U.S. citizens should be aware of individuals they meet on internet dating websites who feign friendship, profess romantic interest, and/or express marriage intentions over the internet. Scammers commonly claim to be U.S. citizens who are engaged in international business, requiring them to frequently travel overseas. In fact, these individuals are not U.S. citizens. Many scammers also claim some sort of connection to Europe.
In many scam scenarios, the correspondent suddenly falls into dire circumstances overseas (i.e. an arrest or a horrible car accident) about two to three months after a connection is made. The correspondent will ask you to send money for hospital bills, visa fees, or legal expenses. It is also common for scammers to tell U.S. citizens that a close family member, usually a teenager, is in desperate need of surgery and to request monetary assistance. You may even be contacted by a “doctor” requesting that money be sent to the hospital on behalf of the correspondent. Note that any doctor, lawyer, or police officer who contacts you is likely a part of the scam. The amounts lost by U.S. citizens in these types of scams can range from relatively small amounts to more than $400,000.
Scammers Target the Vulnerable
As cruel as it sounds, scammers often target widows, widowers, and U.S. citizens with disabilities. Scammers are aware that many widows/widowers inherit money upon the death of a spouse. Consequently, some scammers set up profiles on dating websites claiming that they themselves are widow(er)s in order to gain the trust of the potential victim. Scammers are also aware that some U.S. citizens with disabilities receive disability checks, making them a tempting target.
The anonymity of the Internet means that U.S. citizens cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality, or even gender of the correspondent. In almost every case, the correspondent turns out to be a fictitious persona created only to lure the U.S. citizen into sending money.
These scammers have created male as well as female characters and entice same sex correspondents as well as those of the opposite sex. Correspondents who quickly move to expressions of romantic interest or discussions of intimate matters may in fact be scammers. A request for funds almost always marks a fraudulent correspondent. U.S. citizens are cautioned against sending any money to persons they have not actually met face-to-face.
Romance scams involve one or more – sometimes all – of the key signs below:
- You met online through a dating website, an e-mail chat room, Facebook, or another online website.
- The scammer claims to be a native-born U.S. citizen, but has a thick accent and/or uses poor grammar indicative of a non-native English speaker.
- Scammers have the worst luck imaginable — often getting into car crashes, arrested, mugged, beaten, or hospitalized — usually all within the course of a couple of months. They often claim that their key family members (parents and siblings) are dead. Sometimes, the scammer claims to have an accompanying child overseas who is very sick or has been in an accident.
- The scammer’s “bad luck” occurred when they were on their way to the airport to come to the United States to meet you. Scammers like to build the anticipation of their victims. Once you are excited about the chance to finally meet them in person, that’s when something occurs to prevent them from making the trip. They count on your excitement to finally meet them as an extra incentive to send money. As soon as you send money, however, another situation occurs, which requires you to send more money.
- The scammer asks you for money to get out of a bad situation. Note: Since scammers prey on the good intentions of U.S. citizens, some of them will not actually ask you for money. Rather, they will share their heart-breaking situation with you in hopes that you will willingly send money to help them.
- The scammer claims that the U.S. Embassy would not help them. Likely they have never tried to get help from the embassy, because they are not actually U.S. citizens.
- The passport the scammer sent to convince you that (s)he is a U.S. citizen looks computerized and includes a very attractive photo that looks like it was taken by a professional modeling agency or at a photograph studio. This is not a typical passport photo.
Tips to protect yourself from scammers:
- Never send money to someone you have not met in person without verifying their identity.
- Do not disclose personal details over the phone or online — even in your profile on social networking sites. For example, if you are a widow, you may not want to make this known on a dating web site — scammers thrive on information like this.
- Refer all individuals who claim to be in distress overseas to the local U.S. embassy or consulate. Assisting U.S. citizens overseas is the U.S. Department of State’s top priority. All U.S. citizens will be assisted, and no one is turned away. Consular officers are available 24/7 for emergencies. You can find contact information for all U.S. embassies and consulates at http://www.usembassy.gov/.
- Contact the State Department’s Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747. We can offer suggestions for verifying whether the situation is legitimate or a scam.
- A U.S. citizen with legitimate emergency financial needs overseas should contact the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate for assistance. The U.S. embassy or consulate will contact family and friends on the citizen’s behalf and under certain conditions will provide a loan. Be cautious of sending money to persons you do not know, who call you from abroad, asking for money. For information on financial scams, please contact the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747.
If you feel you have been a victim of an Internet scam, please send all reports of Internet fraud directly to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) – a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). IC3 was established to receive internet related criminal complaints and to research, develop, and refer complaints to federal, state, local, or international law enforcement if appropriate.