This section deals specifically with online romance scams.
Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:42 am
Online, anyone can be a victim, if they are not aware about scammers. They can come in different shapes and forms, using different stories - but the basic idea is the same. They will use anything they can to get your money. They will love you, they are ready to marry you, they are willing to share their fortune with you, they are ready to give you that unique chance to get a lot of money you always dreamed about. They are selling fake dreams - and you need to pay good money for that.
You can not win a lottery you never played for. And 100% of all email lotteries are scams.
You don't pay in advance for a loan or for a job.
There are no millions to receive if you need to send few hundred dollars in advance.
No genuine company will use free email accounts for business.
Anyone you met only online asking for money - no matter what reason - is always a scammer.
For the scams happening in the real world, there are laws and authorities able to help a victim dealing with most of the cases, as long as the victim has reliable proof of being sucked in a fraud. Online is a different world. Anyone can be anyone and you can never know for sure who is on the other side of the screen and why. The scammers use fake identities, claiming to be in another place than they really are - and even if a victim can prove they were targeted by an online scammer, there are not a lot of things that can be done about it. In most of the cases, the victim is in one country, the scammer in another one and no police have jurisdiction abroad.
The online scams can be divided into two big groups: scams done for getting the victim's money and scams done to obtain the full control of the victim. In the first group are all types of advance fee fraud and derivatives of those. From the second group, the most common cases are catfishing, sextortion, and revenge porn.
Let's talk about different types of scams and how they work...
Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:44 am
The easiest and fastest scam in the book...
The victim met the scammer on a chat site usually. There are cases when the first meeting happens on a dating/social site. The scammer asks the victim to move to another platform allowing the use of the web-cam - Skype, Messenger, Facebook, mobile phone apps. If the first contact was on a chat site, the scammer will ask for the victim's Facebook profile. The scammer lures the victim to expose himself/herself and records the victim. After that the victim is threatened with the exposure of the video to his social/family circle. The scammer then lies to the victim and says the victim needs to pay them to stop their threats and not post the video. Most of the scammers choose a wireless money transfer option (Western Union or Money Gram type). Some of the scammers are asking for Amazon Gift Cards - because the payment made in this way can not be canceled. In other cases (cupid bots), the scammer asks the victim to sign on to different adult sites using a credit card "for registration purposes only, no pay." Each one of those sites will charge the credit card of the registrant and the scammer will receive a part of the money for every click he gets on his profile there.
Most of the scammers reported for being active in this type of scam are from Morocco and The Philippines, but there are cases reported from Ghana and Ivory Coast, also. The contact is made using every way the scammer has accounts for. He may use Skype, text messages on the victim's phone, email, or active online profiles. According to the reports we received in this type of scam, a single scammer can play the same game with 30-40 people at least each day.
Variations of the scam
Sextortion - The procedure is the same; the difference is the scammer is asking for more videos instead of money. If the victim is a woman, no matter if the victim obeys or not, most of the videos end up being posted online. Some are even re-used to blackmail male victims.
Modeling scam - The scammers are posting online ads offering jobs as a model. They are contacting the victim, asking for more details, even their references from school/work place. The interview is done online - Skype or other platforms allowing webcam. The victims are requested to change their clothes or to pose nude. After that the procedure is the same as in the blackmail or sextortion cases.
Virtual slavery -The victim's computer is hacked and the victim is recorded through her/his own web-cam, without even being aware about it. Also referred to as RATting.
Bounty - The victim participates in the "game" and is notified at the end that he/she was dealing with a minor. In some previous cases, videos recorded in this way were posted online - together with all the details about the victim, members of his/her family, workplace, home addresses, social security numbers, email addresses and phone numbers. In order to remove those details, the victim is told that they need to pay a bounty with the promise that the information will be deleted and the police will be not notified.
Revenge porn - Similar to the bounty cases, without having anything to do with minors. In some cases, records hosted on revenge porn sites are purchased from former life partners or are "used by the scammer" by hacking the victim's accounts or computers.
Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:47 am
The victim met the scammer on a dating/social site. First step - the scammer is trying to get the victim out of the site - asking for the victims email address / phone number / skype / messenger. In a short time he may even ask the victim to delete his/her profile, as a sign of good faith. Why?
1. The scammers hate competition - they don't want to lose their victim to another scammer.
2. The activity of the site may be monitored. By doing something inappropriate, such as demanding money, the scammer can lose that profile or he may be reported as a scammer. Translated in a more understandable way, he may lose all the victims lured with that profile. Because the scammer is playing the same game with more victims at the same time, he may have victims at different stages, some already paying him, some in the process of sending money and some new ones.
3. By chat or phone (using text messages most of the time), the scammer can take complete control of the victim, requesting dialog despite the victim's schedule. Also, in this way, because of the limited space, they don't need to be creative.
The basic stories used by the scammers are always the same.
A. The scammers are impersonating men that are successful in their businesses, widowed or divorced, sometimes with one child or more at home, traveling a lot for business or work.
The romance begins with emails full with stolen lines from love quote sites, links to romantic/love songs, long descriptions about the scammer's life, previous life, origins, parents, work place. The scammer falls in love in a short period of time, willing to get married / visit the victim, demanding more and more of the victim's attention and time. They ask a lot of questions, not because they care, but because the answers gave them the needed elements they may use to control the victim better.
The conversation moves onto chat or phone and they demand more and more from the victim's time. Some scammers are patient and spend months before any money request - they have other paying victims in the same time, so they can bide their time until the victim is under their complete control. The victim is asked to talk day and night, at normal hours initially, and odd hours after a week or two, being deprived of sleep, regular meals, and kept away from friends and other social activities, except work. When the scammer believes he is controlling the victim, the problems starts...
Usually, the main reasons for money requests are:
- medical bills for an illnes of the scammers' child he can not deal with, while being abroad for business;
- unexpected costs due to a new contract signed by the scammer abroad or partnership in a recent business developed by the scammer abroad, able to bring huge revenues.
- accidents affecting the scammer /robbery letting the scammer without money and documents.
In this area, a distinct category is the military romance scam - the scammer claims to be a military officer / general (US in most of the cases), in a war zone, ready to retire/resign, searching for a life partner. He can not use the phone or the web-cam due to security reasons, he can not send or receive money where he is, he can not access his own bank account as long as he is in the war area.
The money requests usually are:
- a payment for a secured phone line - the victim is asked to contact a company providing this service and to pay a fee, allowing her/his phone number to be connected on a secure line with the military base where the scammer claims to be;
- travel /vocational basic allowance - the victim is asked to contact the superior of the military person, for allowing him to have a holiday - a form needs to be filled with the victim's details and the victim needs to pay between few hundred and few thousand dollars for having the scammer free for holiday or furlough.
If the scammer has children, other developments are possible - illness/accidents of the children, school taxes need to be paid etc.
From case to case, after the first payments, the romance scam is combined with other classical Advance Fee Fraud scams.
B. The scammers impersonating a woman are usually young, searching for mature men and willing to relocate. The money requests, in their stories, arrive sooner than in the previous cases of women being scammed.
Reasons for asking money:
- costs for visiting the victim - travel documents or flight tickets
- medical problems for the scammer or someone in the scammer's family
- costs for translating the emails and sending pictures (the Translation Agency Scam is used by scammers from the former Soviet Union area - in this case the entire communication is done by emails only)
- expenses necessities (starting with food and ending with purchase of personal hygiene products).
In both cases, the scammers are requesting mobile phones or laptops, clothes and branded products. In both cases, the scammers are using fake names and stolen pictures, redirected phone numbers, VOIP numbers, or mobile phones with disposable prepaid cards.
A variation of this scam is the gold digger/pro dater scam:
The scammer, usually a young woman, is using her real pictures and documents with the victim. The scenario is different and depends on the area where the scammer is located.
For the Former Soviet Union pro daters. The victim is requested to go to the scammer's country for a visit. The scammer will rent an apartment for the victim (at a higher price than one currently on the market). Because the scammer is not able to speak the language of the victim, a translator is needed and this translator will be present at every meeting, being paid by the victim. The victim is persuaded to invite the scammer to expensive restaurants/clubs and to buy her luxury products. Some of the victims may end up beaten and robbed if they are not willing to pay for the things the scammer wants. At the first "no", the scammer will dump the victim without a word. Not even for a single second during those meetings, will the victim be alone with the scammer.
The pro-daters from other countries are the ones visiting the victim at the victim's location. In some of the cases, the victim is invited to meet the family of the scammer in the country of origin, with the idea they will get married. All the money invested for their common future will be spent on things bought in the name of the scammer. It can take years until the victim is penniless. At this point the scammer will dump the victim, and go searching for another one.
Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:49 am
The recovery scam:
Recovery scams usually occur after a romance scam, with a scammer impersonating a different man, using another variation of an advance fee fraud scam. When the victim realized he/she was scammed, the contact with the scammer is broken. The same scammer or one of his colleagues will contact the victim pretending to be a law enforcement agent (Police officer, Interpol, FBI, Homeland Security) and they are able to get the scammer arrested and to recover the lost money. In some of the cases, the victim is requested to pay a fee for those services. In others, the fake law enforcement agent will claim he got the scammer arrested, he recovered the money, and is he ready to re-send the money to the victim for a fee. At this stage, other scams are used: trunk box scam, atm card scam, the courier service scam, etc. Of course, each one with it's own price.
Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:56 am
Next of kin/Inheritance/Refugee :
The victim receives an email out of the blue. The message arrives from a bank clerk, a barrister or a lawyer. In some variations (refugee scam), the contact is made on a dating site where the scammer sent massmail messages to everyone online, giving his email address for contact, pictures and details. Or the scammer is a dying widow, without children, willing to leave her huge fortune to you, before she dies. After the first step, the procedure is the same and, sooner or later, a lawyer/barrister will arrive on the scene and a bank. The story is a simple one: the sender has a lot of money he needs to move outside the country and he needs help for that. The smartest ones would even "tailor" the name of the deceased millionaire to fit the potential victim's family name. It is a "risky free" operation, the scammer promise to deal with everything. All he needs from you are your real life details (name, home address, phone numbers, work place), copies of your ID documents and your bank account. He will even tell you he is ready to pay from his own pocket to cover all the costs this operation may need. After he receives all your informations, the problems start: There are papers needed to be paid for, approvals requested, new fees. They send a lot of fake documents, with signatures and stamps, looking (more or less) official - death certificates, bank statements, their own ID documents (passports, ID cards, driver licences).
Most of the scammers reported for being active in this type of scam are from West African countries, even if, in a lot of cases, the banks and the phone numbers used (redirected or VOIP) are outside Africa. The contact is done both by emails and phones.
Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:57 am
Trunk box scam/Courier delivery scam/Security company scam:
This scam is a variation of the previous one and may be used as part of a next of kin scam, romance scam, or recovery scam. The contact is made in the same way - email arrives out of the blue or on a dating/social site. The story may develop by different scenarios as the ones mentioned above:
- the scammer is a military who found a huge amount of money in a war area or he received those money as a reward for saving the lives of a local personality.
- the scammer is an engineer on a ship traveling abroad on the verge to be attacked by pirates.
In all the cases, the scammer is posing as a person you can trust: he is not asking for your money, he wants to give you his money, trusting you entirely, even if he never met you for real. God has sent him your way, and he is fully confident that you are the only one in this entire world deserving his trust.
The huge amount of money the scammer wants to move to another country is secured into a trunk box. The trunk box is stored at a security company outside the place the scammer claims to be. The victim is asked to contact the security company for establishing the details of the delivery. But, because the trunk box is stored for a long time, there are some fees to be paid to cover the costs of the storage. After that, of course, some other unexpected problems appears; additional fees needed to be paid, and the victim is notified the trunk box is shipped. Next level: the trunk box can be blocked by a customs service and you need to bribe the officials there, or you need to pay airport taxes, customs duties, import taxes etc... Even if the victim is out of money, in his generosity, the scammer will be ready to cover half of the costs as a sign of good faith, if the victim pays the other half. The scammers are able to send a bunch of fake documents (certificate of deposit, transfer documents of customs), even pictures with the money in the trunk box and pictures with the trunk box itself.
The contact is done using emails and phones. Most of the scammers reported for being active in this type of scams are from West African countries, despite the fact they pretend to be anywhere else.
Another part of this scam is a contact from a fake Law Enforcement (interpol, FBI, Homeland Security, Etc) stating they have opened the package and found the money or valuables. They will then extort money from the victim under the threat of being arrested if they do not pay.
Tue Jul 22, 2014 6:58 am
Fake check scam:
It is a common scam used in association with other types of scams. It could be a job offer or a romance scam requesting the victim to receive a payment, or it could be a victim having no money to pay anymore and ready to let the scammer help with half of the amount needed to be paid in a next of kin scam, if he/she promise to return the money to the scammer and having the amount back when the fortune he/she expect will arrive.
The victim is notified the check is on it's way, using a courier or even using postal services. The victim is asked to deposit the check, to withdraw the money, and to wire (using Western Union, Money Gram or similar wireless money transfer options) a part of that amount back to the scammer (usually 90%), because the scammer can not wait until the bank is clearing the check. In this way, the victim is affected in several ways:
First: the victim loses the money wired to the scammer.
Second: by cashing the fake check, the victim become part of a fraudulent activity and may end up in jail.
Third: no matter if the victim was a willing accomplice or completely unaware about the entire situation, the victim needs to cover the debts in his/her own account - meaning the victim needs to pay for the entire amount withdrawn.
The contact is done by emails and phone. The scammers reported for these type of scams are everywhere...
Mon Feb 23, 2015 12:28 pm
The scammers are posting messages on free ad sites, social / dating, and even professional sites. They offer guaranteed loans or credit cards, regardless of your credit history. If anyone is asking for a fee to give you a loan, dealing by emails or phone only - drop it. All are scams. A real lender will mention any fee upfront and that fee is taken from the borrowed amount and is usually paid to the lender after the loan is approved. Most of the scammers are trying to impersonate real banks or companies - using free email accounts and asking for the fees to be paid to individuals using wireless money transfer services.
The contact is done mostly on emails and rarely on phone. There are cases when the victims receive also letters using the regular mail services. Most of the loan scams are originated from Benin.
Mon Feb 23, 2015 12:28 pm
The victim is notified by email, phone, or message on a social/dating site that he/she won a lottery he/she never played. The victim is advised to keep this event secret and to contact a claims agent, providing his/her personal details. Next step: the victim needs to pay fees for processing and for transfer charges. The scammer will fabricate document after document and will request another and another fee. 100% of all email, phone, or messages to social sites lotteries are scams; we have never seen one exception.
Wed Jan 13, 2016 6:45 am
From ScamSurvivors Blog, new instructional videos to help yo to identify scams. Check them out.http://www.scamsurvivors.com/blog/new-videos/
JAN 07 2016
Lately we’ve started making new instructional videos to explain how the scammers work. It’s a bit of a fine balance we have to keep between educating the public and educating the scammers, so some are kept deliberately vague. They do however show things like how to look at email headers, how to spot a phishing email and so on. More will be added on hopefully a fairly regular basis as and when we think of things to talk about. To see them as well as other videos we’ve made, go to our Youtube channel at https://www.youtube.com/user/romancescambaiter