We are using our computers for more socialization than ever before. The latest statistic from Match.Com states that one out of five relationships now start online. Online dating services are being utilized at an all-time high. As in every other form of consumerism, buyers beware. Mark Brooks, editor of Online Personal Watch reports that as many as one out of 10 profiles on dating websites are scammers.
Scammers are out for money. This is probably the most easily understood group of people who put out fake profiles. Their purpose is eventually very clear. The request for money comes along at some point and that is the very obvious red flag. Recognize that this is a job for these people. It isn’t a hobby. This is something they work at full time and often in highly organized crime groups. It’s not unusual for them to have ten to twelve targets at one time. They will pose as male or female. Working in a group makes it possible for them to present you with friends, co-workers, family, or any other person needed to make the scam seem real. The person you are chatting with on-line may not even be the same person that you eventually end up having phone conversations with. It’s very elaborate.
It’s important to take a look at some of the other warning signs of a possible money scammer. The FBI website www.FBI.gov has a listing of red flags. The person you are in communication with may be a money scammer (also referred to as romance scammer) if they:
• Press you to leave the dating website you met through and to communicate using personal e-mail or instant messaging
• Profess instant feelings of love
• Send you a photograph of himself or herself that looks like something from a glamour magazine
• Claims to be from the U.S. and is traveling or working overseas
• Makes plans to visit you but then is unable to do so because of a tragic event
• Asks for money for a variety of reasons
Cupid.com’s communications director, Sean Wood offers the advice of:
• Beware of military pictures. Some of the biggest scams occur from supposed soldiers in the armed services with a believable sob story and a desperate need to settle down
• Beware of old fashioned language like “dear” or other outdated romantic language.
• Look for incomplete sentences or sentences that don’t make sense. If the scammers aren’t English speaking they may run their communications thru a translator program.
• Never send money to a person who you have met on-line, no matter how plausible the request seems to be.
Then there is a whole group of people who are creating fake profiles for other reasons. The popular MTV show “Catfish” covers the stories of victims who have been tricked by people with fake profiles on social media. The producers of “Catfish” have had enough material to provide for a feature length movie and three full seasons containing 38 total episodes. It’s harder to understand the motivation of this group of people. While some perpetrators get the benefit of money and gifts others are out for something else. Attention, revenge, and spying are often what they are looking for.
Sociopaths are people who get pleasure from other people’s pain. Narcissists are looking for attention, ego building, and validation. Social media offers a perfect playground for both of these disordered personalities. Immediate gratification and fulfillment of these needs is a hard thing for these people to resist. The payoff is huge for them. When you consider that they are preying upon the basic human need for love and acceptance, we can more easily understand why people can be vulnerable to victimization. We each have the personal responsibility of making sure we are getting our needs met in a safe and healthy manner. However, considering that according to the FBI about seventy percent of victims are female and that more than half are women over 40; it’s safe to say that when it comes to dating websites women need to be especially careful.
If you feel like you have been the victim of money scammers on a dating service website you can report them to the website itself. You are also encouraged by the FBI to file a report with the internet crime complaint center (IC3) at http://www.ic3.gov. Social media sites also have an abuse department that you can file a report to. Perpetrators are very hard to trace. Starting a trail is important. The more information that is collected the better the chance of breaking up these crime rings and keeping users of these services safe from scams.