There are more than a few bad apples in the basket: Romance scams are a big business.
Polling conducted by the highly respected Pew Research Center indicates that one out of five adults aged between 25-34 years has used an online dating site. Sixty-six percent of all users have actually gone on dates with someone they met online. And some of these sites actually report a high success rate. They do hook up lots of people whose relationships last for an extended period of time, if not permanently. Unfortunately, real dating sites also provide scammers with an opportunity to steal your money, and your heart. Romance scams are a big business.
But there are also more than a few bad apples in the basket. Some of the bad apples are scammers who signed up on the dating sites simply to romance partners into loaning them large amounts of money. And once they have the cash, they disappear. Some of the bad apples are the dating sites themselves, whose business model is to take your money without providing any service.
And some of those bad apples are really bad. In July 2020, Nigerian police, in cooperation with INTERPOL, arrested three men after receiving a tip. They are suspects in the kidnapping of a 46-year-old American woman and holding her against her will in a Lagos hotel for 16 months. The woman traveled to Nigeria after receiving what she thought was a marriage proposal on Facebook from one of the three.
Romance Scammers on Dating Sites
In January 2021 a man from Washington state was convicted of scamming a Kentucky woman out of $757,000 and ordered to reimburse her. Also convicted were two Ghanaian associates, one also residing in Washington state and the other in Newark, New Jersey. Dating sites and smartphone dating applications are literally inundated by scammers. Ironically, the parties to many of the scam romances that result don’t even meet.
Studies show that if the scammer masquerades as a man, he typically claims to be an engineer working overseas. The truth is, he does work overseas, but as a social engineer, a euphemism for a scammer. If the scammer masquerades as a woman, she typically claims to be a student. Her photo reveals just enough cleavage to convince you that you’d like to meet her.
An email exchange develops. It may also evolve into regular WhatsApp or Zoom calls. You soon learn that the other party needs some money. Maybe it’s for a return flight for the guy abroad so he can finally meet you. If the scammer pretends to be a female student, the money could pay off her tuition for the rest of the semester. And then she can take time off her studies to finally meet up with you. Maybe a mother is hospitalised and the loving son or daughter can’t meet the bills. The bottom line is that they’ll tell you anything to convince you to wire some money. The practice is known as ‘catfishing.’
According to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC), in 2018, catfishing scams came out as the top scam, with over 21,000 reports of catfishing with total losses of around $143 million. A year later, the FTC announced 2019 statistics: 25,000 reports of catfishing with total losses at $210 million. That’s a dollar increase of almost 40 percent. In 2020, the FTC estimate of total losses from all romance scams reached a record $304 million, an increase of almost 50 percent.
Dating Sites that Are Romance Scams
Dating sites that seem to appeal to anyone looking for a quick fling stand a very good chance of being scams. It’s certainly easy enough for a scammer to write up virtually endless profiles of like-minded people and post them online on a fake dating site. Together with suggestive photos. It’s even easier for the scammer to just copy the profiles from a legitimate dating site. And copy racy photos anywhere online and then simply upload them.
For those who are tantalised, they’ll find that signing up is expensive. There are always a few different payment plans. Inevitably, it will be cheaper to sign up for a number of months. But pay attention to the small print. Your membership will be automatically renewed if you don’t cancel it in advance. To do so you’ll have to jump to another page that isn’t so easy to find. That’s done on purpose to make it harder for you to quit. (And more than a few legitimate dating sites employ the same strategy.)
At any rate, you find a lot of attractive people you’d like to hook up with. You may suspect that some of them are fake, but they all can’t be, right? Sooner or later you’ll hit on one who’s real, right? So you send one a message. And then another to someone else and yet another to someone else, on and on. But there’s never a response. Not even a canned one (like ‘I’m interested too, please tell me more’). Perhaps at that point you’ll understand that you’ve been had. After all, once the scammer has your money, his job is done. There’s no need to deliver any goods.
Dating Sites Infiltrated by Investment Scammers
Yes, as if romance scams aren’t dangerous enough, take note of this additional danger: In January 2021, Interpol issued a ‘Purple Notice’ to its 194 member countries worldwide, warning them that investment scammers are taking advantage of the ‘surge in dating app users’ due to COVID-19. ‘The threat involves taking advantage of people’s vulnerabilities as they look for potential matches, and luring them into a sophisticated fraud scheme,’ Interpol warns.
After expressing a romantic interest in someone, the scammers work their charm in order to cajole their pretended love interest into signing up for an online forex trading scam or similar fake investment opportunity, claiming they’ve personally made huge profits themselves. Among the dating sites suspected of being infiltrated by these investment scammers are Tinder, eHarmony and Bumble.
That is exactly how one British woman, in fact, lost £100,000 (much of it from loans she took out) to a cryptocurrency scam after she met a man on a dating site. Even though he claimed to be living only 35 miles from her (though the odds are highly likely that was a lie), they couldn’t meet due to the coronavirus shutdown. COVID, therefore, provided the scam with a plausible cover and the scammer with a credible alibi.
In February 2021 Hong Kong police arrested 17 suspects in an ongoing probe of Chinese dating sites that have been infiltrated by investment scammers. All told, these scams are said to have stolen billions of dollars from residents of mainland China before they began to target Hong Kong as well. In July 2021, it was reported that over 200 victims from approximately 20 countries were sweet-talked into purchasing at least $70 million in cryptocurrency by women they met on dating apps. The transactions were made through two crypto exchanges registered in China that shut down immediately afterwards.
If you didn’t get caught up in online romance scams and found your soulmate, there’s always the possibility of falling for wedding scams. In July 2019 a wedding planner from East Yorkshire in England simply disappeared. She allegedly took with her the hefty down payments a number of her customers paid her.
But then the story got more complicated. She also walked off with approximately £10,000 belonging to her boyfriend. To make matters worse, only after her clients filed their complaints with the police did the boyfriend learn that she was married to another man. She and her husband separated two years before. At the time she vanished she also owed £4,000 to him.
Wherever she is, she can always go back to the sort of work she did before becoming a wedding planner. Back then she coordinated funerals.
If you think you’ve been the victim of a romance scam, contact the fund recovery experts at MyChargeBack.