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How to Identify and Avoid an Online Romance Scam Artist

I am a freelance writer, author of 5 books, grant-writer, poet, river rat, amateur astronomer, and nonprofit consultant from Texas.

You've got a target painted on you whether you know it or not.

You've got a target painted on you whether you know it or not.

Women Are Targets for Internet Predators

If you do social media, there are some things you need to be aware of. First, you need to know that not everyone on the Internet is who he says he is. If he seems too good to be true, he likely is.

If you are a woman and put your photo on your Facebook or Google Plus page, you are going to get some attention. Ironically, it’s not the prettiest girls they go after. Their favorite targets are:

  1. Older women in their 50s and 60s, especially widows, unhappy wives, or chronically single ladies.
  2. Women who seem concerned about their looks, especially the ones who Photoshop their pictures a bit. They find this out by comparing their avatars with other more candid photos on their social media sites.
  3. Women who are rather plain but not unpleasant looking.
  4. Women who seem like they are attracted to money and power.
  5. American women because everybody knows that you are all rich and won’t miss $10,000–20,000.

These predators tend not to go after young hot independent sorts of chicks because these girls don’t need the fantasy. In today’s loose, sexually charged American culture, such young women tend to date in person and don’t have to keep telling themselves how good they look. Drooling post-adolescent males do that for them. If, however, a girl seems needy or insecure, the piranhas will start circling. They can smell the blood in the water.

How to Identify Internet Scammers

If you do get a message from a new “friend” who is male and good looking and apparently well off financially, and he wants to chat, watch out for the following telltale signs that this sheepdog is a wolf with a cultured growl and a permanent wave.

  1. New profile with few if any friends. If he gives a location, it will likely be someplace you've posted pictures of, especially if it's a foreign country.
  2. Important military man picture—usually nothing less than a colonel whose picture they found on some other website. You can do a search on the name, and you'll probably find where they got the name and possibly even the picture.
  3. If you accept their friend request, they jump right on with a direct message.
  4. They tell you they are a widower with a son, or a well-to-do man whose rotten wife left him or whose precious wife died and left him with a child, usually a son, but can be a daughter. If you are a Christian, he will be too, and he will ask you for your prayers.
  5. He will likely tell you he doesn't need money and mention some large amount of monthly salary he earns. Often, he will own a company, frequently in the oil business.
  6. In short order, he will fall in love with you because you are so understanding and beautiful. If you show any return feelings . . .
  7. THEN, he will ask you for money.
  8. It will be for a modest amount at first to tide him over, just 'til he can get his humongous check cashed, but there's a problem at the bank, and his child is sick, and you are the only one who can help because he is all alone in the world.
  9. If you ask questions, you will get evasive answers. It will seem as though he is working off a script because he keeps trying to force you back into a specific line of conversation. He is working from a script.
  10. The quality of his English will drop dramatically if he does try to answer your more persistent questions. The cagey ones will pretend they didn't get your questions and try to get you back on script.

Play with his head if you want, but be very careful. The more real information he has on you, the more likely you are to be stung.

Ladies, you are not alone in being scammed.

Ladies, you are not alone in being scammed.

Has This Ever Happened to You?

Where Do They Come From?

The distinguished gentleman you are talking to who says he lives in Denmark, Ireland, Britain, or Italy, owns an oil company contracting business in the North Sea or is a retired military guy or an English country squire is very likely a 17-year-old Nigerian kid working out of an Internet Cafe in Oshobogu or some other small Nigerian town. This is sort of a standard career track for Nigerian kids who can type in some places. You also get a lot of Russians and folk from Slavic countries. Some Middle-Eastern terrorists also use these scams as a fundraising trick.

The kids, especially the African ones, are working from a script, likely with an older person managing him. If he stops talking for a while, and there's a delay in response, it's likely because his handler has caught him wandering off-script and endangering the con. The kid has screwed up, and his handler is probably boxing his ears and telling him to get you back on script.

What to Do If You Suspect Your "Friend" Is a Fraud

End the Conversation

The first and most effective thing to do if you smell a rat is to end the conversation. Stop up the rathole. Don’t respond. The pleading by this guy for you to write him back will be entertaining all by itself.

Don't Feel Bad for the Scammer

Don’t worry about the kid. He might get a beating for blowing the con, but maybe he’ll decide to go back to school and get out of the business altogether. Think of it as giving a young person some great career advice. It’s a terrible business and sinful to boot.

Don’t feel bad for these kids. Many of them go on to develop their own criminal organizations specializing in conning people out of their money. They make a fortune compared to the hard-working folk they swindle. They often go to great lengths to make people believe they are legitimate. Sometimes they even fly a particularly fat prize mark to their country and put them up in hotels in an effort to convince them they are legit. Once they have the money in hand, however, the mark gets dumped, and they disappear.

Spread the Word

Finally, one of the best ways to protect yourself and your friends is to share these tips with people you care about. You’ll be surprised how many of your friends and family have been targeted by these schemes. And it’s not just women who get taken in.

These guys have a hundred variants tailor-made for everyone. Just because you are a man doesn’t mean they won’t hit on you. That long-legged Lithuanian fashion model may just be a chubby little Albanian part-time pig farmer. Even guys can get taken in by this type of con, and they are a lot less anxious to talk about it than women who fall for it.

Even if you are one of those guys like me who is fiercely loyal to his Sweet Baboo and would never ever stray, not even by email, you need to know these creepy little thieves are out there cruising for babes, and the next one they hit on might be your wife, your daughter, or even your mother or grandmother. In the Internet age, these thieves have got smooth-talking down to a script, and they have no morals, no consciences, and, if I ever get hold of one, they’ll be missing something else too!

This picture was used to convince thousands of women that a 17-year-old Nigerian kid was an Army general. If you're going to lie, I guess you might as well make it a big one. He later demoted his picture to sergeant after women noticed the stripes.

This picture was used to convince thousands of women that a 17-year-old Nigerian kid was an Army general. If you're going to lie, I guess you might as well make it a big one. He later demoted his picture to sergeant after women noticed the stripes.

How the Con Works

The kids have a name for these kinds of cons. They call them “Yahoo” jobs. Want to hazard a guess as to who the “yahoo” is? Here’s how it works:

  1. The scammer goes on the Internet to find a likely looking prospect and “friend” them. They trawl Facebook, Google+, dating websites, and Yahoo chatrooms looking for women with two characteristics. (a) They are lonely women. (b) They have money to spare.
  2. In order to “fraud” you, as they call it, once they’ve found a likely candidate, they research them to find out what they are worth.
  3. They find out where you are working and work out what your likely salary is and make an estimate as to how much you usually have in the bank at any one time. Some of these kids’ bosses have pretty sophisticated methods of sussing out your net worth. If charity fund-raisers like me can do it, so can con artists.
  4. Some of this they discover by researching your footprint on the Internet. The rest they learn by getting in tight with their mark.
  5. Over a series of emails, which become increasingly steamy with female targets, the scammer develops a level of trust. They may even get you on the phone at some point.
  6. The scammer develops an attractive identity, in part by lending a sympathetic ear to the woman’s trials and troubles. These completely phony Lotharios manage to glean an incredible amount of personal information from their marks. The scammer’s false identity necessarily starts out very sketchy.
  7. This mystery man becomes more ever more exciting as they find out more about their female or even male target. These kids do both genders.
  8. Depending on how the relationship grows and who the scammer has decided to be, African prince or ruggedly handsome Danish oil rig contractor (whatever that is) he will start to deepen the relationship as much as possible. He’s not going to be specific and will fumble if you press for more info about his job.
  9. Then comes the favor. He declares his love, or if that’s too much, he’ll let slip that he’s coming to America from whatever romantic-sounding country he says he lives in and, further, he’s just dying to see you.
  10. Then something will come up to hinder those plans. He’ll hint and hem-haw around until, if you don’t suggest it, he’ll ask for money. His check is delayed. His bank burned down. He’s covering a margin call on his stock portfolio, and he just needs a thousand dollars till his Hong Kong bank opens in a few hours. He’ll try to sound like he doesn’t need your money, really, but if you could help, it means he can come to see you sooner. For smaller amounts, he tells you his car is broken down or he doesn’t have the proper card for the ATMs in Morocco.
  11. Then, he starts pressuring. “I love you. I wouldn’t ask, but I know you wouldn’t want me to miss my flight to the States." or "I'm in much trouble through no fault of my own. Can you help me, my beloved?" They can get just that schmaltzy. If it wasn't so pathetic and cruel what they are doing, it would be laughable.
  12. At this point, he either closes the deal and escapes with your cash, or he doesn’t, and you also never hear from the mark again.

If you send him the money, he’ll likely disappear unless he thinks you are amazingly gullible and he can take you for more. One senior widow handed one of these kids over $800,000 in cash. She was surprised when he disappeared.

The next day after you send the money, the target (that’s you) looks in your inbox for another of his love-struck emails. Meanwhile, back in Nigeria, he’s having a night on the town with his girls on your money.

In 2011 alone, the FBI had 30,000 reports of so-called advanced fee scams and more than 4,000 complaints about romance scams. Just the reported scams cost victims more than $55 million in just one year. Many more go unreported. For some reason, Nigeria has about a fifth of the scam trade. A typical romance scam nets anywhere from $200 to $12,000 from a single Yahoo job.

Profits are dwindling, however, as Westerners, especially women, catch on to the scams and share their sad stories among themselves. Thousands more romance scams go unreported as women, humiliated at having been conned, simply eat their losses and don’t tell anyone. Really, can you blame them? Who wants to let it be known that you were romanced and swindled by a 16-year-old kid from Uzbekistan? Men are even more prone to hide it if they've been taken.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.


twayneking (author) from Puyallup, WA on July 07, 2016:

Yeah, Mark. Sometimes "intellectuals" can be the biggest suckers in the candy jar.

Mark on July 01, 2016:

If I sent this once a week to the faculty here at Enema U, it would not be often enough.