By the AllClear ID Team
George here from the AllClear Investigation Team. Online dating scams have existed almost as long as online dating itself began. Scammers prey upon peopleâ€™s hopes of love and long term relationships, and those who are fleeced can be too ashamed and embarrassed to report it to law enforcement.
How it works: A single person or sophisticated gang creates dozens of identities by capturing information people provide on social media networks like Facebook and LinkedIn. Then, they create profiles on sites like Match.com to cultivate relationships for weeks or months with many individuals at the same time.Â The least experienced scammer will ask for money shortly after first contact, using a hard-luck story as the reason. The more experienced scammer will wait for a few weeks, then ask for small amounts to be wired, or request the victim to purchase electronics and ship the items to them. Â Once successful, the requests are larger and more frequent. Â The stories vary but the request is the same: They want money wired to them through services like Western Union. The outcome: The lovelorn victim has now participated in money laundering, owes the entire amount of money he or she sent, and is at risk of being indicted for theft and forgery.Â Perpetrators can be located anywhere, including the city you live in, but often they come from countries known for scams, like Nigeria and Ghana.
Looking for love, romance and relationships via online dating sites can be safe, but you do have to take precautions:
- Stick to paid online dating sites. Members mustÂ pay to register, therefore their credit card information has to be on file, and that means a lot less scammers using those sites.
- Stay private. Make sure your social network profiles are set to â€œprivateâ€ so only your friends have access to them, and you reduce the risk of someoneÂ using your pictures fraudulently. Be judicious in what personal information you reveal on your dating profile, and what you give to prospective suitors. All a scammer needs to apply for credit and get approved is your name, Social Security number, date of birth and a home address.
- If itâ€™s too good to be true, then it most likely is. Some popular scams are that your suitor is at the airport coming to visit you but her credit card was declined or stolen, so he or she requests you pay for the plane ticket.Â Some impersonate soldiers, claiming they are stationed in Iraq or Afghanistan.Â The photos they provide are of real soldiers but have been stolen from social networks.
- Tell-tale signs of scammers: Communication is vague, and the information is difficult to understand or is often repeated. Email messages change tone, language, style or grammar. Hardship, bad luck or sad stories are shared early and quickly change into an emergency situation where money is needed. Long- distance relationships on online dating sites are especially vulnerable as most scammers target victims outside their area to avoid being caught. Staying in your local area reduces your odds of being scammed.
- Check them out online. Use search engines like Google to check a suitorâ€™s email addresses. Also search some of the dialog in the email exchanges youâ€™ve had. Some of these perpetrators use the same exact email and written conversation for many different online dating sites. Upload a suitorâ€™s photo to tineye.com, a reverse image search engine, to find out where it came from, how itâ€™s being used or if modified versions of the image exist. Â Donâ€™t open attachments from strangers. Scammers often send key logger viruses in attachments that state itâ€™s their personal picture. If you open it, you may unwittingly allow a virus into your computer.
- Be a cheapskate date. Never wire money to anyone youâ€™ve met online and certainly not to anyone youâ€™ve never met in person. If for some reason you feel you need to, research your legal responsibilities first.
To read up-to-date information about identity theft scams, check out our blog.
Views expressed are the personal views of the author, and do not represent the views of the National Foundation for Credit Counseling, its employees, its members, or its clients.