Here’s a scary statistic: romance scammers fleeced Aussie victims of $1.4 million in January 2020 alone. How on earth is this possible?
Scams only happen to people with more dollars than sense, right?
Think again. Scam victims come from all walks of life. Highly educated and successful people including doctors, lawyers and managers have been taken-in.
Let’s face it, we all want a deep and satisfying connection with a special person. Internet dating is so common now that it no longer raises eyebrows. In fact, with the multitude of relationships starting on a dating site, any single would be limiting themselves by not using this. However, the belief that we deserve a joyful future with a loving partner is the most powerful weapon in the scammer’s armoury. Because they’re experts in getting their victims to fall in love and to trust them unquestioningly. And once a person is convinced that their future is intertwined with the scammer, then the dollars will flow towards the scammer until the victim has nothing to give.
So how can we tell if the person we’ve ‘clicked’ with online is a keeper – or somebody who wants to keep their money?
The good news is that scammers follow a pattern. There are some clear red flags that can identify a potential scammer. Interestingly, these red flags apply to face-to-face scammers, too.
One thing to consider: is there a difference between what your heart is saying and what the niggling inner voice is telling you? Remember, our gut instinct tends to be sparked by some warning signs that our optimistic heart ignores. Think about what you have noticed at a subconscious level. And think about these nine signs – they may not all feature in your online friend, but if you have noticed one or more of the red flags…BEWARE.
- Is this online partner an amazing “catch”? Do they exceed all expectations you had? Are you slightly overawed that they want you? Is the man more handsome and suave than the average guy? Is the woman more fresh-faced and prettier than most? Is the person financially secure, successful in their field and yet still searching for the perfect ‘someone’? Scammers steal pictures of attractive people and spin a biography that involves a solid career, impressive wealth and international travel. This makes them desirable and trustworthy – two essential elements of both a relationship and a scam. These lay the groundwork for the sting – in which the scammer claims to be abroad and temporarily unable to access their own wealth – but needs cash urgently (more about that later).
- Do you and the scammer have an almost perfect match in your interests and beliefs? For example, you might say that you’ve always dreamed of diving with whale-sharks on Ningaloo reef, and the person is delighted at the “coincidence”, telling you that they’ve always wanted this too, eagerly promising that you will do this as a couple one day. Scammers are experts at mirroring every dream and ambition and opinion you have shared. Some may have researched what you post on social media and speak about how much they love these things, before you bring the topic up. Then will rave about how amazingly compatible you are! This is calculated to make you feel as if they know them already – to trust them. Remember: if it seems too good to be true – it is.
- Have you noticed small variations in the person’s voice? Do they use beautiful language that makes you swoon at times, yet occasionally show poor spelling, grammar or unusual terminology? That is because scammers have reams of tried-and-tested snippets of love-talk that they quote from, in order to sound genuinely in love. However, they will also need to respond directly to something you’ve said and quickly need to ad-lib with their real voice. Which may not be so polished. Plus, there may be a tag-team of scammers working together, and there will be some differences in their language skills.
- Do they use sweet names for you such as ‘babe’ or ‘honey’ rather than your name? This is to give you a sense of intimacy with them – but it is also a way for them to avoid calling you the wrong name – remember, the scammers may be grooming a few people simultaneously.
- Do they side-step “hard” questions? If you point out a discrepancy in what they have told you but they never resolve it. For example: Them: “I’m having seafood for dinner.” You: “I thought you were allergic to seafood” Them: “You know me so well.” This is a classic avoidance technique; they are drawing your attention away from the lie and towards what matters most to you: the relationship.
- Does the person ALWAYS have time for you? If they spend hours online chatting with you – even if it is during the middle of a busy work day or the wee-small hours of the night (in their time zone), this is a sign that this relationship is their full-time job. Would somebody with a responsible job truly always be available? Their aim is to monopolise you – to “love bomb” you and overwhelm your logical scepticism, until you are lulled and exhausted. And isolated from your friends and family. (You know, those people who care about you and might ask hard questions – those very questions you have been groomed to avoid). A person with a job and responsibilities would not be so readily available, and understand that you have a life too, and not insist on contact with you that lasts for hours.
- Do your real-time conversations NEVER involve seeing them “live”? The reasons they give might be plausible – “I’m in Vietnam right now and the computer I’m on has no camera” – but if they continually side-step this, it is a big red flag. In reality, developing countries have a thriving internet café industry and it may not be difficult for the person to locate one with a working camera for live chats.
- Have you never met this person in real life? Has all of your contact been on line? Do your dates get delayed again and again? The harsh reality is that if you’re in love with a person you’ve never met, it’s very likely you’re being scammed. Particularly if they have promised to meet you and have written eloquently about how they dream of holding you and looking deeply into your eyes and so on - - yet never actually materialise - - for whatever reason (the Coronavirus is a godsend for scammers, I reckon) this is the second biggest red-flag of all. Beware of those broken promises, regardless of their declarations of how devastated they are to put-off meeting you in person (yet again). It’s a lie. They are manipulating you.
- And finally – the biggest red flag of all – have they asked you for money? It may be money for the ticket or passport or visa to see you. Or an urgent call for cash to tide them over some emergency – as soon as possible. It always sounds valid. But it’s a con – a lie – complete and utter B.S. Even if they have forwarded you some money first, this is a way of disarming you. Beware!
There are lots of stories that are designed to tug at your heartstrings. These are tried and tested by legions of scammers before them – involving sudden life threatening emergencies and need for urgent funds to pay for medical or legal help for them or for a beloved child. They may claim that somebody is threatening them, or withholding their documents and somehow impeding their ability to access their own money.
The scammer will have spent lots of time building a picture of themselves as wealthy and leading a desirable lifestyle. This was aimed to disarm you and increase their desirability and trustworthiness. When calling for your urgent assistance, they may back this by posting an image of their bank account or other assets, as proof of their capacity to repay.
Requests for money are always a scam. Think very carefully before you send them anything at all, because it will result in an avalanche of compounding situations, all of which rely on your willingness to send more money in order to get your initial payment back. That first payment will ensnare you, and will trigger more and more requests until you have depleted your savings and credit.
If it’s too hard to cut off communication, try telling them that you have lost access to your bank account and you need to borrow money from them. Scammers will tend to drop you straight away if they believe that your money well has run dry.
The bottom line: if your inner voice is warning you to slow down, back off and think sceptically, then please listen to that voice.
It’s probably right. You need to protect yourself. Recovery from a scam is harder than avoiding it.
Don’t be the next casualty.
And if you have been scammed…look here for our emotional recovery services.
Did you step over red-flags that you now wish you hadn't? How does that make you feel? Join our discussion on Facebook @LASAustralia and let us know.
Blog written by Jo Antareau firstname.lastname@example.org