International Relationship Scams
In the last months, I have had the unfortunate task of informing a number of clients, and even a good friend, that they were caught up in another relationship scam. Sad to say, we so want to be loved – and to love – that we can be trapped by our desire, our willingness to trust, afraid to listen to our inner warning bells.
While being psychic is extremely useful in these situations – it pushes you to notice the small details that can alert you to a con artist – it really doesn’t take being psychic to find out the truth in most cases. A client recently gave me the name of the man she was inquiring about. One Google search verified my instincts – I found his name connected with a variety of Internet scams sourced, as expected, from Nigeria.
These web-based relationship scams have taken so many women for so much money that I felt it was important to publish some insights about how these scams operate. Although the Internet makes it a lot easier for these vampires to prey on folks, it also provides a great deal of information that can help you avoid being taken for both your affections and your money.
Janet requested a reading about a man she was getting involved in, and while waiting for the reading, wisely trusted her instincts and took the time to do a a little research, as I recommend… It diidn’ take long for her to recognize the truth. Her story is so typical, that with her permission, I am reprinting our dialogue here:.
Unfortunately, my suspicions about Marcus turned out to be correct. He was too good to be true. We met on-line, and the photos he claimed were him turned out to be stolen photos of a model based out of Hawaii (should have known he was way too cute to be from around here). In truth, Marcus (I have no idea of their real identity) was merely a scam artist whose goal was to eventually draw money from me. I had a sense that something wasn’t right, and did some research about on-line scams and discovered the truth.
I was actually very lucky. I didn’t provide any personal information about myself (such as addresses, account numbers, etc.) so no harm was done .. other than my disappointment that the connection I was feeling turned out to be based on a lie. Still, I feel I learned more about myself from this experience. I have learned that I am able to go with the flow and be open, and still be smart enough to protect my overall well-being, all at the same time.
Janet, I’m surprised that this one got by Lisa… (Lisa’s reading said with patience, this relationship might work) – sadly these scams are becoming all too common, and they put up such a good front that even the psychics don’t see them… although I must say I have caught a couple out recently… I’d be interested in knowing a bit more about how you first connected with this man and what roped you in… Let me know, OK? Lotsa LLLove, Danielle
I would be happy to share what I know. :-) Actually, it makes me feel better that it got by Lisa. :-)
This person was really good at their game, and I was definitely wanting to believe all the nice things they had to say. When someone tells you how wonderful you are, it is only natural that you want to believe it. :-)
I met this person via Match.com. They said they really liked my profile and wanted to get to know me better. We started communicating via email … and they soon told me they were removing their profile because they wanted to focus 100% of their intentions on building a relationship with me. Then they asked me to remove my profile (which made me skeptical since it was so soon after we had started communicating). The person kept telling me I was wonderful, and sweet, and beautiful … all the things a person wants to hear. Then suddenly, before we could meet face to face, this individual was called away to Nigeria for a contract job. This again made me skeptical, since they were able to get a flight out so quickly. I mean, after all, Nigeria isn’t the easiest place to reach. Still, I carried on communication (with a bit of doubt in the back of my mind). This person continued to send emails once they “arrived in Nigeria”. Saying they wished I were there, they couldn’t wait to get home to spend time with me, and promising to bring me gifts. They told me about their trip to the hotel from the airport, chatted about the weather, etc. Then suddenly I get an email telling me they are having trouble dealing with the Nigerian banks. This was my final straw. I knew something wasn’t right. I simply sent a sweet email telling them to contact their bank here in the US. I said their bank should be able to resolve the issue, and there was no need to deal with any of the Nigerian banks directly. Then I went straight to work searching for info on on-line scams.
I started reading the messages at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/romancescams/messages?o=1 and found a lot of useful information. It was through this board that I happened to find a link that lead me to the pictures that had been used by my scammer. Turns out my gorgeous fellow is really named Thomas, and has no idea I exist. What a shame. He was such a cutie. :-)
Please feel free to share this info. All I ask is that you change the names in the story to protect the foolish. ;-)
Not so foolish, hon, you did the very things I recommend, you searched for the truth and got it… many women have been bilked in the same way, and for many thousands, you at least stopped it before it got very far… – PLEASE report him to Match.com – this is a site Dr Phil promotes, and he is one of the folks who has been talking about preventing this kind of thing… Match.com supposedly has some protection against these fraud artists. I would make it as difficult as you can for sweet “Marcus” to make another connection… I might even write to the owner of the photo and let him know…Lotsa LLLove, Danielle
Following are excerpts from two articles I found when researching the topic for this article. I included the story from Australia as an indication of just how internationally prevalent this scam is…
Beware of Sending Money Overseas to a Pen-Friend or Prospective Marriage Partner to Visit Australia to Further a Relationship Begun Over the Internet.
Several Australian citizens have been defrauded by bogus internet friendship, dating and marriage schemes purportedly operating mainly from Russia . These large-scale, well-organised scams typically result from connections made through internet dating schemes or chat rooms. Once a virtual relationship develops, the Australian citizen is asked by their friend or prospective marriage partner to send money to enable travel to Australia . Once the money has been received, the relationship is usually terminated and any chance of recovering the funds is highly unlikely.
The scammers often make use of what appear to be Australian Government email addresses to send fraudulent emails to the Australian party, informing them that the friend or prospective marriage partner has been granted a visa to visit Australia to further the relationship. The message may include fake details of a non-existent visa.
HAMPTON FALLS — Scam artists are tapping into the online dating market, and in two cases in Hampton Falls, have stolen thousands of dollars from women who thought they had a romantic relationship.
Both victims are professional women scammed by expert salesmen.
One case began in January 2002, after one woman met a man online through the Yahoo Personals. She loaned him, over the course of more than a year, $109,000 for his alleged trucking business.
Some people are embarrassed to come forward and admit they’ve been taken This may be particularly true of senior citizens who respond to e-mail requests for money.
This spring, another female resident said she began e-mailing a man she met through an online dating service. She never met him in person. He told her he was an American citizen working in Nigeria . He began making requests for cash. She sent him at least $10,000.
She then received a letter and a $7,500 check from a woman across the country who asked her to send the money to him. When she tried to wire the money, the company stopped her from sending it.
Schemes out of Nigeria are notorious, he said, because the country will do nothing to cooperate with U.S. investigations of Internet fraud.
They know how to tap into someone’s emotions and Americanswant to help the underdog.
How romance scammers operate
Online romance scams are not as prevalent as email scams, but they are becoming more common and often target those over 50. According to Cormier, the RomanceScams site has grown from 300 hundred members a year ago to more than 7,000 in early 2007. According to Audri G. Lanford, co-director of the public service Web site ScamBusters.org, online dating scams were number 8 on the list of top 10 Internet scams for 2006. Joelle Kaufman, vice president of the online dating site Engage.com, says that her company finds at least 10 to 20 new accounts every day that are actually scammers. Although many get caught, they come back again and again.
The scammer joins the service, sets up an account -under a fake name, using a stolen photo of a very attractive person — sends email to a large number of members, and waits for responses. (Often a “woman” is actually a man in virtual disguise.) These criminals may spend months developing a relationship under false pretenses, waiting for the time to strike.
When the scammer decides it’s time to reel in his fish, typically he will claim to have been relocated overseas. Then, he will fake some problem — perhaps a destroyed laptop, critically ill friend, or personal financial disaster – and ask his victim for help. This may be a loan to help the friend who needs an operation, a request to send a laptop that he can’t otherwise get to Africa , or a plea to deposit a cashier’s check and then send the money because there is some problem with a bank account.
Whatever story the scammer uses, it’s all fiction. The cashier’s check will be counterfeit, and the bank that provisionally credits the account will want its money back. The credit card the scammer provides to pay for the laptop will have been stolen, and the manufacturer will hold the victim responsible for payment. And because the scam was conducted across international borders, the chances of recovering lost money are virtually zero.
Don’t call these victims losers; it’s far easier to join their ranks than you might think. Cormier says she knows of two Texas Rangers taken in romance scams. “The [scam technique] that [surprised] me was the request to forward a package,” says Mark Brooks, head of the industry analyst site OnlinePersonalsWatch.com. “I would do that – I wouldn’t think anything of it.”
Those looking for love are naturally vulnerable, and the scammers are patient. They spend months cultivating a sense of trust and even love in their victims. When the hard luck story comes, the victim is eager to help out someone they’ve come to care about. They follow their heart instead of keeping their head.
Luckily RomanceScams has compiled a set of warning signs that might make you think a little more skeptically about a request for help from someone you have never met. Beware if this person:
• Has a profile that seems too good to be true. The person is interesting, articulate, and has a very attractive picture (although some con artists are getting smart enough to post pictures of “regular” people).
• Is located overseas. You’re chatting with someone who either lives in Africa or Russia , claims to have relocated there, or claims an African parent.
• Tells an inconsistent story. Elements of the story you get — or even what you see in his or her picture — don’t add up.
• Cannot spell or write correct sentences. Scammers often have exceptionally poor English skills.
• Calls you pet names. This reduces the chance the scammer will use the wrong name with the wrong target.
• Communicates like a younger person. If the person uses chat abbreviations and emoticons that are out of character for someone of that age and professional status, be suspicious.
• Sends gifts. If the person sends you flowers, candy, and other small gifts, be wary.
• Asks you to call. The romantic interest would love to talk with you on the phone but wants you to call. Also, he or she wants you on a Web cam but doesn’t have access to one. Hours exchanging instant messages (IMs) with you stops on weekends.
• Exerts control. You get few personal details of the person, who tries to isolate you from friends, family, and your usual activities.
• Acts desperate. You’re the only one to turn to in an hour of need.
• Asks for help. When he wants you to send or loan money, deposit money orders or Western Union transfers, or receive merchandise and resend it overseas, watch out!
You probably won’t get all of these warning signs, but even if you see only one or two, there’s a good chance that something fishy is going on. See http://www.eons.com/love/feature/yourself/12989 for more details.
You can do it!
Here’s what you can do to stay out of a scam artist’s clutches.
• Google the person. Some early research can point out a faker. Do a check on Google.com, for example, to see if you can verify where the person lives.
• Trace the person. There are tools on the Internet that let you trace someone’s IP address (the Internet’s equivalent of a street address) and connect it to a geographic location. That spot should match up with what the person has told you.
• Insist upon a meeting. Ask when the person is going to be in your area. Whether or not he is a scammer, true romance cannot flower if you are on different continents.
• Pay attention to details. If someone doesn’t know things that he or she should – such as basic things about the culture in which she claims to live — then something is wrong.
• Hang onto your money. No matter how heart-wrenching a story the person tells you, don’t send money or get involved in receiving and forwarding goods for someone.
• Don’t assume that “local” is safe. Just as not all Nigerians are scammers, not all scammers are Nigerian. A con artist could be anywhere in the word, including your own back yard.
And I would add, “Listen to your inner voices, be willing to notice and follow up when something just doesn’t feel right. And run, as Janet did, the moment a request for money comes up.”