Love for Sale
According to Law Enforcement who investigate online romantic cons worldwide, these Dating or Sweetheart Scams follow a surprisingly consistent arc.
Here’s how these online frauds or swindles typically unfold.
1. The Bait
The scammers set up a fake profile on a social-media or dating site.
The man they invent is a ruggedly handsome, middle-aged widower who yearns to love again. He usually works in a serious job in a far-flung location—some-thing that provides good excuses to avoid face-to-face meetings. These include construction, engineering, the military, or something similar.
The women they pretend to be are usually based upon stolen model, actress, or adult video stars (porn stars), are in need, looking for love, and many times "have had others steal their photos or identity". She usually, lives in your country, but is visiting family in Africa or Asia, and just needs your financial help to solve a problem and return to you. She may work for an NGO or charitable organization, or a university, or Facebook or Google, or some other unlikely organization.
The profiles will always have little information, and significant gaps in activity or friends or family, or all of the above. There are always excuses for this though, even though a normal person would be able to show a rich set of life experiences, she will not.
2. The Grooming Phase
Once a woman or a man gets drawn in, the scammer showers them with gestures of affection through email or instant messaging: declarations of love, plagiarized poems, compliments on beauty or handsomeness. The scammer also asks personal questions about the victim’s life—the key to establishing an intimate connection.
Part of the reason for these questions is to help the scammer gain access to more potential victims. By giving them access to your friends on social media, they increase their pool of prospects.
3. The Gift
Satisfied that the mark is infatuated, the scammer concocts a situation that can be solved with a bit of money: He claims to need a few hundred dollars for a visa or money to travel or an emergency. If the victim agrees to provide the cash, the scammer knows she’s on the hook. They may ask for a series of small amounts, because they believe this is what a real person in need would ask for, except the victim has never met them or really accepted financial responsibility. The scammer is counting on the victim's humanity and generosity, this is especially true with older victims.
4. The Crisis
Suddenly something goes horribly wrong. The scammer pleads for several thousand dollars to pay for a major surgery or to escape a legal predicament. Afraid she or he never get to meet their beloved unless they comply, the victim wires the requested funds. This is where the victim should wake up, but usually the crisis causes a short-circuit in their skepticism and the role over.
5. The Bleed
More aggressive demands for money ensue, until the victim either loses everything or gets wise to the con or scam.
At that point, the scammer will engage in several tactics, that can include either vanishing, denial, or tries to convince the victim to launder money on their behalf to get their money back (the Fake Check Fraud).
a. The Denial
The first tactic the scammer uses is usually denial. The typical scammer will be discovered by their victim at some point. This is usually after the money was sent and some critical promise was not kept. The victim will start asking questions about the reason for the money, and the integrity of the scammer. The scammer will usually stone-wall, claim they are not doing anything wrong, and try to get a bit more money from the victim.
b. The Vanish
At some point the scammer will always disappear. However, the how and when this happens varies with the individual scammer.
The Narcissist Scammers will disappear quickly, they play a game of numbers and care nothing for the victim. The Compassionate Scammer is more human and may try to let the victim down more easily, and may even admit to the scam - though this can be a tactic too!
c. The Threat
Quite common in these frauds is the Threat. The scammer, after having been discovered, reverts to threats. Rarely is this because they fear the victim, but is usually out of anger that their carefully crafted con has been discovered before they get all of the victim's money. In other words that scammer made a mistake (they think) and are angry. Overseas scammers almost never have any ability to harm a victim, however, depending upon what the victim shared with the scammer, they can revert to Blackmail.
7. The Rebound
Even if you have discovered you are being scammed, it is common for the scammer to come back after a period of time, either as themselves, or in a new identity and try to scam you again. In their minds, you have an endless supply of money, and they will try to use what they learned about you to not make the same mistakes again.
8. The Recovery
Frequently, a time will pass from the last time you heard from your fraudster. Then you will get a message or an email pretending to be an investigator or a detective. They may tell you that a government agency is investigating your scam. This usually follows one of two paths: 1) they just need a little money to be able to help you recover your money, or 2) they need additional information to confirm your identity or some other aspect of the crime (this can be a credit card number, social security ID, passport number, bank accounts, or some other information) that either allows them to sell your information, use it to obtain a credit card in your name, or steal more money from you.
Throughout all of this, there is one central fact: the scammer depends upon your willingness to give them your money. No matter what you read, or see, or hear, there is only one way to avoid being scammed!
Don't Give Money To Strangers!
After all, didn't your parents tell you to not talk to strangers? The same is true here.
It is true, there are amazing people in the world, and making new friends can expand your whole world. But use the same caution you would use if it was a stranger that walked up to you on the street - in fact even more, because you can't get any real sense of a person online without major effort. What you could learn in a few minutes in person will take months online.
There is another reason. Our brains are wired to defend us in certain circumstances. But these defenses are mostly turned off online, and you have to learn completely new skills or defenses to live in an online world. If you don't you will be a victim over and over.
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