Online date scams on the rise
In 2018, Sentinel had more than 21,000 reports about romance scams, and people reported losing a total of $143 million due to an online date scam. These reports increased rapidly since 2015 when there were only 8,500 reports and $33 million in losses.
An online date scam can happen from anywhere. Most common online dating scams happen on dating sites. But social media is getting more and more popular for online date scams as well. Many people reported being contacted through a Facebook message.
Most victims of online date scams are between 40 and 69. However, the highest median losses of $10,000 happened among people of 70 and over.
At the heart of every online romance scam is the relationship. Something most people marvel about in disbelief. Not understanding how you can fall in love so deeply with someone you never met. But it’s important to keep in mind that a common thread between these scams is loneliness. Lonely people are more vulnerable and susceptible to fall for these online romance scams.
The story behind an online dating scam
AARP interviewed a former scammer, Enitan. He lives in a small village outside Lagos, Nigeria. He and his family moved to Nigeria when he was a kid to look for opportunities in the rising economic powerhouse of Africa’s most populated nation. Instead, he found “the game” — Nigeria’s shadow economy of 419 scams.
Enitan’s scam career ended in 2008. Since he stopped scamming, he’s spoken out against the fraud industry. According to him, the scammers playbook he followed hasn’t changed. He estimates that covering four years he made over $800,000 from approximately 20 victims. Both men and women. He agreed to talk if he would not be identified by name. You can read the full interview here.
Online dating scammer stories
There are many online dating scammer stories out there. But the most common one would be Nigerian online romance scams. How do they work? Enitan describes a three-stage model.
Stage 1 – Initiate contact
With stolen credit card numbers, the scammer creates fake profiles on dating sites. He uses stolen photo’s from social media or other sites. To scam women, he would pretend to be an older man, financially secure and from the military or engineer. To scam men, he only needed a photo from a beautiful young woman. He said men are easier to convince, “they’re a bit desperate for beautiful girls.”
The scammer waits for someone to reach out or initiates contact himself. However, if you reach out first, you need to convince the victim more.
Stage 2 – Build a relationship
The grooming starts. The scammer and victim communicate for weeks, so the scammer learns everything he needs to know. Then he will begin to express his love. This grooming stage takes time and patience for the scammer. The more trust they build, the more money the scammer will be able to retrieve from his victim.
Stage 3 – Discuss money troubles
It’s time to talk about money. After a month of building a relationship, money troubles are brought up. The scammer promises he will fly home in February when the job in Singapore is completed. However, some components he bought are stuck in customs. But he assures the victim that he doesn’t need money. After all, he has a trust fund in the U.K. and is going to retire after he finishes his project. But it turns out, he can’t use his funds to cover the customs fees. And he can’t come back until he finished the job. So he is stuck. He carefully asks his victim if there is any way she can help him out. Of course, he will pay her back when he is back in the States.
How to spot online dating scams
All scammers work differently. However, most have specific behavior in common. How to spot online dating scams is to watch out for these behaviors:
- Asking to take the conversation away from the dating service. They will ask for your phone number or email.
- Asking for odd personal information, such as your location.
- Bad grammar, weird word choices and linguistic gymnastics
- Contradictions in their story
- Disturbing dramatic or other odd behavior
- Early or improper professions of love
- And of course: asking for money
How to catch an online dating scammer
If you suspect someone, there are certain things you can do to catch an online dating scammer.
- Check the profile: often he/she proclaims to be wealthy and attractive. Men usually are in the military or an engineer. Women often pretend to be a student.
- Reverse image search their photo. Save their photo and upload it to Google search.
- Ask to video call or meet them: scammers will never meet in person and will be reluctant to video call. They will have excuses as to why they can’t video call. Or might even ask for money for transport to come and meet them.
We have dealt with many online date scam victims. The emotional impact can be just as significant due to heartbreak and feelings of shame and betrayal as the financial damage. If you suspect to be involved in an online date scam, follow the steps described above to catch an online dating scammer. If you already have suspicions, they are most likely justified, and it’s wise to disengage.