After a rough divorce the year before, she was thrilled to meet a man who shared her religion, interests, and love of children and animals.
Then one day Eric called in a panic, saying his passport had been stolen. Candace wired him the small sum without hesitation — but when he contacted her a few weeks later saying he needed a much bigger sum to pay legal bills, she realized she was being scammed. Her whole relationship with Eric was a scheme to get money out of her. This story is fictional, but the scenario is all too real. More than 14, Americans fell victim to this kind of scam inup from fewer than 6, in And that number may only represent a fraction of the real total.
Some catfishers use these fake identities to annoy or harass others online, or just to flirt without commitment. They lure their victims into an online relationship and use it to get money out of them — sometimes thousands of dollars. How Romance Scammers Operate Romance scammers work by setting up fake profiles on dating sites and social media. They usually claim to have jobs that keep them outside the country for long periods of time, such as working on an oil rig, serving in the military, or working for a nonprofit.
Next, they seek out victims — usually people who are lonely and vulnerable — and work to build up relationships with them. They can spend months winning over their victims with regular conversations, long e-mails, poetry, gifts, and declarations of love — everything except face-to-face meetings.
Often, they rely on pre-written scripts that tell them exactly what to say at what point in the relationship. Next, the scammers start asking for money. Once they know the victim is hooked, they pretend to go through some kind of crisis that requires a large amount of cash to fix, such as a robbery, a medical or legal problem, a frozen bank account, or a business opportunity.
Often, they work with accomplices who pose as friends, doctors, lawyers, or other people who can back up their story. The victims are often happy to pay because they think helping out their love interest will make it easier for them to finally meet in person. Instead, the scammer continues to string the victim along with more requests for money, sometimes keeping up the fraud for years.
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When the victim finally wises up — or runs out of money — the scammer disappears. In a few cases, the scam continues even after the victim catches on.
Then they use their emotional hold over the victim to lure them into helping them with their crimes — sometimes even turning them into accomplices in other scams. Profile of a Scammer Many romance scammers operate outside the United States.
According to HuffPost, most of them are located in Ghana and Nigeria, but an increasing number originate in communities of West African immigrants in Canada, Malaysia, and Britain. To make this kind of money, romance scammers often have multiple victims on the hook at once.
HuffPost cites a case in which a single person was working 25 online romance scams at once, posing as both men and women. Some of the most successful scammers have extracted tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars from a single victim.
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Profile of a Victim Romance scams can affect anyone. Barb Sluppik, who runs the watchdog site RomanceScams. However, some people are more likely to be targeted than others. Most victims of romance scams are women. Residents of Developed Nations. Scammers find their victims all over the world. However, they tend to target people living in developed nations, who are more likely to have money to spare.
However, in the area of relationships, they tend to be impulsive and open to persuasion from others. Examples include job loss, divorce, the death of a loved one, or a medical crisis in the family.
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During this experience, they lived in denial, finding ways to excuse the abusive behavior or even blocking out all memory of it. Thus, they were more likely to turn a blind eye to the warning signs of a romance scam, coming up with excuses for the suspicious behavior like they had done in the past.
Victims of Previous Scams. Romance scammers also like to prey on people who have been victimized before. You might think that being scammed once would make people more cautious in the future, but often, their response is just the opposite.
The University of Exeter study found that people who have fallen for one scam are consistently more likely to show interest in another.
Scammers can also cause a lot of trouble for the people — usually men — whose images they steal to create their fake identities. Also, the image of a strong soldier protecting his country tends to appeal to women seeking love online.
HuffPost reports that General John F. Campbell had his image used in more than fake profiles in the space of six months after assuming control of the U. Jones, had not only his image but his entire identity stolen by scammers.
Jones now runs an entire Facebook group dedicated to exposing scammers who have used his image to defraud women. However, because so many of these crimes go unreported, this is probably only a fraction of the real total. These devastating financial losses are far from the only dangers romance scams pose to their victims.
Victims of romance scams often end up abetting the scammers in other crimes. Scammers may use their victims to launder stolen money, transport drugs or stolen goods, or even help them scam others.
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