In the spirit of the upcoming
why am I still single? Nobody loves me Valentine’s Day celebrations, the wet blankets at the FBI issued a reminder to the public that the people you find online are not always who they claim to be, and we don’t just mean the ones who post their roommates’ photos instead of their own.
“Here’s how the scam usually works,” writes the FBI in its best tough-love tone. “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.”
Sounds good so far; certainly better than most of my relationships.
“But ultimately, it’s going to happen,” continue the feds, their voice deepening with gravitas. “Your new-found ‘friend’ is going to ask you for money.”
Okay, my friends ask me for money all the time. I don’t understand why, as I’ve got less cash than a retired NFL player, but they do. Aren’t friends supposed to help friends in need?
The FBI all but dares you to send this online entity that initial bit of money, warning, “rest assured the requests won’t stop there. There will be more hardships that only you can help alleviate with your financial gifts.”
Since this wallet-draining virtual paramour is outside of the U.S., he or she may also send you checks to cash, may ask you to forward a package.
This all sounds like things I’ve done for actual flesh-and-blood girlfriends over the years. Is the FBI telling me they were just scamming me the entire time?
Quoth the agency:
“So what really happened? You were targeted by criminals, probably based on personal information you uploaded on dating or social media sites. The pictures you were sent were most likely phony lifted from other websites. The profiles were fake as well, carefully crafted to match your interests.”
In addition to losing your money to someone who had no intention of ever visiting you, you may also have unknowingly taken part in a money laundering scheme by cashing phony checks and sending the money overseas and by shipping stolen merchandise (the forwarded package).
Any guy (this seems to happen to men with much more frequency) who has spent more than a day on Match.com has invariably been hit up with one form of this scam in which a woman will express some level of interest, but will almost immediately request that you move your back-and-forth off the site to e-mail or to another social networking site.
In some cases it’s just so that the paper trail is harder to trace for when the scammer hits the victim up for money, but the FBI warns of a particular variation of the ruse wherein the scammer takes their chat transcripts and post them to yet another website for everyone to see. The scammer then demands money in exchange for removing the content.
The FBI says that, in addition to local law enforcement, victims of online scams like this should file a complaint with the Bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Finally, here are the FBI’s protips on how to suss out whether that sexy man or woman wooing you online is a scammer or just a future disappointment:
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.
We take issue with that last one as we’ve found that, while some dating sites are better at filtering out scammers than others, all of them are still constantly bombarded by fakers looking to cash in.
You can now follow Chris on Twitter: @themorrancave