Buyer beware...

We have visited this topic before, and here we are again. I decided to write about this topic again as Striker Pierce Investigations has now investigated over 100 online dating cases (or “Catfish” scams) in which members of popular dating websites are either deceived as to one’s specific personal details (lying about age, marriage status, etc) or, in many cases, targeted for fraud.

Women over the age of 40 who are on two particular sites seem to be the majority of our cases (we cannot disclose the sites’ names in writing, but call and we will share 1-571-451-4833 ).

Essentially, these women tend to be coming out of a divorce or long-term relationship and are ready to “get out there” again!  The problem is, woman on these sites and this age group tend to be more established financially, and more vulnerable.  The Scam artists play on these factors to actually get money from these victims.  It starts with subtle flattery, then slowly escalates into an online relationship.  Eventually a meeting date is set up.  However, prior to that meeting, the Scam artists will suddenly have an issue with money and request help from their victims.  Here is a typical line: “Hello Darling, I am stuck at customs because I forgot to pay for the shipping of my equipment for the project I am working on.  Can you wire me $10,000 and I will just pay you when I see you next week?  As a matter of fact, I will pop a check in the mail today and you can just cash it.”  Once they get the money, they are gone!

We have helped victims who have been taken for anything from $500 to $25,000!  So what can you do to protect yourself?  First, know the typical profile:

Typically these Scam artists pose as international businessmen (typically engineers) from either Australia, the UK, or Italy.  They almost always claim to live half the time in the US and half the time in their country of origin.  Further, they are always in jobs that travel a lot so they always have an excuse to cancel a rendezvous.  Additionally, they always are working on “humanitarian” projects (building a children’s school, building a water pipeline, leading people out of Egypt, etc).  Finally, they always have a picture…a handsome man in his early fifties, normally a little salt and pepper in his hair…every woman’s dream…he’s perfect.

Second, know the scam:  These guys (or girls) will always lay on the compliments, soon claim a love attraction, compliment the victims “big heart”, and finally will drop the financial hint: “What age do you want to retire at,”  “Wouldn’t it be nice to stop working?” etc.

The reality:  91 of our 102 cases in the last 14 months have been scam artists or scam groups, normally originating from Nigeria or the DRC.  Your handsome humanitarian is actually a Nigerian man or woman in an internet café running this scam simultaneously on several women and men at once.  In some cases, we have caught the same scam artists on multiple cases.

So what can you do to protect yourself?

First of all, never send money…ever!  Regardless of the crisis they claim, they are supposedly engineers or successful business people…so they will figure out a solution on their own.  Second, be a little deceptive yourself.  Yes, you heard me, be a little deceptive.  If you are the manager of the local Target, simply say you work there.  If you are a bank manager, tell them you work at a bank.

Second:  Use your head and your years of experience to look at the situation.  No one falls in love that quickly online…ever.  And if someone really loves you, they will rarely ask for a loan.  (As a very proud man myself, I would ask my male friends or siblings for cash and would never ask a woman I was trying to impress…this is common sense!)  You are smart regardless of your background because you have life experience…so don’t sell yourself short…you are smarter than these Scam artists…listen to your inner voice.

Third:  Run an online dating background check.  You can do it yourself, but quite honestly it makes sense to hire us.  I hate to sound like I am shamelessly selling services, but we do this every day!  We know what to look for, we have the technical tools to track these people, and we have the experience.  Think of it as a $150 insurance policy…he might be the real thing, but you might as well let an expert take a look (I recently had to hire an accountant as my taxes were so complicated I finally thought it made more sense to pay someone who has done tax returns for years…just made sense!)

Fourth:  Complain to the site you belong to.  You pay good money and time to try to find a relationship, they should be tightening up their security.  You are their client, you deserve their best efforts at protecting you.

Overall, just use your head, and if need be, give us a call for an opinion.  Financial loss hurts, but a broken heart scars.

-Brian O’Shea, Private Investigator, Striker Pierce Investigations, 571-451-4833