Romance scams and financial fraud
A total of 3,889 victims were defrauded out of £39 million from online-dating fraud in 2016 according to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. The BBC reports .
African based romance scams-money fraud (419 Scams):
These seem to be the most prolific and mainly originate from West Africa, sited mostly are Nigeria, Ghana and the Ivory Coast where there are high rates of unemployment.
These highly efficient and organised groups are not how you may imagine a scam being executed in these countries.
Back in 2011 reformed scammer ‘Aje’ spoke to the Daily Mail and explained some of the process.
According to Aje, each operator juggles a number of accounts and uses popular dating websites. Often the cover story involves a fake photograph of an American or British soldier and a stolen credit card. Almost all fraudsters are men.
‘Each person has as many as six women at a time. We would search through dating websites such as Yahoo! personals, match.com and singlesnet.com and create an account, usually with stolen credit cards’.
‘The woman is, in most cases, desperate to get a man in her life. For those who are being a little difficult, you send a gift on a weekend with some nicely worded card. Once the victim has fallen in love, the next thing is to tell her you are going on a short business trip to any part of the world. You call the victim and be romantic with her on the phone. Then, after some days, you ask her for money giving her some sob story, like you were robbed or forgot your money’.
These scammers have evolved from the first romance scams where handwritten letters were penned, this evolved to typed letters and then emails. The internet has made these scams a highly lucrative business. Now poorly verified dating application and social media website, sign up processes, allow for easy targeting of others through their platforms.
Nigerian Scammers at work. Cyber cafes may be the hubs. You can see them working from ‘a script’.
Some statistics state that an experienced scammer can rely on 1-2 replies per 1000 emails, that’s 2-3 victims per week. One has quoted ‘it’s 70% sure that you’ll get the money if you get a reply’.
They may work 6-8 hour shifts and the workers take on many different roles to keep the operation running smoothly.
Roles in the business include things like:
- organisers -composing emails and mapping out the romances and constructing the fake profiles
- crossovers-these sometimes come from legitimate government backgrounds and provide ID papers and documents it claims.
- communicators-these establish the initial contact
- executors-speak the foreign languages (but also a big clue as their grammar and construction of sentences are often not up to scratch)
- psychologists-for the ‘difficult’ victims who are reluctant to accept the story
- money movers-deal with hacked accounts and keep the money moving to its desired destination.
Overlaps/handovers in the accounts (victims) worked by these scammers may explain when details you have previously given seem forgotten by your new companion. This may also explain long periods of time when your messages go unanswered, if a phone is being shared by a group and your handler is waiting to reply or is ‘off shift’.
These scammers are happy to be in this for the long haul if they think they are onto a winner. Reports are noted of weeks to years where scammers wait, building trust to ensure their victim will part with their money when asked. But one thing is certain…you may even chat with ‘someone’ on the phone on occasion BUT…you will never meet them in person. These online dating scammers remain very much online.
Money here is the end game. How they get this will depend on the scam.
The hooking, the building trust and the emotional manipulation will all be ‘text book’ in every case, financial or personal. However, the middle section of the scam may be different. Some are detailed here:
- The most popular scam is asking for money. This may start with small amounts to test the water. The sob story of needing money for a sick child, money to keep items in storage safe for when you get your house together on their return from overseas, maybe for a flight to come and see you. If you do this, the amount will escalate, ending up with asking you to share bank details or to cash cheques (which will be fraudulent) etc…or turning the victim into the criminal by money laundering.
The Daily Mail reported on some high loss scams using online dating in 2016. ‘The shocking rise of online dating fraud’ can be seen here.
- Sextortion: The scam may involve blackmail. When you enter into a ‘relationship’ and build trust with this person over a long period of time, they may start asking for ‘hot pics’ or ‘sexy video time’ with you, all in the name of ‘keeping the long distance relationship alive’ or ‘getting to know you better’. There are cases now where these images and or videos are used as blackmail. Threats of sharing with friends, family, colleagues if money is not paid in return for the files. Of course their intention is never to give you the files but to keep extracting money from you with ongoing blackmail. Excuses will be made as to why you can’t see them in the video chat..’the lighting is bad, the computer is set up in the wrong part of the room, the camera on mine is broken’ or new technology where the fraudster will control a pre recorded video. Sextortion (webcam) based scams are said to originate in Morocco or the Philippines. Again the Ivory Coast is emerging.
Monica Whitty, a cyber-psychologist based at the University of Leicester wrote a detailed study on these romance scams involving money fraud. It can be found here.
The scammers of today are operating all over the world. They have seen the unchecked behaviour and how difficult it is for any victim to bring a prosecution (even if the scammer can be located) in our archaic and broken justice systems. Working across continents proves an impossible task in most instances.
How will these fake profiles present themselves?
In the main it is reported that these scammers have presented themselves as Military Personnel, usually American. Military personnel will NEVER contact people through social media and ask for money. I’ve had my share of these on Twitter…Davis Peters is one, look out for him! He didn’t read my bio. He carried on. I pointed out on his twitter feed that the picture he then used claiming he was ‘proud to be working with ‘his team’ of medical experts’, was a Stock Image from the UK for the NHS, he blocked me. I did report this profile.
Others may claim to be God Fearing religious people, or highly successful business men/women. One thing is always constant…they seem to good to be true. Their profile pictures will be for men, smart, successful looking, good appearance but not necessarily model types, however the women versions tend to be very much ‘model worthy’ in appearance.
If you have encountered other types of romance scams with money fraud and you would like to help protect others by sharing your experience, please contact us on the GET IN TOUCH page.