A lot of us are simply looking for real love. That doesn't make us
lonely or desperate. We were men and women who happen to have the qualities of being open,
compassionate, loving, and trusted those who we loved and we believed loved us.
I want to tell you about a type of scum-of-the-earth I have encountered. Romance scammers. I have learned that this is a huge problem, estimated at reeling in an astounding $15 billion per year from American, Canadian, European, and Australian victims. This information needs to be distributed widely.
Of course, we all know about the infamous "Nigerian Spam", or "419 Scam" which claims
to come from someone who is having trouble getting a huge sum of money
out of Nigeria, and asks for your help in return for some (supposed)
huge amount of money, only to clean out your bank accounts in the
They've stooped even lower. They pull on some lonely or desperate person's heart strings, clean them out, defraud them, make that person liable for repayment as well as various felonies associated with it. Please be aware!!!
If it's in a dating site that you find one of these, you'll find the person's picture is quite well done. That's because it was stolen from a modeling site. FocusHawaii.com and NewFaces.com are the favorites for this. If you find an attractive person anywhere, it's a good idea to browse those modeling sites for the photo. It's unlikely that one of these models will ever contact you. If you find your new Internet "friend's" picture there, you've encountered a scammer.
I've encountered one of these. Thankfully, from the "school of hard knocks", I've been able to spot a con a mile away. I didn't fall for it, emotionally or financially, but I'm quite angry. The word needs to be distributed as widely as possible.
There is a file in the RomanceScams Yahoo group, which I encountered via the FBI.gov site when looking at reporting this, which is excellent as a general guideline.
The way my particular scam worked was as follows:
I received a message on a dating site. The man was very attractive in his profile, and claimed to be in New Jersey. Then, he started IMing me, and he said he was in Brooklyn. Red flag #1. But, it's possible he just moved or the like, and hadn't updated something. He started professing his undying love IMMEDIATELY, and professed a desire for marriage Immediately. Red flag #2. I still played along. I let him send me flowers. It's easy to get my address from the info he had on me. Then, he tells me he's about 7 hours ahead of me in a timezone. What??? He's been in Africa since "last week" taking care of his Mom who is dying of lung cancer. I was supportive but cautious. Then, came the "endgame". He told me he was out of money that he'd brought to Africa, his Mom was not getting good care in the hospital, they would not release her so he could take her back to the US to get her some good care. A client in the US owed him $4500, and had gotten a USPS money order, but he could not cash it in Africa. OKAY! They don't make money orders out for over $1000! Oh, oops, there are 4 MOs for $950.... no, 5 of them for $900. (He didn't KNOW???) He would have his "client" send them to me, I could cash them "at my bank", and Western Union him the money. This had SCAM written all over it! He tried to shame me by saying it was "very bad" that "I could think bad things about him". Can YOU say "manipulation"? I "excused" myself, went to the FBI site, found out what this was all about, or see about reporting it. I figured it was a money laundry, probably for drug money, but I was mistaken. Just a different scam. I was sent to toogoodtobetrue.com as well as the RomanceScams site and group. Boy did I get an education!
The way this particular scam works is to send the forged or counterfeit financial instruments, which are immediately available funds, you think it's "immediately cleared", and wire the funds. In a couple of weeks, it comes back as a "counterfeit" or "forged" instrument, and you are responsible to cough up the money!
I didn't hear from him for a few days. Then, he sent an IM saying that he was having some packages shipped to me of medical equipment, and they belonged to his Mom's doctor, and could I send them over to Africa. He'd "pay" the shipping. I got a moderator from RomanceScams to "hold my hand" through this, and she encouraged me to "play along" for my own closure if I was strong enough and had IRL support.
I told him that I'd figured out the scam. First he told me I was "not well" "had trouble with (my) head" and "should see a doctor" No, I'm feeling fine. I told him I knew the "documents" were fakes. Then came a surprise! He admitted it, told me how "bad" things were in Africa (maybe he WAS poor, but with the amount he's stealing as a scammer, he's living like a KING now, at poor people's expense). Anyhow, somehow I said the "right things" to him where he felt sorry for me, and offered me to become a scammer! The woman from RomanceScams said she'd never HEARD of such a thing, so play along, and see what details he'd give me - about himself, about where he was, about how all of this worked, the justification... then report it to the FBI. He told me that the "poor" and "ghettos" were the "best" for pulling off these scams, and had it figured that somehow the banks and "rich people" were paying for all of it. In reality, poor people, and those on fixed incomes are having what little they have taken from them. I have since learned that this attempt to recruit an intended mark as another scammer is the latest trend or twist in this scam.
The other thing he was trying was a "reshipping scam". That is, where things probably purchased with stolen credit cards, are then shipped to the US address on some excuse as to why they can't be sent directly to Africa. The person in the US repackages them and ships them to Africa. According to the FBI and RomanceScam.com, the packages start coming at a frantic pace for a couple of weeks, until the unsuspecting "friend" or "lover" is contacted by the defrauded merchants/credit card companies or law enforcement. Sure, the "shipping" is paid by the scammer - with more forged/counterfeit checks or money orders! Now the person has to deal with being charged with "receiving stolen goods" and/or other crimes, passing bad checks, having to repay all of that. He or she needs a good lawyer now on top of having to pay for all of this!
Two days later, extremely early in the morning, the scammer IMed me again, telling me that some packages were being shipped to my address. He had a few different stories of what they were, but for me to "please take care of them" and they'd be picked up by FedEX tomorrow. I did not even acknowlege the IM. Another person in the household refused the package from DHL, and I shortly afterward called the FBI office in my area. The agent was quite understanding, listened to the whole story, told me that I'd done the right thing by refusing the package, to refuse any more that arrive. He suggested that I contact IC3.gov, and report it there, at least for statistical purposes. I also reported it to my local police. He has my physical address, he's probably got other "friends" and "associates" (accomplices) in the US, and it's remotely possible that something could happen. The officer was quite understanding, knew that these things happen, agreed with everything the FBI agent had already told me. However, it doesn't hurt to put the local police on the alert to the problem, or if someone "tips" them off (probably the ignored scammer) that I'm "receiving stolen merchandise", it may save me some hassels.They told me they'd keep an eye out.
The following day, the scammer IMed me yet again, called me various names for refusing the previous day's package, said another one was arriving, and I could refuse too. Later that morning, a semitruck from Watkins pulled up. I went out to meet the driver, and refused it. He had a hard time with that idea. There was a large-screen television and a computer there, and LOTS of other electronic items. I explained it was part of a "reshipping scam", and in detail how it worked. His paperwork showed the items were shipped to his name, at my address, with a bogus phone number in the area code. I don't believe it to be a local number even! There was a message in the paperwork that "customer is deaf".
Both the police officer and FBI agent told me to put the scammer on ignore, or, he could create more IDs, and continue to try to scam and bother me. I may have to close that Yahoo account, open another, and give the new address to my "real" friends. No big loss. That's been a "front line" for public "give your e-mail address" for almost 10 years, so every spammer in the universe has it. I cannot use the e-mail account for anything.
The FBI agent and local police officer told me to return the packages and destroy any checks that arrive in this. I have learned since that if they are USPS money orders or anything is sent or arrives via the United States Mail, that I may also involve the US Postal Inspectors.
The Nigerian scammer, regardless of his or her nationality, ethnicity, or physical location, has no remorse, no guilt, about any of this. Not
the using, not the theft, not causing an innocent person to go to
jail... Heck, mine even knew enough to try GASLIGHTING for gods' sake!
That's something used by the very unscrupulous to try to convince the
person they're using/abusing is "crazy". The person you may feel you
"fell in love" with simply does not exist.
Note too, that although this has the name "Nigerian Scam", people perpetrating it are not necessarily in Nigeria. They may be in Ghana. Or, they may be in western Europe, or the US or Canada. It appears to have originated in Nigeria. Other romance scams originated in Romania or Russia. They follow a different pattern though. In all fairness to the majority of people in or from Nigeria, the plurality of people in that country are decent, law-abiding citizens. In no way is this construed to be a general dislike for any group of people anywhere.
Please distribute this information widely. This scam continues because a) People don't suspect, and assume that cashier's checks and money orders are "as good as cash". b) People who are defrauded keep quiet about it out of their shame. c) Sometimes, if they do report it, or talk about it, to friends, family, or even law enforcement, they are told they are "dumb" to fall for such a thing, and treated as the criminal themselves! It is the financial and emotional equivalent of rape. Like rape, it flourishes in the darkness of shame. If you are a victim, or intended victim of this, PLEASE report as much information as you can. If you need some support or assistance in reporting it, or are treated like a (possible) criminal yourself by law enforcement or called "stupid" for it, of have fear such, the people at the RomanceScams are great to support you, as well as providing links and support if you already have been scammed, are currently involved with becoming or are a current victim, as well as assisting you in reporting the situation to banks, merchants, and law enforcement agencies. All of the people in law enforcement I have contacted over this matter were very professional in how they handled it. And, know that you are not alone.
Here's something I had not considered, and have not read about in any computer magazine, website, or news article before: Using a ghost-writer to set up a profile for you on dating websites, and follow your Tweets on Twitter or posts on Facebook and answer them for you, because you feel that you are too busy or too inept to write about yourself and follow responses. Some will even send postcards from exotic places where "you" claim to be vacationing, and set up dates for you, or screen responses.
Of note, I met my husband through an on-line dating service, a few thousand miles apart. I wrote my own profiles and responses to him, and would never have considered a ghost writer to polish my bland romantic writing skill. I assume he did too, even though he has since begun working as an editor for a romance novel publishing company.
But what about others? In fact, how would anyone feel if they met someone, dated the person, became quite serious about them, and even married them, then found out that the profile was ghostwritten, your emails had been read by some third party, all of those sweet and sexy responses had been written by a third party? I would feel my privacy had been breached, and that I had been lied to by the person I was dating. If he could lie to me about things that basic, what other things could or would he lie to me about?
Here are the first two paragraphs from a BBC World Service article about the trend (the whole article is available at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/magazine/10552437.stm ). The article includes the interview of a woman who has used such services.
"The world of Internet dating can be fraught [sic]. But, for a fee, a ghost writer will rewrite your online profile with the promise of making you more attractive to others. How does it work?"
"These modern-day cupids are popping up across the Internet. They specialise in ghost writing witty, charming, flirtatious messages on behalf of single men and women unwilling, unable, or too busy to do it themselves."
RomanceScam.com Has a great deal of information on the current scams, and profiles of known scammers.
Romancescams Yahoo group (open membership)
Romancescams Photos Yahoo group (open membership)
LooksTooGoodTobeTrue.com, a site by the FBI on the topic of romance scams.
FRAUD.ORG A site to go to if you've been the victim of any fraud, believe you have, or had one attempted. It can help you report it to all of the appropriate authorities.
FRAUDAID.COM A site to help get through the scam, and descriptions of scams, and a lot more. Also a place to post your story. Help is offered, with no judgements.
IC3.GOV Internet Crime Complaint Center
FBI.GOV Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Economic & Financial Crimes Commission - Nigeria. These crimes are also illegal in Nigeria, and this is to report the act to the Nigerian authorities if you believe the criminal is in Nigeria.
DNS Stuff Internet tools to find the location of the scammer, or the origin of any e-mail.
Modeling agencies from where many scammers steal "their pics" - if you find your new online "friend's" pic on these sites, it's a sure thing they're a scammer, or at least very dishonest!
I believe all of these modeling agencies to be LEGITIMATE businesses for the purpose of promoting and marketing modeling talent. Scammers are stealing from the modeling agencies and models too, as the model's picture is not as valuable if people associate it with a crime perpetrated on them or someone they know. These models and their agencies are innocent in the problem of scamming, and some are, in fact, taking steps to try to keep their product out of the hands of scammers.
Focus Agency Hawaii
Dating and More
Black Ammateur Models
Ethnic Models Online
Celebrety Male Models
Free DVD on protecting yourself from Internet scams from the US Postal Service
Finally, there is a book out on the topic of romance scams, by and for people who have been scammed by these con-artists: