Once an almost unheard-of phenomenon, online dating is today a go-to resource for many busy, career-oriented individuals for finding their true love and future partners. While many succeed in finding their loved ones using this relatively new medium, many become victims to what is known as ‘romance’ or ‘sweetheart’ scams.
According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), there is an alarmingly grave danger of Internet scammers who use fake personas on online dating sites to lure unsuspecting victims into giving up their money or other resources, usually by way of ‘asking for help.’
This type of fraud, known as a confidence fraud, targets victims mostly between the ages of 40 and 60 and is based on the victims’ assumption that they are involved in a loving, caring relationship. It is a method of social engineering in which the perpetrators of the crime work for weeks or even months to ensure that the person on the other side is committed to the relationship. Once trust is established, the perpetrator requests help from the victim, usually explaining that the money is necessary in order for the two to finally meet.
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The toll taken by confidence scams in the past year amounts to an astounding amount of $197 million and has been noticed to increase in the second half of 2015. Furthermore, there is an indication that ‘romance scammers’ have now moved on to committing online bank fraud, which may lead to potential victims being unknowing participants in the crime of money laundering. The Federal Trade Commission has also noted that the average amount victims were defrauded out of exceeds one hundred thousand dollars.
The Bureau suggests that there are a number of red flags to watch out for, but that common sense is the best ally to any potential victim. In the words of JD Shamwell, the American Embassy’s legal attaché in Accra Ghana, ‘If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.’
Online dating website users should also look out for individuals avoiding the meeting, especially if these are justified by some tragic or catastrophic events, as well as keep their eyes opened for individuals with bad English yet claiming to be native speakers, photographs that look like they came out from glossy magazines, and anyone asking for money after only a couple of conversations.
Many crime organizations are working hard on catching perpetrators of such crimes and putting an end to these frauds, which is why victimized individuals can turn to the Bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://ic3.gov to share their stories and seek help.
It is important for all the victims out there to remember that there is no shame in falling for such an elaborate scheme and that the best way to ensure it does not happen to anyone else is to spread the word of caution and communicate with law enforcement agencies so that such crimes can be prevented.