Internet Romance Scams

Crystal Schwanke
Don't let a scammer break your heart.

Finding love online can be hard enough without worrying about falling for Internet romance scams. However, since they are alive and well, everyone involved with online dating has to learn to be cautious.

Typical Internet Romance Scams

The most common Internet romance scams are not too different from the ever popular Nigerian email scam. They follow the same premise, which is as follows:

  1. The scam artist sets up a profile on a dating site and searches for a person that looks like a promising victim.
  2. The scammer contacts that person through the site and begins a relationship through emails and sometimes over the phone. Usually the thief explains that he is overseas on business or makes another excuse as to why he is out of the country.
  3. Communication progresses as if the thief is falling in love with the victim. Often, he will send flowers, candy, teddy bears, and other presents, usually using a stolen credit card to pay for them.
  4. As the relationship moves forward and the victim thinks he/she is getting closer, the scam artist tells the victim that he/she has come into some kind of financial trouble, has a sick relative, had a death in the family or needs funds for a plane ticket to come visit.
  5. The scammer asks the victim to wire money, often in exchange for a check or money order (that turns out to be fraudulent) or to send money via PayPal.
  6. The scam artist disappears, taking the victim's money and begins the process all over again.

If the potential victim says no to the request, the thief often tries to use guilt to bully the victim, such as again mentioning the heartbreaking story of illness or loss or saying that the person has destroyed his or her faith in women or men, or in relationships.

Five Signs of Dating Fraud

Scammers' tricks evolve with technology. Because of their ability to change tactics, it is tough for law enforcement to stay ahead of the curve. Therefore, it's imperative that you be proactive to keep yourself safe. Protect yourself from greedy scammers. Keep an eye out for various red flags that could spell danger.

1. Premature Declarations of Love

Keep a level head when establishing new relationships online. If your online interest begins saying, "I love you!" before a reasonable amount of time, run. It is okay to be practical and romantic at the same time. A rush to a commitment could be a ploy to gain access to your personal information.

2. Requests for Money

If you receive requests for money, cease correspondence immediately. Internet dating scams often involve pleas for emergency cash because the scammer owes money, had an accident, or needs an emergency visa. Scammers also ask for "loans" which they do not intend to repay.

3. Foreign Email Addresses

Pay attention to private email addresses. Dating someone from another country is fine if you can verify the actual address. However, if you are receiving emails from different email addresses or if the address seems suspicious, this might be a signal that your "friend" has something to hide.

4. Fake Photos

Everyone wants to date someone who is attractive. However, be cautious about "perfect" photos. Scammers often hide behind stolen pictures of attractive models. Compare photos and look for pictures that are spontaneous and imperfect.

5. Language Usage Problems

Be wary of dating profiles and ads that have a lot of spelling and grammar issues, especially if the person claims to be an American that is simply overseas for work. This could be an indication that he is actually not a native English speaker and, therefore, lying about his true identity and/or background.

Protection from Internet Dating Scams

Thieves have been perpetrating these types of scams for years and know exactly what to say to get the reaction they want and have bilked people into giving up tens, and even hundreds of thousands of dollars. It's important not to take what these people say, or type, at face value. No Internet protection is better than your own front line vigilance. Dating scams rely on you letting your guard down. Internet dating scams are preventable if you use several lines of defense.

Take steps to protect your personal information before engaging in the virtual dating scene.

  • Set up an alternate email account and use it exclusively for dating correspondence. This will shield your inbox from a possible flurry of unwanted email requests.
  • Do not reveal your real name, phone number or address until you are comfortable doing so.
  • Avoid picking a sexy screen name that may attract criminals or sexual predators.
  • Never provide your account number or wire money to a person you've met on the Internet, no matter how much you think you know the person because of online or phone contact.
  • Select a dating service that takes on the prescreening of dating candidates. Reputable companies run a battery of checks like personality quizzes, criminal background checks and even credit checks.

It's also important to make sure people you meet online are who they say they are. While meeting in person right away may not be a good idea, there are other ways you can try to ensure that online daters are who they say they are:

  • Have chats over a web cam or via Skype. A lot of scammers use photos of very attractive people to lure victims in. They may shy away from video chats since they look nothing like these images.
  • Ask a lot of questions about the person's personal life, including job and family. If the person is not making up a story, he should have no problem answering them.

Listen to Your Gut

The most reliable protection you can have is your inner voice. If something does not sound right, listen to your inner voice. Also, keep records of all your online conversations. This could come in handy if you need evidence later.

Internet Romance Scams