The internet is a breeding ground for schemes, fraud, and scams. There are dozens of them out there today, and it seems a new one pops up daily. Internet "love," "romance," and "dating" scams have been around for quite some time, and as some recent stories show, they're still going strong.
Internet love scams vary a little in the story used by the scammer to lull the victim and the method used to make the fraud work, but the basic principles are always the same: The scammer promises companionship, love, and sometimes even marriage, only to swindle money out of the victim, sometimes tens of thousands of dollars.
Two recent stories give a good picture:
- An Australian woman fell in love with "Mr. Right," Lawal Adewale Nurudeen, a man from Nigeria who she met online. Nurudeen claimed that he was a British citizen working in Nigeria and that his wife and child had died in a car accident. The woman and Nurudeen got engaged, and shortly afterward, Nurudeen called the woman claiming to be a doctor.
He claimed that her fiancé, Nurudeen, was injured in an accident and need money for medical treatment. The woman paid nearly $50,000 to Nurudeen. Fortunately, she later learned the truth of the matter and Nurudeen has been ordered by the Nigerian government to repay the money, and he's been sentenced to 19-years in prison
A Wisconsin woman met an "FBI agent" through an online dating agency, and she believed they were going to get married. He told her that he needed some money to make a trip to Nigeria, and she wired more than $7,000 to him in Nigeria. Later, the man's "representative" told the woman that the man and his children were killed in a car accident and that she would not be repaid the money she had sent. Law enforcement officials are not optimistic about recovering the money or apprehending the scammer
For whatever reason, a large number of internet love scams originate from Nigeria, as these two examples show. Nonetheless, the internet is global, so scammers may be working in Nigeria, Idaho, or in your neighborhood. And the scams don't always involve the victim sending the scammer money.
There are cases where the scammer sends the victim money orders or bank checks in the US, asks the victim to cash them and then send the money back to the scammer. The money orders and checks are fake, of course, and when the US bank discovers it, the victim is responsible for repaying the bank.
Spotting A Scam
It's not always easy spotting a love scam because the scammers are usually skilled professionals. Also, some dating or match-making web sites are legitimate and not everyone using them is a fraud. There are some things to look for, though, that may indicate a scam:
- Asking for money - to help her pay personal medical bills or her proposed travel arrangements to meet you in the US - very early on in the relationship, especially before you've actually spoken over the telephone or face-to-face
- The person lives over seas and has never been to the US
- The pictures he send you in the mail or posts online make him look like a supermodel, or the pictures are of so poor quality that you can barely make out his features at all. It's common for scammers to use pictures from modeling sites to entice their victims. And, like poor-quality pictures, they make it nearly impossible for authorities to track down and identify the scammer
If you think you're being scammed:
- Don't cash any checks or money orders without contacting the "bank" that supposedly issued them to make sure they're legitimate. You can also ask your bank to help you verify them
- Report the scam to the FBI
- If the other person lives in another country, ask for his Visa number
No one's saying that it's not possible to meet Mr. or Ms. Right online. It is possible, and it does happen. Just take your time, be careful, and ask questions before you finally decide that the person you met online is right for you.
Questions For Your Attorney
- I think my friend is being scammed by an online "friend" but he won't listen to me. Can I file a complaint with the FBI or the local police for him?
- I cashed several money orders for a man I met online and they were fakes. The bank wants me to repay the money, which is about $15,000, and they want to press criminal charges because they think I was part of the scam. What should I do?
- I met someone online from another country and she wants to come to the US to visit me. She asked for help to pay for the fees for her Visa? Can I pay those fees directly to the embassy or the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)?