As long as there has been love, there have been con artists trying to exploit people’s emotional vulnerability. With the advent of online dating, romance-based frauds have risen sharply, as the tools to dupe an unsuspecting singleton behind a veil of anonymity are increasingly accessible. A scammer used to have to take someone out to dinner, buy flowers, and get to know them before ripping them off . Now, it takes little more than a boiler room full of scammers creating hundreds of emails a day, cost-free, waiting for a lonely romantic to bite. And you will never see their face, even as you’re sending them money.
People want to believe they’ve found true love, and many will go to incredible lengths to believe it. The false promise of romance and love is utterly strong and convincing, even to some of the savviest people. Despite crime being down in the UK by 9% in 2013, fraudulent crimes spiked 27%, and those fraudulent reports came directly linked to dating scams.
Rob Rogers, a moderator of RomanceScams.org, and one-time victim of a dating con, has stated that there are numerous red flags for online dating scams: bad grammar or spelling; someone claiming to be American but work overseas; ignoring personal questions; and “As soon as a Nigeria or Ghana connection comes into a story, it’s a scam for sure.”
Police have urged people to follow SMART advice when looking for online love: [S]top and think before you fall head over heels; [M]ake sure you don’t reveal too much about yourself; [A]re they asking for money? Don’t fall for “hard luck” stories; [R]emember to trust your instincts. Does this person seem too good to be true?; [T]hink about how well you really know them. Are they asking you a lot of questions but stay tight-lipped themselves?
But even after you follow all of these pointers, a sneaky scam could still slip you up. Among the worst of the worst online dating scams that have actually been executed are the following ten shocking and downright dirty tricky.
10. Hospital Renovation Scam
In Australia, online dating scams are on a meteoric rise. In 2014 alone, Australian victims sent $25.2 million to West Africa in romance scams. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) responded by sending 1,500 letters to potential victims, and saw a 50% decrease in scams after that.
Australian Jill Ambrose lost more than $300,000 over four years to a supposed health commissioner in Nigeria. Ms. Ambrose was an interior designer, something that the con artist played to. He asked for help in renovating poor hospitals, playing on her compassion and sympathetic outlook on life.
As Ambrose said, no one could convince her she was being scammed, not even the police. “We were so convinced that our experience was real and we were different,” she told a support group. “We weren’t stupid, we were vulnerable.” Her message now is to never give money to someone you’ve never met in real life – and even then, always be cautious.
9. The Family Man Scam
Traditionally speaking, the majority of online dating scams target women (40% of online dating victims are 40-year-old-plus single mothers). That is, in part, because the majority of online dating fraudsters are men. They have their act down targeting women; they’ve done it before, and if they need to talk on the phone with their victim, at least they sound male.
The family man scam tugs at a woman’s sympathetic heartstrings. The scammer will mention that they have a child who can’t afford college tuition, and ask for financial aid (after gaining the victim’s trust). Another alternative is when the scammer will claim that they live overseas, and will ask for cash to help fund a child’s ceremony, such as a wedding.
8. Chinese Flower Basket Scam
In China, online dating scams run rampant. According to a study between University College London and Jiayuan – China’s largest dating hub – 1 in 200 dating profiles are flagged as scammers. That’s 500,000 profiles out of 100 million users. Not only that, but their dating scams are highly creative.
Case in point: The Chinese “flower basket” scam, where men take advantage of unsuspecting women. It begins when an attractive “middle-aged man” develops an online, romantic relationship with a middle-aged woman. After a while, the con artist will imply that he wants to marry the woman, but will claim that his parents require a gesture of good faith in the form of an expensive flower basket (sometimes up to $20,000) to put in their made-up storefront.
The conman directs the victim to a local florist, who he knows, and then they share the profit. This con is tailored to traditional Chinese culture. However, Gianluca Stringhini, one of the study’s collaborators, has said that, “In principle, there’s no reason it couldn’t happen in the U.S.”
7. Funding Combination Scam
An anonymous woman in Indiana fell into this trap in 2014, when she reported losing over $150,000 to an online scammer over four months. She believed her virtual love interest was a local man who was falling in love with her.
The man, introduced as “John Hagen,” was supposedly a local engineer. They talked on the phone, over text and email, but never met face-to-face (the first red flag). After falling in love with “John,” the requests for money soon came in, in an abundance of combinations: “John” told the woman he needed money to travel overseas on a work trip in Egypt. Then he lost his tools and needed money to replace them. He needed funds to pay his staff, and to pay for hospital bills after he claimed he had a stroke.
As the woman stated to an NBC Indiana affiliate, “It’s almost like you know something is coming, but you’re in so, so far, you just play through it.” The bottom line, which has been stated time and time again, is if you’ve never met the person in real life, it’s not real love.
6. Double Dipping Scam
In the double-dipping scam (not an official term), scammers might represent themselves as wealthy businessmen or beautiful models, using ordinary profiles. These scammers work in boiler rooms, in Russian and Nigeria and elsewhere, to send hundreds of emails through dating sites and chat rooms. They follow scripts like telemarketers, and they can afford to string people along for months before asking for money, because they have so much revenue coming in from other victims.
They shape their identities around their victims’ profiles. For instance, a 50-year-old woman who loves horses might fall for someone who supposedly owns a ranch. After a time, the con man might ask the victim to cash a fraudulent check and wire-transfer the money to them, because they are out of the country or unable to cash the check themselves.
The truly bad part comes when, after losing his or her money, victims are contacted by phony detectives or private investigators. These “services” promise to track down and bring the scammer to justice, but for a fee, of course. This is a continuation of the scam, and is usually executed by the original love interest.
5. Doubly Sick Scam
The doubly sick scam is one that is truly disgusting because it plays on the compassion of victims wanting to help the sick, and takes away money from legitimate healthcare systems and patients. It is a play on the double-dipping scam. This scam sees the con artist going through the usual steps of roping in an unsuspecting love interest.
Once they’ve gained a victim’s’ trust, they’ll claim to have fallen seriously ill, as victims of something like cancer, or a serious accident. They will ask their prey for money to pay for medical expenses, or travel expenses to visit.
The “double dipping” part, which is quite sick, comes when a victim is contacted by someone claiming to be the con artist’s doctor, to try and add legitimacy and steal more money from the vulnerable victim.
4. Chinese Date-For-Profit Scam
The most prevalent and ingenious scam used by Chinese romance rip-off artists is called the “date for profit” scam. It was included in the same study as the Chinese “flower basket” scam, between University College London and Jiayuan, China’s biggest dating site. It is usually focused on men, and over 57,000 accounts of the scam have been reported.
It goes like this: The owner of an upscale restaurant hires an attractive woman, who then makes a dating profile. The woman reaches out to a lonely man, and convinces him to take her on a date to the expensive restaurant. There, she runs up an enormous tab, and afterward the bachelor never hears from the date. The woman splits the money with the restaurant owner.
The worst part about this scam is that it’s the “perfect crime,” because victims don’t even realize they’ve been scammed, and they often even have a good time on the date. It’s also not strictly illegal – people are meeting face-to-face, making it impossible to prove to authorities. It’s like a scam right out of The Sting; by the time you know what’s happened, it’s far too late.
3. Company Investment Scam
A fraudster from Ghana, Maurice Asola Fadola, was recently reported as having scammed at least 19 British women out of over £800,000, making him one of the most prolific and successful online dating scam artists ever recorded. He would charm women by bombarding them with flattering messages, and would even send them poetry and flowers on their birthdays, to show his apparent legitimacy.
He would then claim to be moving to Ghana to invest in a mining company. Some women even traveled to West Africa to meet the man, “Bruce,” where they’d meet “Bruce’s” driver, who was actually the con man himself. He used the women’s “investments” to fund his gold-plated, lavish mansion.
Sometimes, the driver (the actual scammer) would bring the women to the mansion and show them a case of gold, to prove their investment was genuine, but he’d tell them that Bruce was in prison and needed money for bail.
On another occasion, a woman lost her life savings to help one “Steve Moon” in a legal dispute over the impounding of his war medals. Fadola – posing as “Steve” – said he couldn’t access his own cash because he was serving in Iraq. Basically, as victim Dana White told the Daily Mail, “Of course I was wary, but everything he told me seemed to check out.” Fadola was one of the craftiest dating scammers around, until he was finally jailed while trying to obtain a British visa which disclosed his true identity. He’s now serving five years in prison, and has been ordered to repay all of the money he stole.
2. Offshore Estate Scam
A 65-year-old Canadian woman was the target of one of the largest online dating scams ever recorded, when she lost $1.3 million to a scammer who called himself “Dave.” She lived a comfortable, retired life in British Columbia, and joined a dating site to find companionship. The scam she fell for was a new take on the Nigerian email scam.
Daniel Williams of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre stated, “What we’re dealing with is organized crime [in West Africa]. No one is doing this to one person. For the one person that contacts us about it, there are 15 who have not, and 30 who will be scammed in the future.”
Once contact is made on the dating site, things heat up quickly, before the scammer declares his love for the victim. Often, they move off the dating website and onto instant messaging and private email (a big red flag). They learn who you’re looking for, and then they become that person. Then comes the request for money, for a child’s disability, or a lost passport. The amounts build.
For this Canadian woman, she was going to visit “Dave,” a Swedish man who lived in LA. Finally, after booking flights and having to cancel because Dave became so busy, she asked what was going on. Dave said these weren’t games: He was trying to unravel his father’s estate, saying he’d been left an offshore inheritance, but a lazy lawyer caused Dave to have to clear some debts before selling the assets.
Even after being told not to send money by a Western Union employee, she managed to send $945 via MoneyGram. She then started wiring thousands and hundred of thousands of dollars, eventually amounting to $1.3 million in transfers. She sent just a few thousand to help “Dave” out, and the rest she spent were attempts to get back the money she’d lost.
1. Killer Love Scam
Losing money and emotional stability are bad enough, but the most tragic of these romance scams can end in one’s death.
In 2014, Jette Jacobs was murdered by a man she’d been in an online relationship with for four years. Jacobs sent thousands of dollars to Jesse Orowo Omokoh, a Nigerian man who she went to Johannesburg to meet. She had already sent over $90,000 to her Nigerian lover, and her family and friends advised her not to meet with the man.
Days after she went to meet her online lover, the 67-year-old widow was found dead in a rented South African villa, with her money, credit cards, and jewelry all gone. As the woman’s son said to Daily Mail, don’t go to try and meet these online lovers. “At the end of the day, they are running a business or a scam, or what they want to do is to lure people to go to Africa… there’s a possibility it’s a one way ticket with no return.”