Looking for love and romance are basic human drives and scammers take advantage of this with numerous romance scams. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in 2015 8,500 romance scams were reported to the FTC. Last year that number rose to 21,000 and that figure is probably lower than the real number of people who were victims of these scams. According to recent FBI statistics, this scam has become the second most common scam with losses to victims increasing to more than 262 million dollars last year. Most of these romance scams are online and involve some variation of the person you meet through an online dating site quickly falling in love with you and then, under a wide variety of pretenses, asking for money.
However sometimes, as just recently occurred in Georgia the scams are done in person rather than totally online. In the Georgia case a woman lost $80,000 to a romance scam that was done in person by a man who told his victim that his name was John Hill, but who police say has used five different names in perpetrating this scam over the last two and half years in Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey and Virginia. The victim met Hill through Match.com. Hill told his victim that he was a millionaire and immediately after meeting her professed his love and they were engaged within a week. He told her that they should buy a home to live in together, which is the pretense he used to get her to pay him $80,000. As soon as she turned the money over to him, he vanished. Police are still looking for him.
Romance scams, however, are not limited to the United States, but occur worldwide. Recent figures from Hong Kong show the incidents of romance scams have also increased dramatically in the past year. Last October a joint operation of Hong Kong, Malaysian and Singaporean law enforcement arrested 52 people involved in an international online romance scam in which millions of dollars were stolen from their victims.
There are various red flags to help you identify romance scams. I describe many of them in detail in my book “The Truth About Avoiding Scams.” The most important thing to remember is to always be skeptical of anyone who falls in love with you quickly online without ever meeting you and early into the relationship who then asks you to wire money to assist them with a wide range of phony emergencies.
Here are a few other things to look for to help identify an online romance scam. Often their profile picture is stolen from a modeling website on the Internet. If the picture looks too professional and the person looks too much like a model, you should be wary. Particular phrases, such as “Remember the distance or color does not matter, but love matters a lot in life” is a phrase that turns up in many romance scam emails. Also be on the lookout for bad spelling and grammar as many of the romance scammers claim to be Americans, but are actually foreigners lying about where they are and who they are. Of course you should be particularly concerned if someone falls in love with you almost immediately. Often they will ask you to use a webcam, but will not use one themselves. This is another red flag. One thing you may want to do is ask them to take a picture of themselves holding up a sign with their name on it. In addition, ask for a number of pictures because generally when the scammers are stealing pictures of models from websites, they do not have many photographs. Ask for the picture to be at a particular place that you designate to further test them. If you meet someone through a dating website, be particularly wary if they ask you to leave the dating service and go “offline.”
In the case of the Georgia woman who met her scammer in person, you should still check out his photo using Google’s “search by image” feature in order to see if he or she turns up as a different person. Both online and offline, be wary of anyone who falls so completely in love with you quickly and follows that up with any request for money.
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