Romance Scams

  
     
February 10, 2016

Pink and red hearts are everywhere, as St. Valentine’s Day is fast approaching.  Around the nation, thoughts turn to love.  Upwards of six million couples will become engaged on this holiday.  Side note: February 15th is the biggest day for Divorce Lawyers.

What about the unattached who are searching for their Valentine?

The world wide web opened for business in 1991.  Internet dating started in 1995. 

The stigma attached to early forays into online dating seems to have evaporated.  40 million people participate in dating websites and apps, which is 40% of the entire pool of eligible singles. 

Over 16 million users are on eHarmony, and over 23 million people are registered on Match.com.  A lot of people are shopping who don’t end up buying: Online dating sites claim that they are responsible for 120,000 marriages every year – a very small percentage of the 2 million plus marriages per year. 

In this era of ubiquitous non face-to-face dating sites, apps and social media, it’s easy to exaggerate personal details like age, height, weight, employment, financial stability, even current relationship status and gender.  Daters have long worried that the people they “meet” online may not be who they claim to be. 

Be wary!

Research has discovered that 80% of online daters lie in their profile.  Profiles with photos receive twice as many emails as profiles without photos; however, photographs tend to be years out of date. The older the person, the older their profile picture.  If a photo is TOO good, it is not unheard of that an identity has been “borrowed” from a professional model.  Facebook reveals that at least 67 million of their accounts are fake. 

Estimates project that up to 51% of all online daters are already in a relationship.  Keep in mind, “Catfishing” is so common that there is a television show called “Catfish.” 

Anatomy of a Scam.

With the annual revenue from online dating in excess of 1.7 BILLION, dating and romance scams are BIG business!  Scams bring in hundreds of millions of dollars.  According to the FBI, romance scams result in the highest amount of financial losses when compared to other internet-facilitated crimes. 

In a not uncommon scenario, a woman connects with a man she finds online.  They email and instant message for months.  She believes she has found true love.  And then, her dreams for a future - together with her cash – evaporate.  After sending him money so he can purchase a plane ticket, all communications abruptly cease -- after repeated excuses for delaying his visit.  The person she pinned her hopes on was really a Nigerian con artist, using dating sites to elicit money from the lovelorn.

Many people are so embarrassed about getting tricked out of their money, they don’t report it.  In 2011 alone, the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center lodged 5,600 complaints from victims of “romance scams” with collective losses of over fifty million dollars. It is suspected that the REAL numbers are much higher.

The national governments of countries out of which scammers operate do little to help scammed Westerners.  A few governments have been known to get involved when the scam is reported as tax fraud – a scammer who is willing to go to extravagant lengths to get money is hardly likely to report their actual earnings to the government.

In the Ukrainian wife scams, Western men chat online with women, and then book plane tickets to fly over to pick up their “email order bride.”   When they arrive, the women they thought they had made a real connection with are unavailable to see them.  The Western men are run through the American cash-washing-machine, where they are strung along on platonic dates that end with them alone with their empty wallet back at the airport.   Although some women are truly looking to find an interesting partner and leave Ukraine, most are simply attempting to make a living.

The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command receives hundreds of complaints per month from victims who claim to be scammed by soldiers.  The “soldier” claims they must pay for lost weapons, etc., before they can be granted leave papers and fly into the arms of the waiting victim.  The U.S. armed forces do not make a soldier pay to extradite themselves from the military.

Scenario of a romance scam:

  • After connecting on a dating site, scammer wants to immediately move to personal email
  • Scammer claims to be U.S. citizen, but uses poor grammar
  • Scammer has an unbelievably gorgeous photo
  • Scammer has excuses to prevent telephone contact
  • Scammer has terrible luck, often needing hospitalization, especially immediately after making arrangements for a visit
  • Scammer asks new “love-of-their-life” for money, to be wired untraceably
  • If money is sent, several other disasters occur, requiring more money
  • Scammer and money both disappear

Protect yourself from scammers

  • Never send any form of money to someone you have never met in person

Any U.S. citizen who finds themselves in distress while overseas may contact the local embassy or consulate.  The U.S. Department of State will assist all U.S. citizens; no one will be turned away.  Consular offices are available 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. 

What should you do if you are the victim of a scam?

File a report with your local police department.

File an internet crime report with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).  If nothing else, with a report, you may claim a tax deduction for your loss.

For a large monetary loss, you may consider retaining a lawyer and filing a lawsuit.  File in your local court against the government of the country in question.  You could charge the country with negligence, as they failed to enforce their own laws.   Contact the press.  Publicly shame as many entities as possible.  Don’t bother filing against dating websites – they have deep pockets to protect themselves.   Your total cost could be thousands of dollars, but foreign countries do have U.S. assets. 

Name all parties involved in the crime.  Criminals have to use real names to receive the money.  This will help prevent them from visiting as tourists, and if they do, they could be prosecuted for fraud. 

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