Online dating is an arena you have to proceed into with caution because you never know who is really lurking behind the profiles you encounter. A retired woman living in British Columbia learned this the hard way, losing more than $1.3 million, her life’s savings, trying to find a companion on an online dating site.
Ellen had retired and was living comfortably in a nice home that was paid for with a luxury car in the driveway. You could say she had it all. But, she was lonely and at the urging of a close friend decided to try online dating.
Ellen fell prey to an online scam that has become common on dating websites and even social media. She reported her loss to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre only to find out that she was the biggest victim on record of a new phase of well-known Nigerian email scam. Canadians have reported losses totally nearly $50 million over the past four years. And while these numbers are high, authorities are sure that not all victims have reported their losses.
The perpetrators are an actual criminal gang that takes to the internet running many scams at once. Many of them are from West Africa.
“What we’re dealing with is organized crime,” says Daniel Williams of the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. “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 future.”
Online daters are often unsuspecting when they are approached by someone who strikes up a conversation and pays them a compliment. These scammers often get intense pretty quickly and insist that you leave the site and chat with them in Yahoo messenger or email them instead. They appear to fall in love quickly and often tell a story of being widowed, losing their spouse in some tragic accident and being left with a child to care for. Both men and women are at risk of being victimized.
Not long into the conversations they usually come up with a sudden need for money. “Some are asking for money within two weeks,” Williams says. “Some wait nine months before making their approach.” Why? “Because they have hundreds, if not thousands, of people on the go. Because they have so much money coming in, they can wait.”
Ellen, now 65, met her online suitor on Match.com. “I thought it would be fun just to banter back and forth with somebody,” she says. She spoke with him online and via telephone. He told her he was of Swedish descent, living in Los Angeles, but his accent was off. Ellen was intrigued and ignored that. She had made plans to visit this man who called himself Dave Fields in Los Angeles. After she booked her ticket to fly there, he became very busy, never having time for her. She kept trying and he kept dodging her.
Then the scam began. Dave told Ellen he had been left an inheritance by his father offshore but had to clear some debts due to incompetent lawyers. Ellen tried to help. At first she sent $945 by MoneyGram, then started wiring funds of tens of thousands and eventually hundreds of thousands of dollars. Ellen says she sent the first few thousand to help Dave and the rest was an attempt to get her money back. She even traveled to London and Madrid to meet with people Dave said would get her money back to her, but it only resulted in her sending more money, all the while draining her bank account.
Ellen felt like she was in a fog which didn’t lift until a male family member told her she was being scammed.
Most dating sites warn participants not to send money to anyone. Match.com said in a statement that they have “an extensive fraud management team comprised of certified fraud examiners, analysts and technologists who police all entry points for fraud” and reviews users who meet a “basic threshold of risk.” But they admit it’s nothing they can do once members leave their website and move to other private communications.
As soon as Nigeria or Ghana connections come into the story you can bet it’s a scam. While other areas of the world are problematic, West Africa has the highest occurrences. To prevent alarms from going off, authorities believe the scammers have the money routed through North America before ending up in West Africa.
I have to admit. I’ve encountered numerous scammers on dating sites. They’re pretty easy to identify, however. They often hide behind stolen photos of really attractive people and approach you with long love letters. Several things stand out though, especially the use of the word “cos” in place of because and “mum” in place of mom. And they will almost immediately send you a private email or yahoo messenger identification to draw you away from the dating site to communicate. I’ve had them request Skype calls or they call from VOIP internet phones.
When they would tell me they lived in a city within the U.S., I’d try to find out how much they really knew about their area. If they’re a scammer they usually don’t know anything but the name of the city. I had one tell me he was in Stone Mountain, Georgia. When I asked for the nearest major city he couldn’t provide an answer. Sometimes they claim to be abroad on business or may eventually tell you they’re in Ghana with their sick “mum” who is fatally ill. At that point they’re about to ask for money. It doesn’t have to get that far if you see the clues given within this article.
I’ve never been scammed, thank God for that, but at one time they were heavily swarming almost all the dating websites. Recently, I’ve seen some show up on Facebook. The latest scam appears to be them setting up fake preacher profiles and asking you to send money for prayers or special causes. Be careful. The internet makes it easier for scammers to forge relationships and con people out of their hard earned money. It’s best to never send money to someone that you meet online.
Daphne R is an experienced marketing and communications professional that provides social commentary, self-help, tips, and reports news of events that matter to African Americans.