Digital Games with Wallet and Heart: Don’t fall for Dating Scams!

The online dating scam is one of the most popular forms of Internet fraud. For financial gain, scammers exploit the vulnerable emotional state of singles who hope to find true love and deep strong relationships online.

Rege (2009) states, that the scammer contacts the victim and then builds a strong emotional and mental connection with their victim for six to eight months. Scammers are also likely “to share” the same core beliefs, religion and spirituality. A 66-year-old San Jose divorcee was swindled out of $300,000 by a Nigerian man in “the online community created specifically for Christian singles looking to find friends, romance or marriage.

After creating a tragic story about surgery, loss of personal documents in a foreign country, money stolen from the hotel, funds to achieve some childhood or life-size dreams, parent’s death, travel expenses to meet the victim, a classic scammer lures them into sending money. Victims usually help in order to prove their love and dedication and build trust by even acting against their intuition.

There is a lot of talk about developing love, falling in love and finding love on the battlefield. They present quite a saccharine image of romance and marriage using the image of the lion and lioness together, supporting each other, being best friends and companions,” says Katherine Brown, a lecturer of Islamic studies at the University of Birmingham

Gender and age demographics of victims of online romance scams in 2011.
Source Internet Crime Complaint Center: 2011 Crime Report

Spotting a scammer and Protecting Yourself

Scammer Profile
While you might think that scammers always send the first message, actually they sometimes make you know about their existence, and wait for you to take the bait. Instead of contacting you, scammers can initiate your interaction not through verbal message but by liking your pictures. They use this technique to reduce your future doubts about your being a target.

Scammers usually establish trust and a long-lasting relationship with an emotionally fragile person. Scammers target specific populations that are vulnerable for different reasons – people in their 50s and 60s who experience empty nest, are divorced or widowed, and/or are desperately looking for the one.

Scammers’ profile does not reflect their specific requirements as it will reduce the opportunities of attracting more victims. In this way, more people will reply and meet their open-ended requirements.

Language Detection
Scammers have a low level of sophistication of speech. Their messages are template-like and automatic, as they copy and send the same message to a number of victims. Scammers usually ask plain question which don’t seem to aim to know you better, but rather keep the contact active. “How tall are you?” “What’s your favorite film?” are typical questions you may be asked by a classic scammer. Fortunately, many trustworthy and high-quality online dating websites have developed an advanced system detecting the keywords widely used in scam messages.

Scammers usually have bad grammar and use strange word and sentences. This clearly does not fit the information their profile reflects, particularly academic degrees. However, this is not always the case. Sometimes the expert scammers’ vocabulary is refined. “When his reply came, it was extremely polite, very polished, full of questions and saying all the things you want to hear,” informs one of the victims about the scammer who claimed he was adopted and his father was very ill in South Africa.

Their sophistication usually refers to romance and poetry. They send poems from poetry websites to lure a victim into virtual romance. If their reply to your message sounds strange and irrelevant, this is a sign that you deal with a scammer who is too lazy to focus on your interaction. He or she will choose to show some standard reaction even if it is irrelevant to what you say or the topic of conversation.

Geographic Challenge
Scammers rarely meet their victims in person for different but obvious reasons. When you suggest an in-person meeting, they’ll bring different excuses, such as traveling, responsibilities that tie them down, or surgery/emergency. Even if they initially agree to meet, they will cancel them last minute. Scammers inform about living in the same country, but working in foreign countries and constantly having business trips. A classic scammer may also create a very exotic profile. Scammers tell their victims they were born to parents of different nationalities, which usually makes them look more exotic, interesting, and open-minded. Explore their pictures and names carefully. Scammers usually look extremely gorgeous in their photos and have Latin and Spanish names that emit romantic energy.

For regular chatting, scammer will be interested in your other social media accounts, emails, personal address, residence, and phone number. Maintaining contact outside of the website is a defensive tool as they are aware of the monitoring system of online dating website, and can be easily caught.

Emotional Manipulation
Scammers usually target people who are emotionally vulnerable and seem desperate. So your profile should never “give off needy and lonely vibes.” During long hours of chatting, when you think you two are building a strong emotional bond, scammers are usually exploring you as a prey. They know how difficult it is to attract a logical person, so they try to make you emotional, vulnerable, and ask about your fears. After finding your weak spots, fears, and disappointments, they make sure their tricks will work effectively.

Scammers also use the mirroring technique. We develop strong connection with people who share similar tragic experience. If you’ve lost a parent or friend, they will tell you the same story about themselves. Scammers always share your misery and “understand” you better than anyone else.

Scammers will shower you with attention, love and flattery. They will “shyly confess” about their love, feeling a bit silly to suddenly develop such strong feelings in such a short time. Something usually “shifts” in them and they feel “inevitable love.” They will also manipulate saying you are their soul mate, twin flame, or the destined one. All this happens when they have never even met you in person. Beware if they want to spend the rest of their life with you while knowing you less than a month or two.

Financial Trouble
The exchange of initial messages will lead to the discussion of finances. Scammers will try to know as much as possible about your job, career, income, position, and financial state. They must know if you are worth their time and efforts to scam. After being sure you have developed enough feelings to want to prove your love for them, they will ask for financial aid.

That Tuesday, she told me a whole story about missing her flight because she had to get her sick mother to hospital for an emergency. I felt sorry for her, and sent her an e-mail saying how sorry I was about her sick mother. She sent me photograph of herself . . . weeping about her sick mother, to convince me. Then she asked me for financial help,says Liu, from Milnerton in Cape Town, about blonde woman named Joy, supposedly from Durban, whose safe travel cost him R21 740.

Scammers usually ask to send money through global service to an unknown name due to having some personal issues with legal documents. To avoid scam, don’t speak about your income or workplace. Simply mention about having a regular job with a regular pay, and never make your financial resources available!

Unfortunately, stories of online dating scams are growing. Scammers act alone or in groups. For example, a Cape Town woman and her Nigerian husband were arrested in Burgundy Estate for luring unsuspecting female victims and conning out nearly R400,000.

Though scammers are real people, being able to attract their victims on emotional and mental levels, they share similar traits. By knowing the common behavioral patterns typical to scammers, you may minimize the risk of being a victim in your romantic journey towards your soul mate!

Rege, A. (2009) What’s love got to do with it? Exploring online dating scams and identity fraud. International Journal of Cyber Criminology 3(2): 494-512.

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