Online scammers want to win your love and take your money
By Attorney General Roy Cooper
The Internet and social networking sites are a great way to stay in touch with friends and family and communicate with people all over the world, but they also have a dark side where criminals and con artists lurk. We often warn our children about the dangers of talking to people they don’t know online. It can also be risky for adults, especially seniors.
My office has seen a resurgence of a popular scam known as the sweetheart scam. The sweetheart scam first started years ago in person with con artists pretending to fall in love with lonely people in order to win their trust and steal their money. The scam has taken on new life thanks to online dating and social media sites. Most victims report meeting the scammers on websites such as match.com, seniorpeoplemeet.com, christianmingle.com and Facebook.
The scammers typically seek out those who post information about the recent death of a spouse or other tragic event, and seek to fill a void in their lives. They pretend to befriend their victims in order to gain their trust, and eventually, exploit them financially.
The scam may start with a simple message expressing an interest in getting to know the person. This is often followed by lots of compliments and long online conversations designed to convince the victim that the new romance is real.
Once the victim is head over heels, the new love interest claims to experience an emergency while traveling or working overseas and asks the victim to wire them money. The scammer convinces the victim that when everything is cleared up, they will come back to the US, continue the relationship in person and get married. Of course, that never happens. The victim loses up to thousands of dollars and the “new love” is never heard from again.
Since January 2011, my office has heard from 24 victims of the sweetheart scam who reported losing a total of nearly $1 million. We believe this is just the tip of the iceberg, as many victims are too embarrassed to come forward, although we strongly encourage people to report these scams. One Mocksville senior reported losing more than $325,000 after meeting a man online who claimed to be traveling to Ghana for work and needed money to adopt a Liberian orphan.
Keep the following tips in mind to avoid falling for the sweetheart scam and other online scams:
- Never send or wire money to a stranger you meet online. Once the money has been wired, it is highly unlikely you will ever get it back.
- Never give out your personal information to someone you meet online, no matter what the circumstance or why they say they need it.
- Beware if someone you meet online begins asking you for money, even a small amount.
- Be suspicious of anyone who posts pictures purporting to look like a model out of a magazine, especially if you’re on a site where most members are seniors.
- Stick to well known dating and social networking websites where you have some protections and can report users who violate terms and conditions. Be cautious when someone you don’t know asks you to leave the site to chat or talk.
- And remember: people aren’t always who they say they are online.