It’s happening all over, and closer to home than you may think. Scammers are continuing to fake online dating profiles using photos of other people to lure their victims. Once connected, the scammers often say they are from the U.S., but are temporarily traveling or working overseas. The scammers quickly profess their love and tug at the victim’s emotions with fake stories and their need for money. The victims often send the scammers money or provide online banking login credentials.
How exactly does the scam work?
- The scammers start by stealing a photo from an internet site. The photos are usually of beautiful people and the quality of the photo is high. The photos are usually stolen from modeling sites with reports that 90% of them are being taken from a site called Focus Hawaii. If you think you are being scammed, go to this site and browse the photos to see if the person you are communicating with has a photo on this site. They also use photos taken from profiles of other people on dating sites.
- They then post ads with fake profiles on online dating sites. They also lurk in chat rooms and social networking sites, as well as Christian and other religious-based dating sites. They spend months chatting up and luring their targets with online intimacy.
- The scammers often pretend to be foreign specialists temporarily working in Nigeria or other overseas countries. A slight twist is when the scammer pretends to live in the same country as the victim, and once a relationship has developed, then advise them they are required to go to another country on an assignment. Some of the sophisticated scammers send flowers or candy (from stolen credit cards) to capture hearts.
- The fraudsters then choose one of two approaches: 1) They either state that their employer pays them with money orders and they can’t cash them in Nigeria or are having trouble cashing them. Then they convince their “soul mate” to bank this deposit into their bank account and wire them the money via Western Union. They are often told to keep some of the money for their trouble (which helps to build trust and also helps make them an accessory to the crime!). After a few weeks the bank will tell the victim that the money orders are fraudulent and then the victim is often responsible for paying the money back to the bank, and in some cases face charges of passing a counterfeit instrument. 2) The alternative is to say their wallet has been stolen, the hotel owner is holding their passport, customs officials need to be bribed, new plane tickets are needed, they have been victimized and put in jail and need money to get out, or they need money for some sort of medical reason, etc. The reasons for needing the money will sound plausible. Regardless of the story, the end result is the same – the cyber “soul mate” is asked to send money!
Other romance scam variations include:
- Victims are duped into providing online banking login credentials to the scammers under the guise that the scammers do not have access to financial services in the foreign country in which they are traveling or working. The scammer logs into the account and uses the account-to-account external transfer feature to initiate debits against accounts at other institutions pulling funds into the victim’s account for deposit. The victim is instructed to send the funds to the scammer by Western Union or MoneyGram. The debits are subsequently returned to the financial institution as unauthorized up to 60 days later.
- The scammer logs into the victim’s account and accesses the mobile remote deposit capture service, or requests access if it isn’t already set-up. The scammer transmits images of fraudulent checks via mobile deposit to the victim’s account. Again, the victim is instructed to send the funds to the scammer by Western Union or MoneyGram. The checks are subsequently returned unpaid.
How to spot an online dating scam:
- The person is new to the website or hasn’t logged in many times.
- The photo looks like a model or looks “too good to be true.”
- The profile is not well written.
- You are asked to go straight from on-site messaging to off-site messaging such as regular email or instant messaging (to prevent the dating site administrators seeing the evidence of the scam and kicking them off the site).
- The scammer will find ways to get out of live video chat because the profile photo is fake. The excuse they will give is their lack of technology overseas. They will usually hire someone with an appropriate accent for the phone calls.
Follow these specific safeguards for online dating:
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
- Go slow and ask lots of questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating site or Facebook to go “offline.”
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family, or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally!
What to do if you suspect someone you are communicating with is an online scammer:
- Once the scammer has asked for money, stop all communication with them.
- Report them to the dating site.
- No matter how trustworthy they may seem, DO NOT SEND THEM MONEY!
- If you have already sent them money – your chances of getting it back are probably zero, but you should report the incident to your local police and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
T.H.I.N.K First because There’s Harm In Not Knowing!