April 4, 2013
U.S. citizens should be aware of individuals they meet on internet dating websites who feign friendship, profess romantic
interest, and/or express marriage intentions over the internet. Scammers commonly claim to be U.S. citizens who are engaged
in international business, requiring them to frequently travel overseas. In fact, these individuals are not U.S. citizens. Many
scammers also claim some sort of connection to Europe.
In many scam scenarios, the correspondent suddenly falls into dire circumstances overseas (i.e. an arrest or a horrible car
accident) about two to three months after a connection is made. The correspondent will ask you to send money for hospital
bills, visa fees, or legal expenses. It is also common for scammers to tell U.S. citizens that a close family member, usually
a teenager, is in desperate need of surgery and to request monetary assistance. You may even be contacted by a “doctor” requesting
that money be sent to the hospital on behalf of the correspondent. Note that any doctor, lawyer, or police officer who contacts
you is likely a part of the scam. The amounts lost by U.S. citizens in these types of scams can range from relatively small
amounts to more than $400,000.
Scammers Target the Vulnerable
As cruel as it sounds, scammers often target widows, widowers, and U.S. citizens with disabilities. Scammers are aware that
many widows/widowers inherit money upon the death of a spouse. Consequently, some scammers set up profiles on dating websites
claiming that they themselves are widow(er)s in order to gain the trust of the potential victim. Scammers are also aware that
some U.S. citizens with disabilities receive disability checks, making them a tempting target.
The anonymity of the Internet means that U.S. citizens cannot be sure of the real name, age, marital status, nationality,
or even gender of the correspondent. In almost every case, the correspondent turns out to be a fictitious persona created
only to lure the U.S. citizen into sending money.
These scammers have created male as well as female characters and entice same sex e-mail contacts as well as those of the
opposite sex. Correspondents who quickly move to expressions of romantic interest or discussions of intimate matters may in
fact be scammers. A request for funds almost always marks a fraudulent correspondent. U.S. citizens are cautioned against
sending any money to persons they have not actually met face-to-face.
Romance scams involve one or more – sometimes all – of the key signs below:
- You met online through a dating website, an e-mail chat room, Facebook, or another online website.
- The scammer claims to be a native-born U.S. citizen, but has a thick accent and/or uses poor grammar indicative of a non-native
- Scammers have the worst luck imaginable -- often getting into car crashes, arrested, mugged, beaten, or hospitalized -- usually
all within the course of a couple of months. They often claim that their key family members (parents and siblings) are dead.
Sometimes, the scammer claims to have an accompanying child overseas who is very sick or has been in an accident.
- The scammer’s “bad luck” often occurs on the way to the airport to catch a flight to the United States to meet you. Scammers
like to build the anticipation of their victims. Once you are excited about the chance to finally meet this individual in
person, that’s when something occurs to prevent him/her from making the trip. They count on your excitement about the anticipated
meeting as an extra incentive to send money. As soon as you send money, however, another situation occurs, which requires
you to send more money.
- The scammer asks you for money to get out of a bad situation. Note: Since scammers prey on the good intentions of U.S. citizens,
some of them will not actually ask you for money. Rather, they will share their heart-breaking situation with you in hopes that you will willingly send money
to help them.
- The scammer claims that the U.S. Embassy would not help them. Likely they have never tried to get help from the embassy, because
they are not actually U.S. citizens.
- The passport the scammer sent to convince you that (s)he is a U.S. citizen looks computerized and includes a very attractive
photo that looks like it was taken by a professional modeling agency or at a photography studio. This is not a typical passport
Tips to protect yourself from scammers:
- Never send money to someone you have not met in person without verifying his/her identity.
- Do not disclose personal details over the phone or online -- even in your profile on social networking sites. For example,
if you are a widow, you may not want to make this known on a dating web site -- scammers thrive on information like this.
- Refer all individuals who claim to be in distress overseas to the local U.S. embassy or consulate. Assisting U.S. citizens
overseas is the U.S. Department of State’s top priority. All U.S. citizens will be assisted, and no one is turned away. Consular
officers are available 24/7 for emergencies. You can find contact information for all U.S. embassies and consulates at www.usembassy.gov.
- Contact the State Department's Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747. We can offer suggestions for verifying
whether the situation is legitimate or a scam.
- If you insist on sending money, consider sending an OCS Trust instead of direct Western Union or MoneyGram. OCS Trusts are
routed from Western Union through the U.S. Department of State; the funds are then deposited directly with the nearest U.S.
embassy and consulate overseas for pick up by your loved one. Please call the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at 1-888-407-4747 to verify the person’s citizenship BEFORE sending money. If the individual is not really a U.S. citizen, we cannot process the request and it may take up to one year for funds to
be returned to you (minus the $30 processing fee).
If you feel you have been a victim of an Internet scam, please send all reports of Internet fraud directly to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) - a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). IC3
was established to receive internet related criminal complaints and to research, develop, and refer complaints to federal,
state, local, or international law enforcement if appropriate.