Is Online Dating a Scam?

Today’s post has nothing to do with guitar repair or music. I have decided to start busking though under the name of Smoke House.  It’s a bucket list thing I want to do as a relatively new 55+ aged musician still learning and in search of a dad blues band.

Speaking of age, would you believe the romance scam is alive and well?

One of my closest friends just lost his wife of thirty seven years. Lonely and seeking someone to talk to, he has subscribed to a few senior citizen meet up sites.  He has been calling me weekly with updates.  The results are not what I was expecting. Are all online dating sites, scams?

I’m at the age where losing people is a visible part of life.  I have had more than one close friend depart this life recently.  Some are dealing with health issues where they are dealing with more than anyone wants.  This too is a plateau where scammers live and lie in await.

You have probably heard about of the Nigerian Scam.  They have riffed on this thing and have hit the dating scene. Scammers prey on guys like my friend, looking for a connection after a loss by posing as potential partners. They use emotional manipulation to persuade them to provide money, gifts, or personal information.

My friend said he gets what is probably a fake picture of someone exceptionally attractive. For the record, this is also known as Catfishing. They exchange emails and then the fun begins.  Emails and other messages are exchanged once someone responds or appears receptive. 

popular photo used by scammers

He said so far he has tried four different profiles and the women have all had the following exact same script.

Scammers frequently construct fictitious online personas to entice you. They may use a made-up name or impersonate real, trustworthy individuals such as military personnel, aid workers, or professionals working abroad.

Scammers will express intense emotions for you in a short period of time and will advise that you take the connection away from the internet and onto a more private channel, such as phone, email, or instant messaging. They frequently claim to be Australians or residents of another western country but are actually traveling or working in another country.

Scammers will go to great lengths to pique your interest and earn your trust, including showering you with love words, providing ‘personal information,’ and even giving you gifts. They may spend months cultivating what appears to be a lifetime romance and may even pre-book airfare to visit you but never arrive.

Once they have acquired your trust and your defenses have been breached, they will ask you for money, gifts, or your banking/credit card information (subtly or directly). Additionally, they may request that you submit photographs or videos of yourself, maybe of a personal nature.

Frequently, the scammer will claim that they require the funds for a personal emergency. For instance, they may assert that they have a critically ill family member who requires immediate medical attention, such as an expensive operation, or they may assert financial difficulties as a result of an unlucky run of bad luck, such as a failed business or street mugging. Additionally, the fraudster may pretend they wish to visit you but are unable to do so without your assistance in covering their airline or other travel expenditures.

Occasionally, the scammer may give you important products such as laptop computers and cell phones and would request that you resend them to a different location. They will fabricate a reason why they require your assistance in delivering the products, but this is really a cover for their illicit activities. Alternatively, they may request that you purchase the goods and ship them yourself. You may even be required to accept funds into your bank account and subsequently transfer them to another individual.

Occasionally, the scammer will inform you of a significant sum of money or gold they are transferring out of their nation and give you a portion. They’ll explain that they require your funds to cover administrative costs or taxes.

Dating and romance scammers can also be a threat to your physical safety, as they are frequently affiliated with international criminal networks. Scammers may seek to lure victims overseas, placing them in potentially perilous situations with terrible effects.

Regardless of the method used to defraud you, you could end up losing a significant amount of money. Each year, billions of people are duped globally by online dating and romance frauds. Money sent to scammers is nearly always unrecoverable, and you may also experience long-lasting emotional betrayal at the hands of someone you believed loved you.

My friend hasn’t given up but realizes now, nothing beats old fashioned methods for meeting people.  So far, he hasn’t lost any money and likens this to a game now, where he is trying to see how fast he can expose the scam.  

The Federal Trade Commission reports that Americans lost $143 million to romance scams in 2018, with the average victim losing over $2,600. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Commission (IC3) reported receiving over 15,000 allegations of romantic scams in 2016. In 2020, romance scams reported a record of $304 million in losses to the Federal Trade Commission. This is an increase of around 50% over the previous year.

The last woman he spoke to claimed to be a US Army major that has stolen money her unit found while deployed.  She wanted him to give her his account and personally identifiable information (PII) so she could deposit some of these ill-gotten gains into. The loss of PII can result in substantial harm to individuals, including identity theft or other fraudulent use of the information.

You should be able to avoid online dating scams and maintain greater general online safety once you know how to recognize if someone is scamming you online. When using dating services and social media to meet individuals, take the following precautions:

Check and double-check everything. Conduct an online search to verify the person’s identity, including their name, photo, location, email address, and other facts.  My friend didn’t have a lot of social media contacts so he asked me to check to see if this US Army major was legit.  I didn’t even have to go that far.  After we spoke, he realized it was yet another bogus profile.

Please do not transfer any money. Never give money to an internet love interest through wire transfer, gift card, or cash reload card. You’re not going to get it back.

Report any money you’ve previously sent. If you suspect you’ve sent money to a scammer, contact your bank immediately.

I’m glad playing the guitar isn’t this fraught with danger.  I’ll let you know how the Smoke House project goes and when I get the opportunity to actually do it. I’ll post updates here, when he shares new tales.  

Play on and be careful out here.  

Romance scams becoming more common as stigma around reporting remains (