Online scams are common these days. So, how safe are you when you go online to meet a total stranger?

There are many reports about teenagers meeting adults online and then later, get kidnapped, raped or murdered. It appears that scammers are also looking for victims using online dating sites, just for some easy money.

Recently, a woman in her 50s was scammed out of almost $1 million over a course of eight months from someone she met on a dating website, without even meeting the man in person. During this time period, the man communicated with her by emails and voicemail, claimed that he was some government official living in her country. The two quickly established an online relationship and the man told her that he had inherited several million dollars, but needed to borrow some funds in order to have his millions released.

Over the eight months, she wired cash to the stranger when he asked for it. Once she got suspicious, she travelled out of country to meet with the man’s apparent ‘banker’ to prove that he does have millions of dollars inherited. The police were unable to file charges because she doesn’t know where the man is and they simply don’t have the resources to investigate further.

This is a simple scam. These scammers are targeting both men and women, who may be vulnerable emotionally or simply looking for attention. Prime targets are most likely to be someone who had lost a loved one or someone whose relationship recently ended or someone who just want someone to listen to them. They look for those especially with a steady income or may have inherited money or someone who may be retired.

They first establish contact through the online dating site using the message system. Usually, they will try to come across as someone who is in a similar situation, with similar or better financial status. The only thing they’re doing at this point is to establish trust.

Once they have gained the victim’s trust, they will move towards becoming friends. More communication will be done by using personal emails – no need to communicate using the dating site. This may go on for weeks or even months so that they can gain personal and financial knowledge of their victims. They will say all the right things so that they appear to be that perfect someone, that perfect soul mate.

As the friendship develops into a relationship, the emails get more personal. They may then let the victim know that they have inherited lots of money, but it is being held by some foreign bank. In order to have the funds released, there are fees and taxes to be paid. As a trusted and special friend, he or she may ask to borrow the funds from the victim and may even offer to split the inheritance once the funds are released.

They would only ask for the funds to be sent by wired transfer, using services like Western Union or MoneyGram, directly to the foreign bank or government office. Why? Because they want to appear that the funds are not being directly wired to them and that the funds are used to have the inheritance released. After a week or so, they may tell the victim that there are more complications and will require more funds. This time, the amount may be higher. This may continue until the victim raises suspicion. At that point, they will stop communicating.

Most Police will not be able to investigate because the scammer is most likely located in a foreign country using proxy IP addresses so that it is very difficult to trace the origins of the emails. The name and address where the funds are transferred to may be fraudulent. Fake IDs may be used to retrieve the funds. Western Union will even tell you not to wire cash to a stranger using their service or to pay for any online purchases.

The old saying, “if it’s too good to be true…”

If you or someone you know is a victim of an online scam or fraud, check out the Internet Crime Complaint Center

Should you worry about online dating scams?

Should you worry about online scams?

You decide!

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