Dating in the 21st Century: How to Spot an Online Romance Scam This Valentine’s Day

Dating in the 21st Century: How to Spot an Online Romance Scam This Valentine’s Day

I vividly remember how I felt on my first date. I was 15 years old (now that I have kids, I don’t know what my parents were thinking letting me go), and my body was still catching up to my forehead. My long-time crush of about two weeks drove to pick me up in a black Pontiac Grand Am that had a white Oakley sticker on the back window. He was one year older and was one of the few boys at my school who had a car…that worked.

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Valentine’s Day Scams: All in the Name of Love

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Courtney Babin
ACFE Communications Coordinator

Let’s be honest, February might as well belong to Hallmark. It’s the season of professed love as cards, flowers and teddy bears with chocolates are stocked in the shelves at your local stores. Subliminal pink and red palettes remind you to make reservations and order long-stem roses as Valentine’s Day looms around the corner. In the spirit of the holiday, let’s all be careful not to get swept off our feet by possible romance scams, especially in the world of online dating.

While dating websites are full of honest people wanting to find love, these sites can be brimming with cons that only pine after your hard-earned cash. Here are a few scams that can turn your ideal relationship into a romantic blunder:

Automated Russian dating bots
KrebsonSecurity recently reported that there are romance scam packages that cybercriminals can purchase to lure men into believing they are dating a Russian woman via email spam or dating websites. These packages include emails from the woman’s mother, pre-fabricated excuses for not talking on the phone, and even crooked call centers that employ men and women con artists who speak a variety of languages.

Nigerian Yahoo Boys
Yahoo Boys are Nigerian men who specialize in cybercrime using multiple cons including romance scams. In October, a story was released of a woman who had been contacted via Facebook, romantically scammed and subsequently used as a money mule for the Yahoo Boys all while believing she was assisting a man she was going to marry. She now resides in prison for money laundering.

Curve ball: Old-fashioned con
Romance fraud is not just perpetrated by long-distance cyber scammers that appear with open hearts (and pockets) and disappear without a trace. While in-person romance scams are not as popular as online scams, there are still old-fashioned conmen and women who would love to sweep you off your feet. For example, doctor Paolo Macchiarini. He was a famous surgeon who wooed an NBC producer while filming a documentary about his work. They took lavish vacations on his dime and eventually became engaged. He was wealthy, generous and a public figure but he still defrauded his fiancée (and the public). He lied about his marriage, his connections, his status with notable figures and even his surgical credentials.

During this season of love, don’t let your wallet and heart get stolen in a Valentine’s Day scam. There are common tell-tale signs that may clue you in on whether your new special someone is actually a smart scammer. Find more information here: Fraud-Magazine, FBI.com, antifraudnews.com, and Romancescam.com

It's Better to Have Loved and Lost (Money) Than to Have Never Loved At All

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Courtney Pedersen
ACFE Communications Coordinator

When the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson wrote his famous line, “‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all,” I’m sure the possibility of romance scams hadn't crossed his mind. Victims of romance scams can lose time, money and confidence. In 2011, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received 5,600 complaints from victims of so-called “romance scammers.” The victims reported collective losses of $50.4 million.

These scams involve con artists who work their way into your heart and eventually into your pocketbook by infiltrating chat rooms, dating sites and social networking sites. Here are a few examples of how these scammers work:

In 2012, Debbie Best met a handsome man, John, on an online dating site. According to his profile, he owned an antiques store in Florida. After getting closer John claimed that, while travelling to the UK and Nigeria, he had become financially stuck and unable to travel home. He asked her for money and called her daily, eventually telling her that he could not even afford to eat. She wired him two payments of $250, not realizing until after the money was sent that his fake name was known online and being used in other scams. She also received the phone bill for the calls John made to her which totaled $1,000.

Recently in Quebec, Canada, William Reid was a victim of an online Valentine’s Day scam. He was speaking online to a woman who called herself Jane. Jane was from Africa, and Reid wanted to fly her to his location so that they could live happily ever after. As Jane was travelling closer to Reid there were a series of unfortunate events that cost him more and more money. In the end he was stood up and out $10,000.

In another story that was featured on “Dr. Phil,” a widow named Norma fell in love with Richard on the online dating site ChristianMingle.com. After they met she soon began sending him money for cars, computers and even money to loan his friends. Richard, who supposedly lived in North Carolina at the time they began talking, created a story that he moved to Ghana to explain why the money was sent overseas. For two years Norma and Richard planned their future together, which even included adopting an orphan in Ghana. Norma eventually learned that photos of Richard were actually photos of another man named Bill in the U.S. that were stolen from Facebook. Over the course of three years Norma sent Richard a staggering $300,000.

With these examples I can’t help but wonder whether Alfred, Lord Tennyson should have put a disclaimer next to his famous line. If you feel that you or a loved one has been duped in an online dating scam visit IC3’s website and file a claim.