How to enjoy internet dating without being conned
For as long as there have been online dating sites there have also been those who seek to exploit others for financial gain. Many dating sites do not warn you of the dangers, but we believe that everyone should be aware of the small but significant risk in order that they can continue to enjoy online dating safe in the knowledge that they can recognise a con artist when they are contacted by one.
First, let’s take a look at the infamous Nigerian or West African 419 scam.
The 419 Fraud – What it is and how it works
The 419 scam involves convincing the unsuspecting victim that they should send some money to the scammer as by doing so it will ensure the transfer of much greater wealth. For this reason this scam is also referred to the as the Advanced Fee Fraud (AFF).
This scam has been attempted millions of times in spam emails sent around the world to individuals and to businesses, not just in online dating. However, the criminals realised that the personal nature of online dating sites in which people open themselves up to communicate with others meant that there was a greater chance of the victims falling for the con.
The scam begins with an email or letter containing a story about funds that are locked in an account abroad. The sender will usually identify themselves as a professional or military person or perhaps a politician, and the reason the funds are supposedly free for the taking is often due to the recent death of a wealthy person with no claimants on the estate.
The sender explains that a mutual business associate has suggested that the target might be willing to be the recipient of these funds in exchange for a generous commission. If the target falls for the story then the scammer further explains that they need a small money transfer of a few thousand pounds or dollars in order to pay for certain expenses. The target transfers the money in expectation of the greater reward and then all communication ceases.
- Be alert for any such story or any variations of it
- Be cautious of anyone claiming to be from Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and other west African countries seeking to gain your attention and trust
- Never agree to transfer money abroad
- Never reveal any personal information, particularly bank account details
The 419 Fraud – Online Dating
Scammers join online dating sites because they know that the members of such sites are actively looking for contact with total strangers. They know that the site members are open to approaches from others and they also know that they may be more emotionally vulnerable and therefore easier to manipulate.
Not all online dating site administrators are vigilant enough to weed out the fake profiles and those who have criminal intent within their site’s membership. It is an ongoing process of prevention (stopping such individuals joining in the first place), and taking action when such persons are identified. For this reason a fee paying site which uses the revenue to pay for full time administrative staff is sometimes a better option than totally free online dating sites as they are trained and employed to carry out the necessary checks.
Even so, a scammer can slip through the net and begin an online relationship with someone. At first all seems normal and certain amount of trust is built up. This could take weeks or even months as the scammer will be doing the same on several dating sites and may not be in any great hurry as he or she knows that eventually their efforts may bear fruit. Once the criminal has gained the trust of the target he/she will gently explain a problem that can be solved with only a small amount of money.
The scammer will describe what appears at face value to be a perfectly plausible situation and the amount of money they need will not be a great deal. It will probably be quite affordable to someone of any means in Europe or America.
Here are some of the more common situations that a scammer might describe:
- I urgently need money to pay for emergency medical treatment for a member of my family.
- I am desperate to get to the UK to visit you, but I can’t afford the flight.
- I am desperate to fly to XYZ to visit a sick relative.
- I am determined to pass my exams but I have run out of money.
There could be many other variations on the above. Whatever the story it will involve the need for some funds to be transferred direct to the scammer. If the target is gullible enough to send the money they will never hear from the scammer again, even if they have been in contact several times a week for many months.
How do you identify a potential scammer or the 419 scam?
Start by examining every detail of the profile and check the particulars of the individual in as many ways as the online dating site allows you to. Pay particular attention to the following:
- Country of origin. Do they admit to being west African, Nigerian, Ghanaian etc.?
- Standard of English. Does it seem likely that English is their first language based on what they have added to their profile?
- Profile photos. Does the photo look genuine? Could it be a picture of a model stolen from another site? Does it look posed or fake?
- Sob stories. Has the person contacted you suddenly with some tale of woe or a dire emergency? Are they pleading for help and appealing to your emotional vulnerability?
- Email address. Do they immediately ask you to contact them away from the dating site using an email address they have sent you, or do they ask you for your email address?
One of the above alone may not be enough to prove that you are in contact with a scammer. Not everyone from west Africa is out to scam you and there are many genuine and honest people from all over the world who join online dating sites in order to meet people in Europe and the USA. However, two or more of the above might suggest that you should proceed cautiously.
What to do if you think you are in touch with a scammer
Perhaps having read the above you are now suspicious of one of your contacts and you are beginning to wonder if you have become too trusting of an individual.
Perhaps you have now realised that you have become the victim of a scam and you have already sent some money. Either way there are steps you can take to put and end to this and to minimise the damage to your wallet and to your heart.
- Do NOT send any (more) money. This is the first, last, and Golden Rule.
- Do NOT feel guilty. You have done nothing wrong and you have nothing to be ashamed of.
- Do NOT continue to communicate with the scammer. This can be more difficult than it sounds if you are naturally courteous but you must resist the urge to respond.
- Inform the dating site administrators and keep a record of all the correspondence you have had with the scammer. Pass on theses details to the administrators. Such information might be useful in tracking the person or even as evidence in the event of a criminal prosecution.
Sadly, if you have already sent money to one of these criminals there is very little chance of you recovering your funds, but a crime has been committed so you should inform the Police. By doing so you may prevent some other person becoming a victim in a similar way. The Police are aware of this type of fraud and have specialist teams who investigate them
Surely it’s the online dating site’s responsibility to prevent such activity!
A reputable online dating site will do as much as humanly possible to prevent scammers from joining the site, and they will follow up any reports of suspicious activity. They will use IP address filtering techniques to prevent people from certain countries joining the site and they will employ other security measures to maintain the integrity of the site.
However, even the best online dating sites cannot be responsible for what passes between two individuals who build up a relationship in which trust develops and which leads on to a fraud. Members themselves have to remain alert to the warning signs.
Poorly run online dating sites may have few or no checks at all so make sure you use sites which are professionally run and managed.
Keep your heart and your wallet out of harm’s way
Everything we do in live involves an element of risk. From crossing the road, driving the car, travelling abroad, or carrying out some DIY in the house, we expose ourselves to a myriad of risks in all kinds of ways.
Online dating does also involve some risk but just as you can minimise the dangers in all other areas of your life you can also keep the risk of being scammed to a minimum by remaining alert to the warning signs.
Meanwhile, continue to enjoy your online dating experiences as the rewards far outweigh the risks!
- Advance Fee Fraud – an explanation given by Wikipedia
- Advance Fee Fraud – Paying money for a promise of wealth (419 Fraud) – Metropolitan Police website
- Scambusters 419 – insight into the way the 419 con artists operate.
- 419 Eater – a site which takes the novel approach of beating the scammers at their own game.