Among all the identified scams in the United States, that range right from zero loss to about $2,000,000, as per Better Business Bureau, in 2018, 160 online dating scams were reported. Further, 3 scams were worth more than $100,000 and 12 other individuals lost their hard-earned money in the range of $20,000 to $70,000. Maximum cases were registered in Philadelphia, followed by Florida, Virginia, and Houston.
Effects of Dating Scams
As per Scamwatch’s 349 people lost a total of $1,245,423 in 2018 in which almost 57% of the victims were women. When it comes to using popular dating sites, it is generally considered reliable by most of the users, however, lack of KYC by such service providers often allows, if not encourages, scammers to exploit the victims sexually and/or financially.
In most cases, the scammer portrays himself/herself as a fairly rich person and convinces the victim to transfer money by gaining sympathy. To achieve that, the scammer invests a fairly long time to lure a victim into an emotional trap and/or gain trust and then construct gullible and reasonable cases, for instance, hospital bills, or travel expenses to ask for money. As soon as the money is transferred, which generally are international wire transfers, the fraudster goes ghost.
The finesse of professional scammers makes it impossible for a victim to separate the truth from a false story. But how can you differentiate between reality and deception? Well, there is no clear black and white when it comes to defining the amount of trust that can ensure that the person you believe is right. Isn’t that what trust actually means? However, you need to make sure that you understand the gray area involved in any relationship and how to do the best from your end to avoid losing your money to a fraud.
Types of Online Dating Scams
There are basically 4 types of romantic scams prevailing in the United States and across the globe.
A scammer may take inappropriate or personal information from your online portfolio and ask you to either perform sexual acts on webcam and then blackmail you to extort money. In romantic scams, the person may record intimate moments and then threaten to share it with your friends or family.
No matter how dire the situation is, negotiating with a scammer has never gone down well with anyone because once you agree to the demands, you are simply opting to go down the rabbit hole as the blackmailer would never stop. So, it is important that you do not comply with any of the demands of such scammers and before the situation goes out of your hands; it is best that you confront your closed ones.
2. 419 scams
Often known as ‘Nigerian 419 scams’ or ‘Nigerian prince scams’ because of its point of origin, in this scam, the scammer may ask you to move a certain amount of money promising to give you a decent portion as a commission for an assignment. Supported by an often sad story, the scammer would ask you to deposit a certain amount as a ‘fee’ to move the payment and this is where they have played their game. This is why they are also known as ‘advance-fee scams’.
Even though money laundering is a criminal offense in itself, still, this get-rich-quick scheme entices several people to take part in this process. So, to win your confidence, if need be, one may even play with your emotions by taking you into confidence and then asking you to do immoral or in some cases, illegal activities which is yet another spun version of online dating scams.
Such traps could even lead one to take his or her own life, as was reported in 2007 when a Chinese student from the University of Nottingham committed suicide after realizing that she had fallen for such a scam. The same was reported from Cambridgeshire where a UK citizen burned himself after discovering that the lottery-win of $1.2 million was a scam.
This type of scam is generally reported by military personnel whose information is put online by the government without any prior notice. By digging personal information of such personnel, online fraudsters, especially operating from Ghana and Nigeria give them an option to wire money to their family members using some well-known but unsafe platforms which do not require any identification of the receiver or beneficiary. Using honey-traps and persuasion, scammers either get their hands on the account details of the victim or convince him to transfer money to their accomplices who could be present anywhere in the world.
How to Identify an Online Dating Scammer?
Other than understanding the different scenarios that fraudsters usually opt for, recognizing the scammer and his or her behavior is equally important to avoid becoming a victim of online dating scams:
1. Is the online dating website Reliable?
Because of the emerging trend of online dating in the 21st century, scammers have even been reported to invest their time and money in developing random websites to lure in the customers. Apart from simply using a third party reliable dating websites such as Match 221, PlentyOfFish, OkCupid, mobile applications like Tinder, Grinder, or social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram et cetera, some are even hosting an entire platform to conduct such malicious activities.
To avoid getting scammed through the latter tactics, it is important that you only sign up on reliable platforms. Furthermore, in case there is any dispute or any report of an online scam, as long as you are keeping the conversation on a specific platform, till then, it is the responsibility of the platform itself to ensure that all the registered users get a quality service. Therefore, it is highly recommended to avoid switching the conversation to email or phone number without knowing the next person fairly. An inability to do the same could give away your personal information which is a high-risk endeavor.
2. Avoid a Scammer in the First Place
Before initiating any conversation or making any commitments, it is important that you conduct a thorough background check on the person you are approaching for or the ones who are trying to contact you. If there are irregularities in his or her profile details or if anything seems too good to be true, you have the option to confront them and ask the concerned person directly but if you are still not satisfied with the response, consider it a red flag and simply avoid such scenarios.
To verify that the person is exactly who he or she is saying, you can also search his or her image on search engines and check for any duplicates. This would help you to comprehend whether the person is an imposter searching for potential preys unaware of online dating scams or a real and genuine individual.
To be on the safer side, it is also important to keep yourself safe from even the reach of potential fraudsters. So, you must always keep your profile settings as ‘private’ and do not give away any personal information on any public network. As mentioned in the previous section, just refrain from presenting any such information that scammers can use as leverage over you to blackmail.
3. Know When You Should Reject!
As soon as you take a positive step towards embracing your fondness with a person you met online, make sure that you ask him or her about the social life, political affiliations, hobbies, achievements et cetera. You do not have to make it a professional interview but it is important that you know who you are talking to in a better manner.
One of the rookie mistakes committed by fraudsters is that they tend to commit mistakes while having any conversation which includes mixing pronouns, using wrong grammar or punctuation. In case there are is any inconsistency in the storyline or description or the way he or she is responding to you, avoid such individuals. Distance yourself from people with strange or inappropriate behavior.
4. Call the Person
If you are satisfied with the conversations you had on text, then the next step must be to ask for a voice or video chat. An outright refusal to do so is an indication of something shady.
Before meeting the individual in person, never share your personal details, especially your financial details. If the other person is encouraging you, you must never undermine this gesture. Further, without knowing the other person in-and-out, never commit to taking any responsibilities as it may backfire on you, and cause you not just financial but also personal and even professional difficulties.
What to do if you spot a scam?
It is highly recommended that you do not rush into any wire transfer without knowing the beneficiary but if it is too late and you have already sent money to someone who you think could be a scammer, the first thing you need to do is – contact your bank and the money transfer service.
Although the scammers are always waiting for the money to be transferred and they generally withdraw the money instantly, if you send money through a safe channel, first of all, your hard-earned money and the scammer can both be tracked down.
Whether you have been scammed or if you have enough evidence to prove that an individual is trying to scam you, it is best that you report the same to the concerned platform as well as to the Federal Trade Commission and FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
This Valentine’s Day, make sure that you be with the one who you trust not the one who would leave you astray. One would be considered rather over-optimistic to think that only a selective people on online dating sites get scammed but the truth of the matter is anyone can fall into this trap. And if not given proper attention, it could even lead to far worse situations. So, it is your own responsibility to save yourself and people around you from falling prey to-
Online dating scams!