Recently in Dallas, Emanuel Stanley Orji, a Nigerian associated with Nigerian organized crime was sentenced to 37 months in federal prison for crimes related to romance scams he operated with others including his brother who had previously been convicted of the same crimes. Orji particularly targeted elderly women who were either widowed or divorced and used dating sites like Match.com to find their victims. His scam followed the usual pattern of quickly proclaiming love for his victims and then coming up with a variety of reasons that he needed the women to send him money.
Romance scams continue to be a major problem. As bad as they were prior to the pandemic, these scams increased dramatically during the Coronavirus pandemic. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Americans lost more money to romance scams last year than to any other scam and the situation is getting more serious. According to the FBI in 2021 24,299 people in the United States were victims of romance scams losing a billion dollars which was a 59% increase over the money lost in 2020.
Romance scams generally follow a familiar pattern with the scammers establishing relationships with people, generally women, online through various legitimate dating websites and social media using fake names, locations and images. The scammers often pose as Americans working abroad or in the military serving abroad.
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 send 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. You also can check on the legitimacy of photographs by seeing if they have been used elsewhere by doing a reverse image search using Google or websites such as tineye.com.
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.”
Recently, the dating sites Match, Tinder, Hinge and Plenty of Fish started a new public awareness program to help people recognize romance scams. One tip they give is to use the verification check on your matches to help confirm they are the person who appears in the profile photo. Also they advise you to set up video chats to confirm the person who they claim to be.
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