National Consumers League

Lovers, beware: 'Tis the season for romance scams

love_stinks.jpgThink you've found your Romeo or Juliet online? Experts are warning, especially this time of year, to be on the lookout for predators posing as the perfect sweetheart. These Romance Scams can be a long, drawn-out process--it takes a long time to kindle a relationship in which the victim might actually consider sending cash. We've heard from countless victims who were more than just unlucky in love. Read on to hear their stories.

After being single for many years, 51-year-old “Dan” befriended a woman on a dating Web site. She said she was an artist in Lagos. The two developed a spiritual connection and grew romantically involved. The woman told Dan that she longed to come to California to be with him. That’s when she asked him for money, and he happily wired her $2,500. Dan was soon contacted by a man claiming to be the woman’s doctor, who said Dan’s true love had been in a terrible accident and was in a coma. Dan never heard from her again.

Ugh!

Hearing about these victims is really tough. They're devastated emotionally and sometimes out a ton of money. The worst thing is how far from unique Dan's story is. Sure, there’s a melodramatic twist at the end “explaining” his swindler’s disappearance. But, time and again, the reports we get at NCL’s Fraud.org often contain a drama: an accident, a tragedy, some sudden need for monetary assistance. And, inevitably, love triumphs over caution, and a soon-to-be-heartbroken consumer victim sends the money via wire transfer, preloaded card, or even cash.

Though the details of the scammers’ stories vary with each individual case, the gist is almost always the same: some tragedy has befallen the scammer and he or she desperately needs money. After spending time communicating and building a relationship with the victim, the scammer will ask for help. In a report we received from a woman we’ll call “Molly,” she had met a man on a major online dating site, and they conversed regularly for about a month before the man told Molly that his daughter needed heart surgery. Over the course of several months, Molly sent the man a total of $1,000. Only later did she realize that the man was after her money and nothing more, and that the daughter who needed heart surgery probably didn’t even exist.

In another report, “Pam” told us about a man she’d met online who asked her for $150 because he’d been hit by a car and needed treatment. He then sent her a document that he claimed was a copy of his medical receipt, and asked her to send him another $760 to help him come to the United States so that they could be together. Pam was in love, and she sent the money. He never showed up, but Pam reported that the man still harasses her for more money from time to time.

We’ve heard reports about such scams occurring on all of the major dating sites, and from victims of varying backgrounds. Men, women, young, old, black, white, gay, straight, etc. So while you shouldn’t let this deter you from finding love online, you should remember that these scammers are out there. And while they may not love you, they would love to take your money, so be sure to only consider giving money to someone you’ve met in person, have known for a long time, and can truly trust. Or be prepared to kiss your money – and your special friend – goodbye.