It happens all the time and just recently to a friend’s mother. I’ll call my friend Gloria to protect her and her mother’s privacy. Widowed for years, separated by distance from family, Gloria’s mother, in her 70s, met a man on Facebook. After a couple of months of frequent emails and chats, he spoke of intentions to marry. Gloria’s mother, believing herself in love, was eager to meet her fiance. He told her was wealthy, he had a cheque of $500,000 in his back pocket with her name on it, but didn’t have immediate access to the money. He asked for funds so he could fly to Canada and marry her. He was stranded at an airport in Cairo, Egypt, he said, and even had “an airport official” request the money for him by email as proof.
Eager to see him, Gloria’s mother sent him several thousand. He then asked for more money, then more. Eventually, she’d sent her entire life savings to him. When she starting asking other family members for money, and even wanted to sell her car to send him that money too, my friend Gloria finally discovered what was going on and was able to help her mother. Gloria’s mother didn’t want to believe the truth, at first, and became angry. She said, “I’ve known him for a long time.” As Gloria pointed out that she’d only known him two or three months, and all the inconsistencies of the story, one by one, eventually her mother believed her. Gloria uncovered the fraudster…but not in time to spare her mother’s savings and feelings.
Online romance fraud doesn’t only happen to vulnerable and lonely widows however. It also happens to the young and hip. It happened recently to Manti Te’o, a young college football player. He fell for a young woman who didn’t exist. I don’t know if she asked for money but I wouldn’t be surprised. “The relationship” went on for months. When he find out she was a hoax, he was humiliated and devastated.
It doesn’t have to involve romance. If romance isn’t your weak point, it can be about friendship, or a business deal.
Yesterday a client came to the shop with the tale of another fraud. It started out also as a dating fraud, with a woman my client met on a dating site, but my client didn’t want to date anyone. He did want a job but although that was hinted at, it wasn’t available. However, after chatting for a couple of months by email, and becoming friends, the woman told him she was on a business trip in Japan. The Japanese were going to tax her $27,000 for a construction project she was supposedly there to build. Because she had to pay this huge tax, she had no money for a hotel room and asked him for $500 so she would have somewhere to stay. My client came to the shop, wanting to know where the emails were coming from, if their originating address was from Japan or not. We turned on the full headers to see the IP address. They were coming from Microsoft in Richmond, Washington, because they were through Outlook.com, so we couldn’t tell if they originated in Japan or not.
She also told him a cheque was coming from Edmonton from another company, a certified check in his name, and had the owner from that company called him as proof. She wanted an advance from that money. When I told my client this whole story was likely a scam, and its sole purpose his money, he yelled at me. He didn’t want to believe me. I asked him, “Why is she asking you for money, after knowing you only for two months. If she is in a dire situation about to be thrown out on the streets of Tokyo, why isn’t she asking her friends and family? Why are you her only source of help? She doesn’t even know you.” Eventually, he realized what I said might be true. He left the shop, saying he wasn’t going to send her money..
After hearing about these two online scams in one week, I decided to write this blog post to warn others.
The scammers start out just chatting and emailing, getting to know you, their potential victim. They earn your trust and friendship, they become romantic. They profess intentions of marriage or include you in a business deal. Then after a couple of months, when you are enjoying the correspondence and relationship, they interject a need for money. They invent an elaborate story where you are their only hope for rescue from the situation. They often will have an “authority” corroborate their story, an airport or customs authority, a doctor or hospital director, an embassy official, an owner of a financial institution or other company where they have funds. They hope you will get caught up in the story and succumb to their suggestions, ignore the improbability of its truth. When the story’s truth is questioned by an outsider, a friend or relative, or person concerned for you, you get angry. It’s like you are being rudely awakened from a wonderful dream. You are. If you’ve already sent them money don’t beat yourself for being a dupe. You’ve been victimized.
Here’s advice from the state department of the United States government about online romance scams and frauds. Click here to read it.
Never send money to someone you’ve met online. If you have met someone genuinely interested in you, your soulmate, or best friend, and there is a true affection between you, he or she will not let anything stand in the way of getting to know you in person. Money will not be involved. If money comes into the story, wake up, before your bank account is emptied. You are caught up in a scammer’s story and are about to be victimized. If you’ve already been victimized, and are in Canada, contact the Anti-fraud Centre.
If you know someone vulnerable and lonely, ask them to tell you if they meet someone online especially if money is involved. Maybe then you can stop it before they lose their money and hearts to a criminal.
You can always stop by Ducktoes computer services or email us if you feel you might be corresponding to an online fraudster.
by Cathie Dunklee-Donnell