Internet Romance Scams still Breaking Hearts and Wallets

Posted on March 19, 2012

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Online romance scams have been around since the dawn of the Internet

Online romance scams have been around since the dawn of the Internet (Photo credit: Dervedia Thomas)

Although online romance scams have been around since the dawn of the Internet, old tricks like wooing their victims with flowers and poetry or trying to gain their sympathy with stories of hardship or injury are still very much part of their routine today.

“There are are many ways to run these scams as there are days in the year,” says Supervisory Special Agent for the FBI Herbert Stapelton. “They are just old themes with different variations.”

Pretending to be interested in a romantic relationship is just a tactic that may fall under the category of  identity theft or credit card fraud according to John Everet, public relations officer for the National White Collar Crime Center, a division of the U.S. Department of Justice. This center was set up to investigate and prosecute these crimes.

JJ a registered nurse, now a moderator for Romancescams.org, lost over $11,000 helping her online lover who claimed to have been in a car accident while in the U.K. He also said he was robbed, and needed money for medical assistance on two separate occasions. She later traced his IP address to a call center in Nigeria with the help of romancescams.org.

All demographics are at risk, including members of the LGBT community. But, both men and women over 40 who are divorced, widowed, elderly, or disabled, are the most common targets as determined by the Internet Complaint Center, a federal agency set up to review the public’s complaints and refer them to law enforcement.

While many of the tactics are not new, these are three common ways internet scammers rob victims of their hard-earned money.

1. Reshipping packages or redirecting funds

The online love interest will often purchase goods with a stolen credit card and have it shipped to his victim’s house. They then request that their victims ship these items internationally, sometimes to other victims, while incurring the cost of shipping, which the victim may never recover.

The scammer may also ask victims to receive funds in the form of a cashier’s check, money order, or wire transfer, claiming they are out of the country and unable to cash the check or receive the funds directly. The scammers then ask victims to redirect the funds to them or a friend to whom they purportedly owe money. This can lead to charges for bank fees and penalties for the unsuspecting victim.

2. Web-cam blackmail

Web-cam blackmail is rising in popularity, according to administrators who run forums where victims share their experiences. Victims engage in cyber sex with online con-artists who tape their interactions and threaten to send it to persons on the victim’s social media friend list. Bribes range from $50 to thousands of dollars, according to site administrators.

3. Fake Military and FBI agents

Persons posing as members of armed forces and or FBI agents is one of the oldest tricks. The names of FBI officials along with the names of specific units within the FBI are used in e-mail alerts to their victims which say, the recipient that two “Trunk Boxes” containing a large sum of money were intercepted at an international airport, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

The funds are allegedly from the Office of the Ministry of Finance, Federal Government of Nigeria. The fraudsters say that the boxes contain documents bearing the e-mail recipient’s name as the owner of the funds and  an additional document called the “Diplomatic Immunity Seal of Delivery” is needed to protect the recipient from violating the Patriot Act.

The recipient is required to contact the fraudsters, via email, for instructions to obtain the document and they are threatened with consequences if they refuse to participate.

What should you do?

  1. Do not re-ship packages. The FBI or any other federal agency will not contact persons via e-mail, nor will they make a request to ship packages according to Supervisory Special Agent fot the FBI, Herbert Stapelton.
  2. Call the Internet Complaint Center  and report the e-mail address, name and phone number of any potential scammer.
  3. Go to Romancescams.org and have a peer counselor guide you through the process of checking the IP address of you internet lover.
  4. Do not send money, even if you are being black-mailed with a sex tape or other type of embarrassing material.
  5. Secure your social media profile. If you are being blackmailed, block the person from your wall and friend list. If he or she posts the offensive material to their profile, report it to the social media site administrators and report the activity to the Internet Complaint Center.
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