Overseas dating scams and fraud are growing phenomenon, as ripe pickings and difficult law enforcement create an environment in which scammers can operate with little risk. Our global community and technology make it possible for anyone to find and develop a relationship with a person on the other side of the world.
Most of the people who date online internationally are sincerely interested in finding a soulmate. But a situation in which intense feelings develop between people who have never met attracts unscrupulous con artists, who consider the taking of money from online victims to be their vocation.
In this article, we will discuss dating scams - how to recognize them; how to check for them and what to do if you find out you are a victim of a dating scam.
What is a dating scam? Who are the scammers?
The dating scammers usually fall into one of these categories:
An individual, usually female, who dates several people at the same time, collecting money and gifts from each. These individuals often live with husbands or boyfriends, who assist with the scam.
A translation service, which controls every interaction with the person for whom they are translating. These services seem to offer helpful services, but in reality, they charge they often act as more of a matchmaker, who is paid a large lump sum upon their client receiving a proposal for marriage and another lump sum upon emigration to the US or other destination country.
A group of con artists, who act in a concerted way to draw the victim in, make him (or her) fall in love and then convince the victim to pay a dowry to "parents", buy them a house, invest in a house for the fiancée and victim to share or otherwise part with small and large amount of money.
Examples of dating scams:
As a private investigation firm, we have handled many cases involving dating scams.
We always keep all details of our investigations completely confidential. For education purposes, we obtained permission from two of our former clients to summarize the facts of their cases below. We have changed (or not revealed) locations or other identifiable details, but these are actual cases to serve as examples.
Foreign Girlfriend Held Hostage in China
In this case, the client contacted us to help him assist his girlfriend in a large city in China. He advised that he had been chatting online with his girlfriend for a few years, but that she had traveled to a certain city in China (She did not speak Chinese) and was now being held hostage by unknown Subjects in this city. She was able to get to the phone occasionally to quickly call him and ask for help, but was otherwise unreachable.
We gathered additional information from the client and learned that with the exception of a few phone calls, his contact with his girlfriend had been entirely through text messages and email. He had been sending her some hundreds of dollars every two weeks for the last two years. His girlfriend had told him that her parents lived in Africa and the client had therefore sent the money to a man in Africa all that time. When the client provided photos provided to him by his girlfriend, they turned out to be professionally taken modeling photos of a beautiful blonde girl in her early 20s.
We did a quick check of some of the emails and found that they came from Africa, not from the Chinese city, from which the girlfriend supposedly sent them.
At that point, we advised the client that he did not need to hire us, that the girlfriend probably did not exist. We asked that he give his girlfriend our phone number and ask her to call us – that he had given us the money he normally sent to her (of course he had not really) and that we would help her, get her the cash and help her get out of the country. She refused to call us and the client was finally convinced. He had been paying a Nigerian con-man hundreds of dollars for two years. We advised the client that the con-man will likely start using the Client’s financial information he had gleaned over the last few years to steal whatever money he could, now that he knew the jig was up. We told the client how to protect against that and wished him well.
Girlfriend and Client Buy a House Together
This situation is a common theme in these cases. The client meets a girl online, travels to her city to meet her and meets her parents. He stays in a hotel for a week before returning to his home country. The now fiancée convinces the client to invest in a luxury condominium in her city and some months later, he returns to visit her, along with cash to buy the condominium. Together with a translator, they go to the real estate sales office and fill out the sales contract in both of their names. Both sign and all documents are officially stamped. Client pays cash to the condo sales person and is given a receipt. Girlfriend keeps the documents, as they need to stay in that country. He returns home, but finds that she is less and less communicative. When she breaks off contact, he hires us.
He has videotape of his visit to purchase the condo, along with all parties on tape. We find out that the sales person on the tape was not an employee of their company and that the purchase documents were filed in her name only, with no mention of the client. The girlfriend had since sold the property.
Note: past variations in other cases include: client is convinced that foreigners can’t be on the contract by law; con artist also takes out a large loan, securing it with the house or condo, thus removing the money.
We tracked down the girlfriend and gave her a chance to make things right with the client, or be arrested. She re-opened communication with him, crying and telling him that she was forced to trick him by mysterious unknown parties (a common theme) and begged his forgiveness. Against our recommendation, the client decided to let her off the hook and trust her again (another strange phenomenon, which is not uncommon). She kept up the communication for just long enough to disappear again… with the money.
The client had some legal claims against the real estate development company, where the contract was signed, and we put the client in touch with a good attorney for that purpose, but the client decides not to pursue that possible remedy. He has not heard from his former fiancée since.
What are some of the warning signs?
- claims of love that seem too quick
- emergencies and sudden illness that pop up early and often
- requests for financial assistance
- photographs that look like they were taken by a professional photographer or copied from the internet. You can check the names of the files to see if they have the same file name structure. Real photos will also usually be larger in size (mb)
- problems with visa or passport that require your assistance
- problems with people threatening them - translator, bill collector, other thug
- inability to reach the person (phone doesn't work or too expensive, phone always turned off)
- communication only through email and messaging
- rigid time schedule for contact
- use of a translation service
- unwarranted interest in financial information - social security (identity) number, mother's maiden name, etc.
What should I do if I find out I am a victim?
Some scammers are interested in more than just gifts and money from the victim. These scammers will gather information during the "relationship" and use that information to hack credit card and bank accounts and even steal the victim's identity.
Before confronting the scammer, you should first make a list of what information they have about you. They have your social security number and date of birth from an immigration form? They have your mother's maiden name from a conversation? They have your banking information from a wire transfer? They maybe even have your bank pin number from a clever word game they played with you months before.
First, secure your personal information. Change your passwords. Have your bank put an extra level of security on your account. Get an instant online credit report from all credit bureaus. Confirm that no new accounts have been opened and then have the bureaus flag your credit file, so that you receive a call when new account requests are made.
Now you are ready to confront the scammer. You may want to pursue legal action against them and/or recover valuables. We can help with that. Talk to us about what information you have about them and we will fill in the blanks and bring them to justice.