It’s not every day that you find a Federal Bureau of Investigation press release with the tantalizing and provocative title: “Looking for Love? Beware of Online Dating Scams” – and when you do, well, hey, ya gotta read that missive, right?
As “Street Sweeper” has regularly reported, there are a lot of crooks, scamsters, and creeps online. You may be looking for love. You may be looking for your next spouse or the love of your life. Trust me, there are a lot of folks lurking in the shadows of the Internet simply looking to separate you from your life’s savings. The FBI put it quite bluntly:
“These criminals—who also troll social media sites and chat rooms in search of romantic victims—usually claim to be Americans traveling or working abroad. In reality, they often live overseas. Their most common targets are women over 40, who are divorced, widowed, and/or disabled, but every age group and demographic is at risk.
Here’s how the scam usually works. You’re contacted online by someone who appears interested in you. He or she may have a profile you can read or a picture that is e-mailed to you. For weeks, even months, you may chat back and forth with one another, forming a connection. You may even be sent flowers or other gifts. But ultimately, it’s going to happen—your new-found “friend” is going to ask you for money.
So you send money…but rest assured the requests won’t stop there. There will be more hardships that only you can help alleviate with your financial gifts. He may also send you checks to cash since he’s out of the country and can’t cash them himself, or he may ask you to forward him a package. . .
[I]n another recently reported dating extortion scam, victims usually met someone on an online dating site and then were asked to move the conversation to a particular social networking site, where the talk often turned intimate. Victims were later sent a link to a website where those conversations were posted, along with photos, their phone numbers, and claims that they were “cheaters.” In order to have that information removed, victims were told they could make a $99 payment—but there is no indication that the other side of the bargain was upheld.”
What’s the takeaway from that FBI scenario? For starters, a lot of folks may have not had the best Valentine’s Day this year — your online Valentine may be more Al Capone than Cupid. According to the FBI, you may have been just another pigeon targeted by someone who has likely made a career of searching for victims such as you.
How did the fraudster find you? Have you ever looked at all the personal, financial, and intimate stuff that you have posted about yourself on Facebook, Linked-In, Twitter, and who knows how many other dating or social media sites?
As to whatever your online suitor told you – fuggedaboutit. Those photos? Probably copied from someplace online. That life story? Probably bogus. All the promises and heart-felt assurances? Garbage. And what was the point of all of this? Not love. More likely a money laundering scheme. If your online friend asked sent you checks to cash, asked you to wire money overseas, or told you to send merchandise, there’s a good chance that you were enlisted in some international crime wave. Of course, as the FBI warns, you may also have been the victim of old-fashioned extortion dressed in modern-day digital trappings.
“Street Sweeper” recently reported about a criminal defendant who had hacked into online accounts and changed the user’s password, blocking the victim’s access. Thereafter, the hacker searched e-mails or other files for naked or semi-naked pictures of the victims, as well as other information, such as passwords and the names of their friends. The title of the article sort of tells you how frightening things got from there: “Hacker Charged With Using 3,000 Nude Photos To Victimize 350 Women.”
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The FBI offers these helpful warning signs for safer online dating:
- Your online “date” may only be interested in your money if he or she:
- Presses you to leave the dating website you met through and to communicate using personal e-mail or instant messaging;
- Professes instant feelings of love;
- Sends 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 is then unable to do so because of a tragic event; or
- Asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimization).
- One way to steer clear of these criminals all together is to stick to online dating websites with nationally known reputations.
If you think you’ve been victimized by a dating scam or any other online scam, file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.