As if online dating isn’t stressful enough, we have even more to worry about then our hearts getting stolen. Have you checked your bank balance recently? As technology grows by leaps and bounds, so do the various ways con-artists seek to separate us from our money.
It’s a traditional “Sweetheart Swindle” or “Lost Love Scam” where someone gains your confidence and then asks for help with a financial matter, often involving cashing checks or money orders and wiring them the cash.
According to the National Consumers League this type of scam is now on their top ten list (and they have only been tracking it since July 2007 – that’s less than a year!) According to the FBI the average loss is between $3,000 and $4000 per victim, with overall losses reaching $85 BILLION dollars per year. This type of scheme also makes the top six scams listed by US Postal Inspection Service, fitting as there are an estimated 21 million victims of some form of check fraud each year.
And this isn’t just limited to the US. While researching this problem, and looking for others to make you aware of I found recent news articles from Canada, the Netherlands, Australia, and England.
One of the biggest problems facing victims of this crime is the embarrassment of being taken for a ride. There’s not only the shame of having been swindled, but also the still lingering stigma of online dating services. Many people do not come forward, which not only allows the perpetrators to keep going on to their next victim, but also hides the true statistics behind this type of crime.
Many people aren’t aware that they will be held responsible for cashing a bad or fraudulent check. Not only will your bank take the money out of your account, depending on the situation, you could face criminal charges yourself.
The scenario usually plays out like this. You meet a great match online. The chemistry is great, you really click. The only cloud on the horizon is they live far away from you. You’ve spent time online, on the phone and really feel like there is a chance. Now they want to come see you! Sounds great right? Well, until they call up and tell you there’s a slight problem with their visit. They don’t have the money for the plane ticket. They have the money for the plane ticket, but the airlines won’t take a check or money order. So they ask you, the love of their life, their soul mate to help them out just a little bit.
STOP RIGHT THERE!
Seriously? How did they pay for the dating service with out a credit card or at the very least a debit card? No one, no one, no one that you are dating should be asking you to cash a check for them or forward them money! Ever, no exceptions. As FakeChecks.org says on their site in big, bold letters,
“There is no legitimate reason why anyone would give you a check or money order and ask you to wire money anywhere in return.”
Red Flags to Look for:
They ask you to cash a check or money order for them and wire them the cash back
They ask for money for a passport to visit
They ask you to forward packages from one address to another
They ask for money for an airline, bus or other transportation to visit you
They say they need the money for hospital or other debts and can not be with you till debts are paid, or claim they are being held against their will
They say “I love you” very early in the relationship
mageThey propose marriage before they have met you
They don’t answer personal questions, or keep answers very vague
They have inconsistencies in stories, or seem to change their tale
They tell you a tragic sob story
Their images appear on other websites (scammers steal the images, it’s never their own photo)
The love letters and poems they send you are plagiarized
Are you concerned that you could become a victim? Take the Love Losses Fraud Test to find out (I scored a “Low Risk”) and learn valuable tips for prevention.
Have you been a victim? First, realize that you are not alone. Secondly, you can fight back. Realize that the money may be gone, but try and keep that con-artist from doing onto others what they did to you. Here are a few resources for victims and prevention:
RomanceScams.org – Offering support, education and healing – this site also offers a comprehensive list of links for reporting the crime.
RomanceScam.com – Online Database of Known Scammers listing the information that is being used to dupe innocent people.
Yahoo Groups – Romance Scams – More information and support for victims
LooksTooGoodToBeTrue.com – Education, prevention and reporting links
FakeChecks.org – Dealing with all kinds of check fraud, tons of great links and resources for you