After all, by now, the scammer knows who your relatives and friends are. So you believe the threat is real. And you pay up.
Don’t even try to threaten the scammer in return. The photos he sent you of himself, or she sent you of herself, are all fake. They are copies of photos of other people he or she found online. And where is the scammer? Good luck in bringing him or her to justice. The name he or she gave you is phony. A mere alias. And whoever they are, they’re certainly not where they claimed they were. They’re almost certainly in some far off country that has little interest in bringing them to justice. But you have a phone number, right? Sorry, that won’t help you either. With internet telephony, anyone can get a phone number in virtually any country he or she wants. The scammer disconnected the line the same day you realized it was all fake.
But what about the money? Don’t you at least deserve to get it back? If you are a victim and paid the scammer by credit card or wire transfer, it may be possible. Unfortunately, the process of opening and winning a dispute in cases like this is weighed down with an unbelievable amount bureaucratic red tape. Fortunately, you have someone to help you.