- Gangs of scammers are working together to target victims through dating apps in hopes of being sent thousands of dollars,BBB investigations specialist Steve Baker told INSIDER.
- Baker said scammers often work in groups, with members divvying up tasks like organising banking information, identifying vulnerable targets, and setting up profiles.
- He said some scammers have months worth of set scripts for emails, directing them as to what to say when.
- The scripts include requests for money, poetry, and love notes that can be sent to victims.
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When they first met on Match.com, Yin, a 56-year-old hairstylist from Oakland, California, was smitten by David Perez, a divorced Marine Corps member from San Francisco.
He would sent Yin messages telling her she made his life “extraordinary.” Yin fell in love quickly, according to ABC 11, and sent him money for what he said was a secret mission in Afghanistan.
But the mission wasn’t real. Neither was Perez. And suddenly, Yin was out $US263,000.
Yin’s story is not uncommon. Just this week, a woman in England came forward claiming she was scammed out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by a fraudster who was posing as Hollywood actor Jason Statham.
And in February, an Illinois woman said she lost tens of thousands of dollars to a scammer who posed as actor John Travolta.
Better Business Bureau investigations Steve Baker told INSIDER that many of these scammers are using packages of scripted romantic emails to woo victims out of thousands of dollars. He said that professional internet scammers buy sets of scripts that last several months and direct them as to what to say when.
Scammers then target men and women through dating apps, posing as widows, military men, and lonely women in hopes of finding vulnerable victims to seduce into giving them thousands of dollars.
In a BBB study called “Online Romance Scams,” Baker acquired scripts that were cited as evidence in a 2018 trial against Olayinka Sunmola, of Lagos, Nigeria, who was sentenced to 27 years in prison after pleading guilty to defrauding at least 30 women.
“Wow! You spark up my entire thinking faculty,” one email in the script read. “I am ready to stop searching, and who knows, the rose in my heart could be yours (lol).”
Another said: “I see us together before the end of this week. I want you to know I love you with all my life and I appreciate all you have done for me and I promise to pay back all your money and start a new life with you in a short while.”
Scammers use romance to gain trust before asking for money
Baker told INSIDER that the scammers use poetry and early morning texts to show their “love” for their victims, and then convince them to send money that they say will be used for emergencies or for flights to visit their victims.
And more often than not, Baker said, it’s not just a lone person behind a computer in an Internet cafe scamming people out of thousands.
Romance scammers operate in organised gangs, working together to reach vulnerable men and women across the world in hopes of creating the facade of true romance to make their next dollar, according to the BBB and separate research from the Agari Cyber Intelligence Division, an internet security company.
“These are organised gangs and there are international networks working together,” Baker told INSIDER. “There’s gotta be a guy who takes the money, a guy who write scripts, identifies contacts, sets up profiles, and tries to make an initial contact.”
Baker said these gangs have groups on social media where they discuss their tactics, scripts, and more.
The Agari study, called “Scarlet Widow: Breaking Hearts for Profit,” found that one Nigerian-based gang of romance scammers, which was named “Scarlet Widow,” repeatedly used the same fake identities to woo victims.
Scammers often pose as military men and women stationed abroad
One of the operation’s most common identities was a character named “Starling Micheal,” an alleged active-dut y US Army captain. Captain Micheal was deployed across dating sites like MilitaryCupid.com and MarriedDateLink.com over a six month period.
The persona of Captain Micheal was a 43-year-old, widowed Catholic man from Austin, Texas, who was serving a tour of duty in Kabul, Afghanistan. Based on emails provided in the study, Micheal described himself as affectionate and the “life of the party.”
According to the US Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID), hundreds of victims a month are contacted by people posing as military men claiming to be serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, and elsewhere.
“Unfortunately, many times the people committing these scams are from African countries using untraceable email addresses, routing accounts through numerous locations around the world and utilising pay per hour internet cyber cafes, which often times maintain no accountability of use,” CID said on its website.
Scam victims are everywhere
Agari’s study said that in 2018, the average loss from romance scams per victim is $US12,000.
“People have in their heads that this only happens to dumb and desperate people,” Baker said of the losses. “They get absolutely normal people everyday. It is incredibly common – our friends, our neighbours, our relatives.”
There are a number of tactics internet users can use to avoid scammers in the first place, Baker said.
Baker said to Google phrases from emails and images received from strangers to ensure they haven’s been used elsewhere on the internet.
Baker also recommends that you ask the person you’re emailing with to meet in person, Baker said.
“Anybody that’s unable to meet in two weeks, you gotta assume they’re a fraud,” he said. “If they can’t physically meet, you have to forget them. 99% are frauds.”
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