Romance scams have surged during the pandemic, cheating online daters out of millions of dollars in the quest for love. In , consumers lost a record $ million to romance scams, The spread of online dating sites and apps has made this fraud even easier to commit. Victims in the US and Canada have reported losing nearly $1 billion over the last three years, and Scam Survivors is an organization that helps romance fraud victims from around the world, with useful resources and a forum for survivors. Better Business Bureau takes fraud reports A similar report from the FBI found an even higher number, with an estimated total of $1 billion lost to romance scams last year — and that just accounts for those who reported the crimes ORLANDO, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — A Florida woman is out $, after she was tricked by an online dating scammer. Rebecca D’Antonio said she didn’t think much of joining a dating ... read more
Let me give it a shot. She said prior to signing up for OkCupid, she had never heard of romance scams. She said she trusted the app because she has friends who met their significant others on there. She thought she was being careful by being open in her profile about herself and what she was looking for in a relationship.
She disclosed that she loved children but is unable to have any of her own. He was, supposedly, a single father of a young son and his wife had passed away from cancer. He was originally from Australia but had made America his home. The exchange of money came after Matthew said he was going on an international business and that he was bringing his son along.
After these assets are liquidated they will be used for restitution to the victims. Over the last three years U. The number of complaints, the large money losses, the number of fake profiles, and other data illustrate that this is a massive worldwide problem. One organized effort to gauge the extent of this fraud has been undertaken in the U. Professor Monica Whitty undertook a phone survey of the U. Additionally, she found that 1. Given that the U. has one fifth the population of the U.
No similar studies have yet been conducted in the United States. Complaint numbers, while useful, do not provide a reliable guide to the true scope of the online romance scam epidemic. Victims may not even know they are fraud victims for some time, and when they do find out, they are so devastated that they never file a formal complaint, or do not know where to go to file a complaint, so these stories do not become part of a national database.
BBB regularly receives reports of romance type fraud via its Scam Tracker system or when filing complaints about being scammed when using services of online dating companies.
Canada reports that they get twice as many complaints from females than men, with the majority of complainants falling between the ages of years old. Over half of the complainants fall in to the year old age range. The susceptibility percentage was In addition to Canada, the UK , and Australia, romance fraud has been reported as a problem in Hong Kong , Malaysia , New Zealand , Korea , and Israel.
The most obvious result of this fraud is the substantial loss of money. There are regular reports in the media of victims losing thousands of dollars. According to Australian law enforcement officials, while unconfirmed, they believe that there are more suicides in Australia due to romance scams than there are murders.
The operator of a support group for online dating scam victims says that every member has contemplated suicide. Victims who lose all their money are in desperate financial and emotional straits. Some require public assistance once their money is gone. Professor Monica Whitty in the UK has studied the psychology of romance frauds and found that they develop through several distinct stages. First, devising an online profile and making contact with vulnerable victims.
Many of these tactics are similar to those used by predators of human trafficking and online child pornography. During this process, they also may use these victims as money mules to process money for other frauds. Finally, many times the same people are re-victimized after they learn they have been defrauded. The romance scammers operate on dating websites, but sometimes use Facebook and other social media. Some romance scam activity takes place on Google Hangouts.
There are hundreds of dating websites and apps operating around the world with familiar big names like Match. com and eHarmony, two of the largest worldwide. Some of these online dating services charge a monthly fee to access their services.
Others, such as Plenty Of Fish , are free. There also are sites tailored to different religious or ethnic groups or for people with other commonalities, such as farmersonlydating.
com or LGBT sites. Because the scammers are, after all, crooks, many of them use stolen credit cards to join sites and post fake profiles. In this situation, they try to meet victims, interact with them, and quickly move them to a different form of communication, such as email or text messaging. Thus, when the dating company notices that the credit card information is bogus, and removes the profile from the site, the fraudster can continue to stay in contact with the victim.
The dating sites try to keep the frauds off of their sites as it affects them negatively as well. The free dating sites cover their costs by advertising, and have some incentives to ensure that this advertising is viewed by people who may actually be potential purchasers.
As noted, convicted fraudster Sunmola often pretended to be with the U. Pictures often are simply copied from other locations on the internet. These pictures are important to the victims as they are developing their mental image of the person with whom they become emotionally involved. Fraudsters often make up fake Facebook pages for their aliases as well.
This paints a picture of plausibility that helps the victim believe that they are dealing with the person represented in the profile. Those engaging in online romance frauds try to build personas of people that they think would best attract the opposite sex.
For women, they typically claim to be men that are financially stable, such as business owners or professionals that work internationally. Bringing the child into the equation seems designed to speak to the maternal instinct in victims, as well as to establish that the scammer is a responsible parent and, thus, presumably a solid potential partner in life.
Having a supposed child can provide the pretext for emergency requests for funds. It is also common for the profiles used to claim a strong religious faith, denoting someone with strong values and, thus, solid and trustworthy. They describe themselves as honest or trustworthy. Again, they steal photographs from other websites. And, they feature attractive young women and use the lure of sex.
They rarely portray themselves as living in Africa. The study found that profiles aimed at gay men featured photos of attractive young men, no older than 40, with a mix status of semi-professional jobs or successful businessmen. They often claim to be in the military. Again, these profiles rarely portray themselves as being from Nigeria or Ghana.
It is common for profiles to claim to be for people in the U. military, and this approach is used all over the world. Sunmola, for example, concentrated on women, typically those recently widowed or divorced, and often over He often used the name and picture of a Colonel in the U.
Army stationed overseas. Chris Grey is head of public affairs for the U. Criminal Investigation Command. He says that they get thousands of complaints from romance scam victims around the world. His unit also works with U. Embassies around the world, who themselves hear from victims. He says that the frauds have used photos of soldiers killed in action in Afghanistan or Iraq, and they have even used the photo of the Army Chief of Staff.
At times the victims locate the real person in the military, who are understandably upset with their photos being used to defraud people. The frauds also use pictures of women in the military.
CID has a web page giving warning tips and examples of bogus documents used in the fraud. For example, military people will never need money from romance victims for leave or healthcare. His group has also set up a facebook page to help with this problem. The Marine Corps also have been making efforts to tackle romance frauds using social media. Here is an interview with one man in the U. Army that learned his picture was being used for fraud.
Because the frauds are a business for the crooks, it is not surprising that they use the same profile language, pictures, and standard emails for a number of victims. Here is a set of scripts used by romance frauds that show the progression of emails used over time. There also are situations where the victim receives a text message when they wake up every morning professing everlasting love. Some scammers even send flowers or other small gifts to their victims.
These interactions build trust. We trust other people every day. If we go to a doctor people rarely check with a medical school to ensure the doctor is not an imposter. Or if someone pulls up behind our car with flashing lights we of course presume that they are actual police and not an imposter.
We reasonably rely on quick indicia of reliability to make quick decisions — was he or she wearing a badge? Did it look like a police car? These types of indicia can be employed by frauds to provide some background information that help foster belief. And we often think that only dumb people would fall for something like this, and that with use of their own common sense and skills, they would be able to detect a fraud. The simple truth, however, is that the crooks are very skilled professionals, and it is often very difficult to detect a fraud relying only on our own snap judgments.
The grooming process also focuses heavily on isolating the victim from their friends and families. When victims report concerns by others in their lives, the fraudster often urges the victim to question the motives of other people.
The grooming process may take a few weeks or as long as a year, moving on only when the fraud concludes that the victim is attached and ripe for parting with money. Some scammers reuse successful scripts to trick their victims. This script was used toward the end of a scam. Darling, I have been trying to reach you on phone but I guess network has been a jerk. I am just coming back from the South Africa tax office, Johannesburg with the customs officer who is to find out about my tax payment on the equipments.
Last night while I was already in the plane and my and equipments were till under check, just when the flight was about to get ready for us to take off. A custom man came in and called my name, they asked of my tax clearance on the equipments since I told them I used the equipments in their country working on a building project for over one year 14 Months.
They wanted to call the tax office same time to verify if I am good to go but they were closed so they delayed me till this morning and promised that I would fly on the next flight.
Right now, we just got back from the tax office where I was checked and billed. They said during the course of such a big project, I ought to be paying R8, I am at the airport now thinking of moving back to the hotel room and explain things to them if they would allow me stay for the time being.
I am perplexed right now! We have few hours to get together and this kind of thing is happening, dear, please call me, I need your sweet voice to calm down my heart before I develop high blood pressure.
I want you to forget about this tax bill for now, let us put our minds off it and first get myself into the hotel room to have some hours sleep. Maybe when I wake up we can then talk and think of what to do. I love you so! At some point the fraudsters will want money, usually for a medical emergency, a business problem, or to pay for a plane ticket to fly and meet in person.
If the victim complies, the romance scam will continue on a variety of pretexts to keep the victim sending more money. These can be quite elaborate stories, at times involving supposed third parties. It is not uncommon for the frauds to employ bogus web sites as part of their schemes. These can include banks or courier companies to handle the transfer of money that the fraudster needs to have for business purposes.
There are also a variety of fake government forms meant to prove the fraud. Some of these frauds also claim that a package or present has been sent to the victim. Then the victim hears from a supposed third party, such as a Customs agent from another country, telling them that there is money that must be paid before the present can be delivered.
If the victim pays then there may be a parade of additional monetary demands as the package supposedly works its way throughout the world.
There have been times when victims were encouraged to fly overseas to meet their love interest. Professor Whitty found that some of these victims were kidnapped when they flew to Ghana to meet their supposed soul mates. They were shown money sent in their names, and then were locked in houses for several days. Men with firearms appeared, had the victims sign forms attesting that their money was not for drugs, and then finally sent them home.
If the victim has realized that they have been defrauded, the fraud does not necessarily end. The victims Professor Whitty interviewed reported getting emails supposedly from law enforcement in West Africa claiming that the scammer had been caught, and their money could be returned if they spend several thousand dollars for the fees needed to release and return the money.
It is not uncommon for the scammer to contact victims again, admit that it was a scam, but claim that they actually did fall in love with them. Victims that stay in contact are at risk of losing additional money or becoming involved in assisting the fraudster in other scams. Victims often continue on dating sites looking for a relationship and may again become involved in an additional online dating scam. Fraudsters also sell lists of victims to other fraudsters. There is no point in running a fraud unless you can get money.
Companies like Western Union and MoneyGram are the payment method of choice. Sunmola, for example received a great deal of money sent to him through Western Union in South Africa. However, in some types of fraud the crooks may use bank to bank wire transfers.
Western Union is the largest money transfer company in the world, with agents in almost every country. Some scammers prefer to use MoneyGram, since virtually every Wal-Mart in the U.
offers MoneyGram services. There are situations where you can use a credit card to send, but scammers rarely want victims to employ that form of payment since consumers can later dispute the charges. These forms also designate who is to receive the money and where. It is important to know that money does not have to be picked up at the address specified. While both Western Union and MoneyGram have amended their practices somewhat in recent years, traditionally it was possible to pick up the money anywhere in the designated state or province or in any contiguous state.
So, victims will not know where the money was actually released. So Western Union and MoneyGram should have records for all sends and receives available in their central computers. In Nigeria, one can only collect money from Western Union or MoneyGram at a bank where the receiver has a bank account.
In Spain, recipients had to produce a passport to receive money. Agents were recording passports with pictures of people like Angela Merkel, Cameron Diaz and Sandra Bullock. The Spanish National. Police brought charges against nearly Western Union agents.
No one actually came in to the agent location to pick up the money. It was just collected by the agents and often simply re-sent to Nigeria. The FTC settled with MoneyGram in for similar conduct. Both MoneyGram and Western Union have fraud controls in place. The typical remittance to a family member the principal legal purpose for using these services is only a couple hundred dollars. As a result, the scammers tend to have victims send more transfers for lesser individual sums.
These companies now also share these lists with one another. It is a good program for law enforcement, Adult Protective Services and family members to be aware of as a resource. But be aware -- scammers may simply instruct the victim to use a fake name as a loophole. The fraudsters also may attempt to use other payment methods, such as bank to bank wire transfers. Moreover, there can be a paper trail.
However, this is an increasingly popular method, especially if the victim also is being used as a money mule. In addition, the banks will be wiring the money to overseas banks, where stopping the funds may be more difficult. This method of transferring money is used at times, but it explains why the fraudsters prefer to instead use the money transfer companies.
If a victim is involved in this, report it to the bank and IC3. Perhaps the initial reaction of most people hearing about this fraud is to presume that the victims are simply gullible because we believe we would not ourselves be taken. Some believe that this fraud affects primarily late middle age women who are, by implication, desperate or depressed and therefore vulnerable, when in fact,.
It is an important question, since educational efforts in intervention and prevention must be crafted to the. correct audience if they are to be effective. Needless to say, knowing who we are dealing with their motivation is important for knowing how to help victims later.
Whitty has done some of this work in a study involving interviews of romance fraud victims. She surveyed victims and asked if they were men or women, rich or poor, straight or gay, older or younger. Surprisingly, she found no correlation in any of these categories.
Instead, she noted two consistencies: individuals higher on romantic beliefs were more likely to be victims of the romance scam, and participants with a higher tendency towards the idealization of romantic partners were more at risk of being scammed. This type of fraud can and does affect men as well as women, younger as well as those older, and gays and lesbians as well as heterosexuals.
The one thing victims had in common was a strong belief in true love and the existence of a soul mate … and they believed that they had found that.
Note that this does not necessarily mean that different groups of consumers report this fraud at the same rate. A year after her husband died, Ann decided to try online dating on Match.
com and then over text. King claimed to own a company called Jev Orbital in Maryland, and with an internet search she found this company really did exist.
King claimed to be 66 years old, and said he lived in Pasadena. When she asked he even provided the address. He said he had a daughter in Baltimore, Maryland. When King said his daughter was in the hospital Ann sent some money to help. Then King said he was in Beijing, but was having trouble shipping goods for his business to the U. He asked Ann to help him to pay to ship the goods through Malaysia to the U.
After Ann agreed to pay for the shipping fees, King asked her to buy him four iPhones and a Macbook Pro. She maxed out her credit cards to buy these and ship them to him, again on the promise that King would pay her back. He never did. At 69 years old she is now taking pills for anxiety, may need heart surgery, and is filing for bankruptcy. Her daughters told her she needed to report this, and Ann went to the police and also reported it to the Better Business Bureau.
Despite the heartache she has suffered she agreed to share her story to help keep others from suffering through a similar experience. They messaged each other, and eventually she gave him her phone number. They began sending flirty texts. He told her that his wife had died of cancer, and that he had a 9 year old daughter. He told her he loved her, and they would form a perfect family.
Several months later he told her he had a great surprise — he was going to buy a house in her town. He wanted her to get involved with the deposit on the house, but she refused. Richardson began to ask for more money for his expenses. He wanted more money, and later her credit card number, but she refused. He got angry, and she became suspicious and cut off communication. When Richardson contacted her again, he said he was in Canada and was using a new name.
Josie told him she knew he was a scammer. At this point he told her that she was too smart for him. He said he really was a scammer, that he was an engineering student in Nigeria and that this is how he paid for school. He said though they met as a scam he really had fallen in love with her. Josie once again ended communications and reported the scam to BBB.
He said his wife and parents were dead, but that he had a young daughter who was living with his family, and that they had a house in St. Hope mainly communicated with him by text or email, but did talk on the phone once or twice. He had an accent, but he said he was Italian and originally from the east coast.
They communicated for some time, and he was quite flattering. Paul said he would be home in 2 to 4 months and they would then meet in person. Hope talked to her mother and stepfather about the situation, and they helped convince her that something was not right. She was able to stop the wire transfer, and had taken photos of the numbers on the back of the gift cards. Paul kept harassing her, even calling her at work.
She finally told him off, cut off contact with him, and called BBB to report the scam. Hope has since been contacted by several other men, including one who said he was in the military in Libya. She decided he was probably a fraud and she blocked him. Hope urges people to be very careful when meeting people online, especially if they say they are overseas and cannot meet in person.
The vast majority of romance fraud has its home in West Africa, particularly Nigeria. In fact, cybersecurity expert Lawrence Baldwin of Mynetwatchman says that at any given time, there may be more than 25, romance scammers online with victims, with the vast majority of them coming from Lagos, Nigeria.
It is not clear why Nigeria is the source of so much fraud, though it is the largest country in Africa. It is also a former British Colony, so most Nigerians tend to learn English. And it has an educated population, but there is high unemployment. Over the last few decades there has been a diaspora of Nigerians who have moved across the world.
Thus, there are large native Nigerian populations in South Africa, Canada, the U. Nigerians are not alone in dating and romance fraud. com, a volunteer group that has battled online romance fraud and helped victims for many years, says that there also are separate groups in Russia and the Ukraine that employ online dating sites to defraud victims.
The group suggests that Russian criminal gangs concentrate on single men, urging them to visit Russia to meet a potential bride. The victims are encouraged to spend large amounts of money on an apartment, a translator, presents, lavish dinners, and other expenses.
But they do not get married, and are never alone with the woman. Some victims are beaten and robbed. It is also very common for this type of fraud to target gay men. Those engaging in these frauds do not necessarily limit themselves to one kind of fraud.
Romance scams are different from other scams. They prey on lonely people looking to connect with someone, and can often take months to develop to the point where money changes hands. The emotional harm to the victim can be even more painful than the monetary loss. The spread of online dating sites and apps has made this fraud even easier to commit. Because most people do not file complaints about romance scams with BBB or law enforcement, this may just be the tip of the iceberg.
You can read the full study here. Contacting victims Romance scammers use dating websites, apps, Facebook, and other social media. Many use stolen credit cards to join the sites and post fake profiles. They meet victims, interact with them, and quickly try to get them to move to a different form communication such as email or texting.
This way, if the dating site identifies the scammer as being bogus and shuts them down, they are already in contact with their victims elsewhere. The scammers will often make fake Facebook pages for their aliases to help bolster their fake identity. This stage can go on for months.
It may include daily texts or messages. Some scammers even send flowers and small gifts. This is also when scammers may request small favors. The scammers will convince victims that their friends and families have questionable motives to criticize the scammer.
The sting The scammer will finally ask for money; usually for an emergency, business problem, or plane ticket to finally meet. If the victim sends money, the scammer will find ways to keep asking for more.
These scams can also be dangerous: victims have unknowingly been pulled in to money laundering or drug trafficking and, in a few cases, even convinced to fly overseas to meet their love interest only to be kidnapped and held for ransom. The fraud continues Even if targets realize they have been victims of a scam, the fraud may continue with a new scam pretending to help them get their money back.
A fake law enforcement official may reach out to say the scammer has been caught and the victims can get their money — if they spend several thousand dollars in fees. And the cycle continues.
It also details what we know about the victims, why they fall for the scams, and how they can be pulled into other scams. You can read the full report here.
The research shows that all types of people — male, female, young, old, straight, gay — can be victims of romance scams. Read about the romance scam that tricks people into laundering federal funds. Still Need Assistance? Your local Better Business Bureau can assist you with finding businesses and charities you can trust. Start With Trust®. File a Complaint. Let BBB help you resolve problems with a business. Report a Scam. Research and report on scams and fraud using BBB Scam Tracker.
Become BBB Accredited. Learn more about the value of BBB Accreditation. Skip to content close We are performing scheduled maintenance which may temporarily impact the functionality of certain features on the site. Thank you. Latest News. By Better Business Bureau. February 13, Anatomy of a Romance Scam Experts identify several distinct stages of the scam: Contacting victims Romance scammers use dating websites, apps, Facebook, and other social media. Contact Your Local BBB Your local Better Business Bureau can assist you with finding businesses and charities you can trust.
Email this BBB. Additional Resources File a Complaint Let BBB help you resolve problems with a business Report a Scam Research and report on scams and fraud using BBB Scam Tracker Become BBB Accredited Learn more about the value of BBB Accreditation. Additional Topics News Releases.
Scam victims tell us their stories. Real scam victims have shared their experiences to help warn others about scams. In these stories we ask you to find the signs that it was a scam, and online dating romance scam, Whitty and Buchanan () found from a representative Great British sampl e that at least , individuals had been scammed by the online dating ORLANDO, Fla. (NewsNation Now) — A Florida woman is out $, after she was tricked by an online dating scammer. Rebecca D’Antonio said she didn’t think much of joining a dating The number of people defrauded in the UK by online dating scams reached a record high in , the Victoria Derbyshire programme has learned. According to the National Fraud 9. BeNaughty. Sometimes people think hookup sites can’t be safe, but that’s not always the case. BeNaughty wants frisky singles to have a fun and equally safe experience, so the site utilizes The spread of online dating sites and apps has made this fraud even easier to commit. Victims in the US and Canada have reported losing nearly $1 billion over the last three years, and ... read more
The grooming process may take a few weeks or as long as a year, moving on only when the fraud concludes that the victim is attached and ripe for parting with money. According to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau, there were 3, victims of so-called romance fraud last year, who handed over a record £39m. FAQ: What you should know about the migrant bus barrage. It is also important to be wary of requests for personal or financial information, intimate photos or video that can later be used for blackmail, or for help transferring or holding funds, which may lead to the victim being unknowingly involved in a much larger fraud scheme. Embassy in the appropriate country and they will verify if this is a real business and provide some background on the company. A growing trend is when scammers lure victims into bogus investments, especially those involving cryptocurrency.He asked Ann to help him to pay to ship the goods through Malaysia to the U. Also, says Alexander, who is still "a diehard romantic" and has processed her experience with a similar positivity, "My singular goal was to expose this very dangerous con man, and then I found myself on this path of helping other women. Giancarlo Stingili is an associate professor at University College in London who has been studying the profiles employed in romance frauds as part of a larger project on detecting and preventing mass marketing fraud. Do not bbb victims of online dating scams have lost ib rtd or give personal identifying and financial information or send money to someone in an online romance or over the phone. ORLANDO, Fla.