Internet romance – real love or money pit?
With Valentine’s Day becoming smaller in the rear view mirror, I thought I would shine some light on the darker side of the love connection.
Scammers inhabit every corner of the Internet and the arena of love has not escaped these evil people. Let’s explore this a bit.
Men are different from women. We all know that. Men are attracted to women based largely on looks first. I have never listened to a group of men standing around saying things like; “would you look at the personality on that one?” Doesn’t happen. Women on the other hand are also attracted to looks but followed quite closely by those attributes that make their future mate stable and supportive. They use words like faithful, rich, generous, supportive and oh yes….hot. Men have a tendency to focus on “hot” first although those other attributes figure in as well, they just happen to be a little more distant.
We all know the above is true. So do romance scammers. This is a quickly growing fraud and it is heart wrenching for those who get caught up in it but the target isn’t the heart, it is your pocket book. Your heartbreak is only the peripheral damage.
This is how it works.
Scammers are on dating sites, and social networks setting up fake profiles. Scammers will pose under the disguise of good looking but not too good looking pictures as either male or female claiming to be from another country. The scammer weaves a story of a successful businessperson working overseas, sometimes having no family or sometimes having a family dependent upon them. They are often from one country, currently reside in another and are working in yet another.
They present themselves as a thoughtful, caring and loving individual who are looking for their soul mate. The scammers are good at what they do; they ask lots of questions of the victim regarding what they want in their lives. The scams are often very complicated, complete with props to make it look real. Props can include photos, other people contacting the ‘mark,’ contracts, bank accounts, documents, diagrams and phone numbers.
The scammer then takes the information and turns it into a dream that becomes a reality to the victim. They use words we all like to hear to woo our hearts so they can burn our souls. They use psychology to hold the spell. Once they have established a relationship then the scamming begins. This may take months of grooming before the first request is made for financial assistance and usually the first request will not be for a lot of money; they are testing the water.
In all cases the plea for financial assistance is the key to the scam. This can be for assistance in cashing a cheque that they are unable to cash themselves and also asking for financial assistance to help them out of a difficulty they are having. They have landed in a hotel and now cannot pay the bill so the hotel is holding all their papers so they cannot leave. They are desperate to come to you but need your help with the money to manage that. They were mugged and are in the hospital and need you to pay their hospital as they are being held hostage until it is paid. And so it goes, on and on with as many variations as there are lives and lifestyles out there.
If someone you have never met face-to-face asks you for money, the red flags should shoot up.
If the picture on the profile is a female, she will likely be a looker and she may want to send you explicit photos or engage in explicit conversations to draw you in as a male victim. You will be her knight in shining armor. If the profile picture is a male, he will likely look dependable, strong, good looking (but not too good looking) and be oh so interested in you. We all like to talk about ourselves and when someone asks, we tend to answer.
These people weave a spell and people right here in the Kootenays are falling for them.
Once, not long ago, I had a lady come to the police office. She was deeply ashamed of how she got caught up with a scammer on a dating site who purported to be working in the UK. He pulled the “I need your help” routine and repeated this line with several different scenarios.
This money was to have been a loan with the amount to be repaid with interest as soon as he was able to make it over to Canada to see her. She thought she was lending money to a friend. This scam was extremely complex and involved several other people contacting this victim including the so-called mother of the scammer and the scammer’s work assistant. Props were used in the form of webpages, supposed bank accounts, travel itineraries, and x-rays. This lady was slowly groomed over a series of months to believe she had met her soul mate and that he was completely devoted to her.
She gave him $75,000. He then disappeared and she was left heartbroken, in debt, completely betrayed, unable to sleep and having anxiety attacks. This scammer stole her future.
Her bravery in coming forward to speak to me means that I can tell you about her experience and warn you. That is the only positive that has come of this because this scammer has hidden his identify.
My investigation showed the bank is false, the profile picture is definitely not real, the phone number she was to use to contact him contained a major red flag. It contained the numbers 4470. If you see those numbers in the phone number of someone who is speaking to you, stop right there. This number is used to forward the call through a series of phones to a prepaid phone that goes in the garbage once the victim has been drained. Nothing about this individual had anything to do with the truth; 99.9% of phone numbers containing 4470 are used for the purposes of fraud.
You may think, wow, was she ever gullible. This lady is intelligent, pretty, over 50 years old and a widow. The perfect target.
Scammers profile their victims and they are looking for people with assets like houses, insurance payouts or inheritance and then they stalk them carefully to prey on the fact that events like a spouse’s death or a divorce have left them lonely.
How do you protect yourself? If you are a friend of someone who states they met the love of their life on line then direct them to this website http://romancescams.org. It is one of many but has a checklist of things to watch for. If you are the one involved with this new exciting person in your life then check that phone number, see if s/he is making financial requests of any kind (they often start very small to see if they have you hooked). Ask your friends to get an objective opinion and LISTEN TO WHAT THEY SAY. Love has a tendency to induce blindness and hearing loss!
You can go and see your local RCMP as well and ask them if you have concerns. If this person truly cares about you, they will respect the fact that you are being careful and won’t agree to giving money out. If you say no and they immediately disappear, that is because of all the hundreds of hooks they have out there, you just jumped off of yours and they will concentrate on the others they have hooked. Count yourself lucky!
The very best way of dealing with Internet fraud is prevention. Don’t let it happen to you. If you are online then you also have access to all kinds of information about all of the different kinds of fraud that exists. If you think you are a victim of this particularly awful fraud, simply enter ‘romance fraud’ in your search engine and watch and learn as this world of heinous scammers unfolds.
This is a multi-multi million dollar business. The actual extent of it will never be known because so many people are ashamed that it happened to them and don’t report. Victims have been scammed out of several hundred dollars right up to millions. The people who prey on them depend on that shame to keep the word from spreading. Spread the word. Please spread the word.
These people are the lowest of the low and prey on emotion, compassion, hope, caring and loneliness. Beware of them. At least that is the way I see it.
– Laurie Jalbert arrived to the Kootenays in 2006 as a member of the RCMP and now makes it her permanent home. Retired from the force, she is co-owner of Cliff’s Meats in Kimberley (www.cliffsmeats.com).
She can be reached at: [email protected].