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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.
Scammers post profiles, using stolen photographs of attractive persons, 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fabricated, which use personal information from users who have not agreed to be depicted on the site or by presenting outdated or out-of-region profiles as current and local.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:
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 that 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 images to them and then extort money to prevent them from sending the recordings to friends, family and employers.
The pro-dater differs from the other scams in modus operandi; a face-to-face meeting actually does take place in the scammer's country but is devoted solely into manipulating the mark 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 top dollar 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 mark 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 pocket 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 hapless mark 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 the scammer has a 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.
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 sites like this one: http://www.nato.int/isaf/structure/bio/ops/tucker.html, by organized internet crime gangs often operating out of Nigeria or Ghana. They tell their victims that they are lonely, looking to retire and settle down with a new love - but while they are deployed elsewhere, they concoct stories about needing special phones to communicate, supporting an orphanage with their own monies, needing financial assistance because they can't access their own monies in a combat zone, etc. The lies are too numerous and various to list them all. The scammer will say anything to get the victim to send money. And the money is always sent to a third party to be collected for the scammer. Sometimes the third party is real and sometimes the are fictitious as well. 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, in this manner.
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.
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