Internet romance scams are not urban legends. They are very real — all too real to the thousands of people who are swindled, perhaps as many as 200,000 in the U.K. alone, according to a recent study. Do not be a statistic.
The new British study, conducted by professors from the University of Leicester and the University of Westminster, surveyed 2,000 adults by phone about online dating scams. Extrapolated, the results come to 200,000 Brits who have been duped, and a million people who know someone who has been fooled.
“It is our view that the trauma caused by this scam is worse than any other, because of the ‘double hit’ experienced by the victims — loss of monies and a ‘romantic relationship,’” one of the researchers said. ”It may well be that the shame and upset experienced by the victims deters them from reporting the crime. We thus believe new methods of reporting the crime are needed.”
The typical scenario is this: Using a stolen photo of a model or a soldier, the con artist contacts the unsuspecting target on an online dating site or on Facebook. They might spend weeks or months grooming the target and starting a “relationship” with them (even using Skype or phone in the process), until they finally ask the target for money. If the target can’t pay them, the con artist might ask to use your bank account to accept (read: launder) money.
Because the heart is involved, people fall prey to them easier than they would, say, pyramid schemes or phone solicitations, and because of the embarrassment factor, they’re way less likely to report the crime. Please, if you’ve been a victim, report the fraud so someone else doesn’t get hurt.
Here are a few warning signs to look out for when you’re starting a relationship online, straight from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission:
- Wanting to leave the dating site immediately and use personal e-mail or IM accounts.
- Claiming instant feelings of love.
- Claiming to be from the United States but currently overseas.
- Planning to visit, but being unable to do so because of a tragic event.
- Asking for money to pay for travel, visas or other travel documents, medication, a child or other relative’s hospital bills, recovery from a temporary financial setback, or expenses while a big business deal comes through.
- Making multiple requests for more money.
The bottom line: Never send money to someone you meet online and haven’t met/gotten to know in person.
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