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.[excessive citations]
Scammers post profiles, using stolen photographs of attractive people, asking for others to contact them. This is often known as catfishing. 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fabricated, which use personal information from users who have not agreed to be depicted on the site or by presenting outdated or out-of-region profiles as current and local.
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. 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.
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 victim 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.
- The scammer says they need the victim to send money to pay for a passport.
- 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 and somehow never comes, or says that they are being held against their will by immigration authorities, who demand bribes.
- The scammer says they have had gold bars or other valuables seized by customs and need to pay taxes to before they can recover them before joining the victim in his/her country
- The scammer meets the victim on an online dating site, lives in a foreign country, falls in love, but needs money to join the victim in his/her country
- The scammer says they are being held against their will for failure to pay a bill or requires money for hospital bills.
- The scammer says they need the money to pay for the phone bills in order to continue communicating with the victim.
- The scammer says they need the money for their or their parents' urgent medical treatment.
- The scammer says they need the money to successfully graduate before they can visit the victim.
- 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.
- 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.
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, 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 recorded images or videos to them and then extort money to prevent them from sending the recordings to friends, family, employers, often discovered via social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter etc.
The pro-dater differs from the other scams in method of operation; a face-to-face meeting actually does take place in the scammer's country but is devoted solely into manipulating the victim 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 high amounts of money 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.
The vendors are typically part of the scheme. The victim 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 take in 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.
The supposed relationship goes no further, except to inundate the victim with requests for more money after they return home. Unlike a gold digger, who marries for money, a pro-dater is not necessarily single or available in real life.
Another variation is that the scammer insists they 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
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. Also because military public relations often posts information on soldiers without mentioning their families or personal lives, images are stolen from these websites by organized internet crime gangs often operating out of Nigeria or Ghana. They tell their victims that they are lonely, supporting an orphanage with their own money, needing financial assistance because they can't access their own money in a combat zone, etc. The money is always sent to a third party to be collected for the scammer. Sometimes the third party is real, sometimes fictitious. 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. Some scammers may also use Bitcoin as an alternative payment method.
Who is most likely to become a victim
Sensitive people are more vulnerable to online dating scams, based on a study conducted by the British Psychological Society. Per their results, sensitive and less emotionally intelligent people are more likely to be vulnerable to online dating scams. This was the finding of a study by Dr Martin Graff of the University of South Wales presented on Tuesday 26 April 2016, at the British Psychological Society Annual Conference in Nottingham, England. Dr Graff said: "Perpetrators of dating scams simply set up false profiles on dating websites with the sole purpose of extracting money from their victims. The scammer first grooms a victim by expressing love for them before outlining their desperate circumstances. They then attempt to request money from the victim. Our study focused on why some individuals are more likely to become the victims of these scams than others."
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.
- 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, who seduced over 100 women and convinced many to support his various projects financially. He usually used newspaper contact ads, often with the headline "Sun and spring", which has become an idiomatic expression in Sweden. The film was directed by Gunnar Hellstrom, written by Hellstrom and Birgitta Stemberg, and executive produced by Hellstrom and Brian Wikstrom.
- Several films and television episodes depict the story of Raymond Fernandez and Martha Beck, the American serial killer couple known as "The Lonely Hearts Killers", who are believed to have killed as many as 20 women during their murderous spree between 1947 and 1949. The pair met their unsuspecting victims through lonely hearts ads.
- The 2008 web series SPAMasterpiece Theater featured an episode "Love Song of Kseniya" that centered on a romance scam email spam read by website Boing Boing's Xeni Jardin.
General location trends
Many romance scams, money payment, Nigerian advance fee scam, blackmail and extortionist scam occur in the West African, Russian, Ukrainian, American and Trinidad and Tobago sites that rip off vulnerable westerners as of 2012 to 2016 according to Ukrainian authorities and the FBI.
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