A lot of people are looking for love in all the wrong online places.
A recent survey by the University of Leicester suggests that as many as 200,000 people in the UK have fallen victim to online dating scams. Typically masterminded by con artists in Nigeria or Ghana, the scams take advantage of people’s desire for romance to swindle them for money.
They first set up fake identities, usually posing as a member of the military stationed in Afghanistan or Iraq, or an overseas worker such as a nurse. And they use pictures gotten from the Internet to make themselves look legitimate. They then find people on dating sites or, more deviously, social network sites that share a common interest such as a type of music or religion. Even someone who might have heard of these so-called Nigerian scams might be less guarded meeting someone on, say, christianmingle.com. And once a person shows interest and starts chatting the impostors will go to extraordinary lengths to win that person’s trust before attempting to get money out of them. As a legitimate online romance might form, they chat consistently, and their tone becomes increasingly intimate. A random gift might show up, like a teddy bear saying “I Love You.” If the person isn’t put off, then it’s time for the next stage. They’ll tell the person they need to replace a cell phone, or to borrow a small amount of money. If that works they go for the real money.
Many of the con artists will say that their remote location requires them to get paid in money orders. Invariably, something “goes wrong” and they’re “unable” to cash their pay. They then ask the unsuspecting party if they could deposit the money orders and wire them back the cash.
MSNBC reported the story of Theresa Smalley, who’d been asked by “Richie,” who she believed was a contractor working in Nigeria, to cash two $900 money orders for him. Supposedly, he was set to leave Nigeria and come back to the US, and the two would finally meet after a four month e-romance. But he needed the money from the money orders which, for some reason, he was having trouble cashing. Smalley cashed the money orders and sent Ritchie the $1,800.