To millions of people, Valentine’s Day means quite a lot, sending flowers or candy to loved ones like grandchildren, spouses or a new romantic interest.  It’s also a time when people who have been widowed, divorced or finally comfortable in their careers decide to get back into the dating pool. While church’s, organizations and groups may be the first step, more and more of these older desiring to date individuals are migrating to the internet and dating web sites to quickly screen for ideal partners. After being off the dating grid for years while raising kids, getting over a departed spouse or a bitter divorce, these good well-intended people tend to be roadkill on the information highway. Why? Internet romance scams.

Valentine’s Day is something totally different for those who prey on the deepest of all human emotions, the feeling of love! These scammers, male and female target the deepest feelings and emotions for personal profit. For these “Romeo/Juliet” criminals, Valentine’s day is about separating the target from their hard-earned money.

Romeo

These romance scams start with the “Romeo” creating fake profiles intended for online dating sites. Using information, they have mined from the internet, they build complete profiles of “people who never existed.”  These men and women who never were, appear to be successful international business people, active military members in harm’s way or employees of non-government organizations working abroad doing good things for people in need. They have quantities of recent pictures, they have amazing stories of family or friends, and their ventures (business, military service or good will work). Their work is seeing amazing success as they prepare to return home to the United States in the next few months. Of course, they have legitimate paperwork to prove they are exactly who they claim to be (driver’s licenses, passports, corporate identity cards, etc.)

The scammer, who is conveniently working abroad, quickly builds a relationship with the targeted victim, exchanging photos, family history, romantic messages, and even talking by phone in some cases. Then out of the blue, a short time prior to expected departure an issue arises that “forces them to ask for a favor”, in fact a request. They need money for an emergency or maybe to plan a personal visit. The target is so deeply engaged they send the money, and then never hears from Romeo again.  Many times, the scam is so deep and the target so swept up in the flames of passion they will have repeated requests for monetary loans that appear to be very legitimate when operating in the foreign markets of emerging economies.

Here is what a simple romance scam may look like.

A divorced or widowed lady decides to try dating again and is persuaded by a friend from church to try an online dating service. Within a month or so she’s in contact with a well to do and distinguished American businessman in Egypt who is engaged in a large government contract. They hit it off and begin sharing likes and dislikes over music, movies, books, and food. The information exchanged becomes more personal and many times more intimate.  The emails and photos from Egypt and the story about the big contract in Alexandria (reported by BBC news online three months ago) make this Romeo sound very real. He’s an accomplished businessman, his stories of other successful projects in the region are posted on legitimate websites. He likes many of the same things the lady does (five cheese baked ziti with ground up mildly spiced Italian sausage). More importantly he’s polite, close to the lady’s age, and appears to be looking for the exact same thing, somebody to love and share his life with.

Five Ways To Avoid Online Romance Scams
Adopt an air of mystery.
Prevent cyber romance tracking by turning off locations settings.
Check photos by examining them and looking for Photoshop tips.
Verify that the person is real by doing an online search yourself.
Use search engines to check email addresses for legitimacy.
*Check All Zip and Area Codes

Over the course of weeks and months, he continues to “court” the lady via social media, email, texts, and Facebook posts. The lady is enraptured with visions of a perfect romantic love and swoons with every email, photo, text or phone call. The best part is the project is coming to a cycle stop which will allow her gentleman to come to America for about a month while the logistics of the project ramp up for the next phase. They plan for her to visit Egypt in the fall and to travel to Israel before the Christmas holidays.

He sets a return date to the U.S. and promises to meet her immediately after going to his corporate headquarters to provide a project update to the company’s Chief Operating Officer. Our lady is giddy with excitement and can’t wait to finally meet him in person. A day prior to his departure, he runs into some sort of transaction issue delaying his departure. A few days later he sends an email asking for help regarding a misunderstanding with the Egyptian government’s customs regulation regarding the non-authorized removal of an Egyptian artifact. It’s a gift he bought for our lady at a local market that specializes in recreating ancient Egyptian jewelry. It seems this one was a black-market piece stolen from a minor museum in Alexandra. If he pays a very steep fine then the artifact will be released to his ownership and be re-cataloged as a non-artifact (This is an actual regulation in the Egyptian law covering State-owned artifacts).

He does not have the cash on hand, nor will his New York-based bank approve an international wire transfer without is authorized “wet” signature.  He needs the lady to wire or “ship” funds to him immediately or he could find himself facing criminal smuggling charges at the worst or misappropriation of state-owned artifacts at the least. He asks the lady if he can use her mobile banking login to remotely deposit a check into her account so she can then wire the funds to a third party. The lady, cautious but eager to help her gentleman friend, does as he has asked and sends the money to a third party.

Other little issues pop up here or there delaying his departure and still, he has not completely escaped the accusation of misappropriating a state-owned artifact. One financial transaction turns into four, and any questions from the lady are met with “I didn’t realize the graft here was so bad.” or “It’s one issue after another, but I think this last payment finalized it.” and finally a heartbroken, “How could you not trust me? You’re making this so complicated.” Romeo might go as far as to send her a fake online banking login link so she can “see” her money appears to be parked overseas for a temporary period of time while the issue is worked out.

Broken Heart

As can be seen, when the emotion of love and the desire of sharing of one’s self is involved, we only want to believe what we want to believe. The lady or man will continue to transfer funds, wire money, and support their Romeo or Juliet. Sometimes the scammer will suggest the target come to their location to be the emotional support they need while dealing with their issues. This requires even more money and more financial transactions. The scammer eventually will say they have everything worked out and are now finalizing plans to come home to the U.S. Then the bubble bursts. Sooner or later, the target is left with a broken heart and an empty bank account. At best, the lady or man only padded the pockets of a con man (or woman), maybe an organized criminal syndicate, or at worst the hands of international terrorists.

Be on the lookout for these types of romance scams and learn how to protect yourself from internet financial fraud. If you think you are a victim of a potential fraud, reach out to local law enforcement immediately. Remember if you spot a scam, you can stop a scam.

Please contact us at Trident Response Group to discuss in detail what to look for regarding these cyber romance scams. We have training available to make you more aware of these types of criminal activity.

“You Can’t Depend On Your Eyes If Your Imagination Is Out Of Focus.” -Mark Twain