Romance scam

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Gender and age demographics of victims of online romance scams in 2011.

A romance scam is a confidence trick involving feigned romantic intentions towards a victim, gaining their affection, and then using that goodwill to commit fraud. Fraudulent acts may involve access to the victims' money, bank accounts, credit cards, passports, e-mail accounts, or national identification numbers or by getting the victims to commit financial fraud on their behalf.[1]

Stolen images[edit]

Scammers post profiles, using stolen photographs of attractive persons, asking for others to contact them. This is often known as catfishing.[2] Letters are exchanged between the scammer and victim until the scammer feels they have groomed the victim enough to ask for money. This might be for requests for gas money or bus and airplane tickets to travel to visit the victim, medical expenses, education expenses etc. There is usually the promise that the fictitious character will one day join the victim in the victim's country. The scam usually ends when the victim realizes they are being scammed or stops sending money. Victims can be highly traumatized by this and are often very embarrassed and ashamed when they learn they have become a victim of a scam and that the romance was a farce.

In some cases, online dating services are themselves engaged in misrepresentation, displaying profiles which have been fabricated, which use personal information from users who have not agreed to be depicted on the site[3] or by presenting outdated or out-of-region profiles as current and local.

Internet[edit]

Scammers post profiles on dating websites, social accounts, classified sites and even forums to groom new victims. Upon finding victims, scammers lure them to more private means of communication, (such as providing an e-mail address) to allow for fraud to occur.[1] The fraud typically involves the scammer acting as if they've quickly fallen for the victim so that when they have the opportunity to ask for money, the victim at that time has become too emotionally involved, and will have deep feelings of guilt if they decline the request for money from the scammer.

Common variations[edit]

Narratives used to extract money from the victims of romantic scams include the following:

  • The scammer says their boss paid them in postal money orders. The scammer wants the mark to cash the money orders, and then wire money to the scammer. The forged money orders leave the banks to incur debts against the victims.[4]
  • The scammer says they need the mark to send money to pay for a passport.[4]
  • The scammer says they require money for flights to the victim's country because of being left there by a step-parent, or husband/wife, or because they are just tired of living in their country[5] and somehow never comes, or says that they are being held against their will by immigration authorities, who demand bribes.[6]
  • The scammer says they are being held against their will for failure to pay a bill or requires money for hospital bills.[5]
  • The scammer says they need the money to pay for the phone bills in order to continue communicating with the victim.[7]
  • The scammer says they need the money for their or their parents' urgent medical treatment.[7]
  • The scammer says they need the money to successfully graduate before they can visit the victim.[7]
  • The scammer offers a job, often to people in a poor country, on payment of a registration fee. These are particularly common at African dating sites.[8]
  • A new variation is where the scammer contacts the victim claiming to be a model working in the victim's city for only a couple of weeks and found the victim on the "yahoo directory". The scammer will invite the victim into a chat session, where a rapport is built, and pictures are given - usually of a pornographic nature. The scammer will then ask if the victim wants to meet, and when the victim says yes, he is told that he will need to obtain a "security ID pass", or in at least one specific case, an "EMP", or "Exclusive Model Pass". This involves logging onto a number of webcam sites, all of which require credit card information. The ID code is not sent, and the victim is then told he can get one by sending money ($200 – $500) to the models' "manager" in the Philippines. When the victim questions this, the scammer will try to guilt the victim, saying "I guess you don't really want to meet", "I'm sorry you don't trust me", and many other things to keep the victim on the hook. Once you pay 200$ from here on there is a infinite loop, where 600$ is for delivery. the card is never delivered. They fool you by telling the money is refundable.
  • The scammer actually is employed directly or indirectly by a website, with a share of the victim's member or usage fees passed on to the scammer.[9]

Blackmail[edit]

Some romance scammers seek out a niche of various fetishes where they will find an obscure fetish and they will make the victim think that if they pay for the scammer's plane ticket that they will get to live out a sexual fantasy of theirs by having the scammer come to them to have sex. The scammers also like to entice victims to perform sexual acts on webcam. They then record their victims, play back the images to them and then extort money to prevent them from sending the recordings to friends, family and employers.

Pro-daters[edit]

The pro-dater differs from the other scams in modus operandi; a face-to-face meeting actually does take place in the scammer's country but is devoted solely into manipulating the mark into spending as much money as possible in relatively little time, with little or nothing in return. The scheme usually involves accomplices, such as an interpreter and a taxi driver, all of which must be paid by the victim at an inflated price. Everything is pre-arranged so that the wealthy foreigner pays top dollar for accommodation, is taken not to an ordinary public café but to the most costly restaurant (usually some out-of-the-way place priced far above what locals would ever be willing to pay), and is manipulated into making various expensive purchases, including gifts such as electronics and fur coats.[10]

The vendors are typically part of the scheme. The mark leaves just as alone but poorer at the end of the trip. The merchandise is returned to the vendors, the pro-dater and the various accomplices pocket their respective cut of the take. As the pro-dater is eager to date again, the next date is immediately set up with the next wealthy foreigner.[11]

The supposed relationship goes no further, except to inundate the hapless mark with requests for more money after they return home.[12] Unlike a gold digger, who marries for money, a pro-dater is not necessarily single or available in real life.

419 scams[edit]

Another variation is the scammer has a need to marry in order to inherit millions of dollars of gold left by a father, uncle, or grandfather. The young woman will contact a victim and tell them of their plight of not being able to remove the gold from their country due to being unable to pay the duty or marriage taxes. The woman will be unable to inherit the fortune until she gets married. The marriage being a prequiste of the father, uncle or grandfather's will. The scammer keeps the victim believing that they are sincere, until they are able to build up enough rapport to ask for thousands of dollars to help bring the gold into the victim's country. The scammer will offer to fly to the victim's country to prove that they are a real person. The victim will send money for the flight. However when the victim goes to meet the scammer they never show up. The victim contacts the scammer to ask what happened. The scammer will provide an excuse such as not being able to get an exit visa, or illness of themselves or a family member. Scammers are very adept at knowing how to "play" their victims - sending love poems, sex games in emails, building up a "loving relationship" with many promises of "one day we will be married". Often photos of unknown African actresses will be used to lure the victim into believing they are talking to that person. Victims may be invited to travel to the scammer's country; in some cases the victims arrive with asked-for gift money for family members or bribes for corrupt officials, and then they are beaten and robbed or murdered.

Impersonation of soldiers[edit]

A rapidly growing technique scammers are using is to impersonate American military personnel. Scammers prefer to use the images, names and profiles of soldiers as this usually inspires confidence, trust and admiration in their female victims.[13] Also because military public relations often posts information on soldiers without mentioning their families or personal lives. Images are stolen from sites like this one: http://www.nato.int/isaf/structure/bio/ops/tucker.html, by organized internet crime gangs often operating out of Nigeria or Ghana. They tell their victims that they are lonely, looking to retire and settle down with a new love - but while they are deployed elsewhere, they concoct stories about needing special phones to communicate, supporting an orphanage with their own monies, needing financial assistance because they can't access their own monies in a combat zone, etc. The lies are too numerous and various to list them all. The scammer will say anything to get the victim to send money. And the money is always sent to a third party to be collected for the scammer. Sometimes the third party is real and sometimes the are fictitious as well. Funds sent by Western Union and MoneyGram do not have to be claimed by anyone showing identification if the sender sends money using a secret pass phrase and response and can be picked up anywhere in the world, in this manner.[14]

SCAMwatch[edit]

SCAMwatch,[15] a website run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC), provides information about how to recognise, avoid and report scams.[16]

In 2005 the ACCC and other agencies formed the Australasian Consumer Fraud Taskforce (ACFT). The site provides info about current scams, warning signs and staying safe.

Cultural references[edit]

  • The Swedish film Raskenstam (1983; alternate title, Casanova of Sweden) is a fictionalized romantic comedy based on the true story of Swedish undertaker Gustaf Raskenstam,[17] who seduced over 100 women and convinced many to support his various projects financially.[18] He usually used newspaper contact ads, often with the headline "Sun and spring", which has become an idiomatic expression in Sweden.[citation needed] The film was directed by Gunnar Hellstrom, written by Hellstrom and Birgitta Stemberg, and executive produced by Hellstrom and Brian Wikstrom.[19]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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