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The Romance Scam

I investigate scams on a regular basis, so I was surprised to find one that I hadn't heard of before. I'm talking about the Romance Scam. This scam shouldn't have surprised me since I know that scammers will use anything to try to steal money from their victims. It doesn't matter what your situation is, they will try to use it to their advantage.

In this scam, the scammer is looking for their victims on dating websites. In a typical dating website scam, the scammer begins talking to his victim on a dating website. (I am referring to the scammer as male and the victim as female, but there are male victims as well.) Very quickly, he requests to begin conversing via email, IM or telephone. After a few days, he professes his love. He may even propose marriage. Love letters and poems (stolen from the Internet) are sent to prove his undying affection. The scammer also steals photos from the Internet. Scammers frequently steal photos from modeling websites, but they also steal them from social networking websites. They look more "real" and are therefore more believable. If you would like to find out if a photo is located anywhere else on the Internet, visit TinEye.com.

It doesn't take the scammer long to begin asking for money. He will make up some type of scenario that puts him in dire straits and he needs his victim to bail him out. Some example scenarios are:

  • The scammer may claim he is in the hospital, and needs money to pay his bill before he can be released.
  • The scammer may claim that he has been mugged or in an accident and therefore needs money.
  • The scammer may claim that he wants to come to your country to get married, but had an accident on the way to the airport.
  • The scammer may claim that a relative is in the hospital and needs money.
  • The scammer may claim that he has a business, but for some reason he needs money. For example, he may need money to pay his employees or risk arrest.
  • Needs your help to get money out of the country. He may ask you to receive a check or transfer funds to your bank account.
  • There are an almost endless amount of scenarios that these scammers come up with. To read more examples, visit the Romance Scams Types of Scams page.

    You would think that once the victim has figured out what the scammer is doing, they would just disappear. However, the scammers have added a new twist to the scam. Frequently, once the victim accused the scammer of lying and stealing their money, the scammer will actually ADMIT TO IT! Then, they will "confess" that they have truly fallen in love with the victim during the scam. To prove their devotion, they may visit the victim or have the victim come visit them. If this happens, the first visit will be perfect. The scammer may not talk about money at all. This first visit is to groom the victim and to earn her trust and solidify the relationship. After that, they will draw them deeper into the scam and even use them to scam other people. Sadly, many of the things that a scammer has their victim do are illegal and can get the victim into some serious legal trouble.

    Beware of people trying to help you find your scammer. This is just a continuation of the scam. A fake investigator may contact you and ask for money to help you track down the person who tricked you. For an additional fee, they claim, they can bring the person to justice. Unfortunately, it's nearly impossible to find these people, as they do a very good job at hiding themselves behind elaborate fake identities.

    If you believe you have fallen for the "romance scam", follow these steps:

  • Cease ALL contact with the scammer. Block their phone numbers, emails and all other communication.
  • If you have sent money via Western Union contact them to find out if it's been picked up yet.
  • Make copies of all correspondence between you and the scammer; emails, packages, envelopes, etc. You will need this as evidence and to report to various reporting agencies.
  • Report the scammer to the dating website you met him on, the FBI IC3, and database of known scammers.
  • If a check or money order that you brought to your bank has been found to be fraudulent, you need to contact your bank to make payment arrangements. Click here to learn more about check fraud.
  • Contact your local postal carrier and request that no packages be delivered to your home or work. In addition, bring any checks or money orders that you have received to them to turn them in and make a report. If you have any packages or envelopes that your scammer has asked you to forward, you need to turn these in as well.
  • If any companies have sent you merchandise, you need to contact them, advise them that the merchandise was purchased using a stolen credit card and arrange to have the items returned.
  • Contact your police department and make a report. They may or may not be able to help you, but it will create a paper trail.

    Remember that since you have already been scammed, your contact information is now on a list that other scammers can access. You will continue to receive calls, emails and instant messages from people that you do not know. When this happens, tell them that you know they are a scammer and block them. You will know that it's a scammer by the way they write/speak, where they are from, their profile (if contacted through a dating website), they confess their love for you right away, etc. Eventually, they will put you on a no contact list if you keep blocking them. They won't want to waste their time with you if you aren't going to fall for it again!

    RomanceScams.org also has a Yahoo! group. You might find it helpful and/or therapeutic to check it out.

    Romance Scams are Dangerous

    The "romance scam" is a part of a huge business, especially in Nigeria, where most scams originate. Once they have sucked you in, they will not stop or leave you alone until you make them stop. Whatever you do, do not allow a scammer to visit you or try to go visit one. According to their website, RomanceScams.org is currently dealing with one victim who is actually being held against her will in Nigeria. This is dangerous, it's associated with terrorism and it's real. Some of the very real dangers of dealing with scammers are:

  • You are dealing with people who have terrorist connections.
  • They can hack into your computer, steal your identity and/or have viruses installed onto your computer.
  • This is not a game to them. This is how they make their living and they do not like their flow of money being disrupted.

    Keep yourself safe, keep your sanity and keep your money. Know the facts and protect yourself from the Romance Scam and others like it!

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