Romance scams have been around for a long, long time. Though more prevalent as online dating has become more mainstream, romance scammers have been operating for decades and even centuries, preying upon unsuspecting people looking for love.
The only thing that has changed about romance scams in recent years is that there are more ways to lure new victims. In fact, you don’t even have to be looking for love to fall victim to their schemes. Some scammers troll social media feeds looking for single women or people who have recently lost a spouse, and then they make their move.
When scammers don’t get what they want from a victim, especially a victim who has been cooperating with them, the scammers often turn to blackmail to try to lure more money from their victims. It’s a gamble on their part, but it often pays off when the terrified victim relents and pays them to keep from revealing their secrets.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common blackmail scams performed by romance scammers and what you can do to avoid it.
Romance Scams: The Basics
It’s hard enough to put yourself out there when you’re dating, and the threat of romance scammers doesn’t help the cause. Scammers target people in the online dating world because people are vulnerable. They swoop in and make promises, and before long it seems like you’ve found the love of your life. Now that they have earned your trust, they start asking for things.
It usually starts small, with requests for help paying a parking ticket to get their car out of impound with the explanation that payday is a week away. It could be money to help a sick relative, or to bail a family member out of jail in a foreign country. The amounts start small and then get progressively larger.
You might even be asked to send money to a third party who is supposedly a sick friend or family member. Don’t be fooled, though: If they’re not other scammers working together, they’re fellow unsuspecting victims being used to launder funds.
To the casual observer, none of these things make sense. But when you think you’re in love, you want to help the person you’re with even when some of their requests defy logic.
Romance scammers are based largely in African nations, and the romance scam industry is so pervasive that the so called “Yahoo Boys” (based on their initial use of Yahoo Messaging to find victims) buy and sell scripts to use in their schemes. It’s not uncommon for the scammers to have dozens of scams running at any given time; they expect to be ignored or blocked by the vast majority of targets with the idea that they only need one good target to make lots of money.
Since they’re operating multiple scams at once, these seasoned professionals know how to move quickly. Don’t be surprised if they profess love very early on in the “relationship.”
And don’t be surprised if they resort to blackmail when things don’t work out they way they want.
Resorting To Blackmail
Scammers know when they have a juicy target. She’s willing to help with whatever request they ask of her. So far she has played into the stories of why they can’t meet in person, she has sent thousands of dollars and she seems to be willing to do anything the scammers ask of her.
Until she stops working with them.
At some point, many victims become concerned and start asking questions. Why haven’t they met? Why won’t he talk on the phone? Why does he keep asking for money?
Sometimes scammers are able to reassure their victims, but others have to resort to extreme measures to keep the scam going. They start making threats to keep their victims in line, and oftentimes those threats involve blackmail.
There are different ways that scammers will blackmail their victims. Thanks to the internet and the breadth of information available, they can build elaborate stories about how they will hurt their victims and they will make threats until they get what they want. In most cases, however, it’s nothing more than a bluff. They’re using the bluff to get more money from their victims. But in many cases, it works.
Of all the scams, webcam scams are probably the most nefarious because unlike the other scams it’s quite possible that the scammers have something they can threaten their victims with.
A webcam scam is where a scammer builds a relationship with a victim, and during an intimate conversation the scammer asks to do a chat via webcam. There’s a technical glitch on his end, though, so she can’t see him but he can see her and he convinces her to send photos and videos to him.
Once received, he now has ammunition to use against her if she ever denies his request. If he asks for money and she refuses, he can threaten to send pictures and videos to her boss, her family and friends. He might even threaten to post them online.
The variation of this would be when the scammer asks for nude photos that are sent via email or messaging. In either case, the scammer isn’t sending pictures of himself so he’s in no danger of exposure. But he can certainly use the photos the victim sent him against her.
The next kind of blackmail scams involve extortion. Extortion is when a victim receives threats to force them to comply. In this case, the scammer rarely has information that can be used to hurt the victim but they will do their best to scare the victim into compliance anyway.
The first extortion technique involves revealing secrets to friends and family. By this point in the relationship, she has revealed things about herself and he’s going to use them against her.
From the first moment the scammer starts interacting with his victim he’s gathering information about her. Each answer she gives and piece of information she provides is cataloged for future use.
In some cases, the scammer and the victim might not even have an “intimate” online relationship, rather they’re just friends, and so he can threaten to reveal their “relationship” to her husband or children. He might even lie outright and make up stories that he will reveal to her family in hopes of scaring her into compliance.
It’s the idea that secrets will be exposed that lead a victim to continue listening to the scammer even though he probably doesn’t have any earth-shattering information. Remember, scammers rely on developing such a close relationship with their victims that after a certain point there’s a degree of psychological intimidation that takes place which, in conjunction with revealing “secrets”, makes the victim even more likely to comply.
In addition to threatening to spill secrets to your family and friends, the scammers will threaten to send sensitive information to the victim’s boss and workplace.
In a lot of ways it’s easier for scammers to get compliance by threatening to reveal information to the victim’s boss because it’s so devastating. Even if the victim has a good relationship with the people at work, it’s somewhat harder to explain nude photos or sordid rumors to coworkers. And obviously the threat of getting the victim fired is bad, too.
Fake Dating Websites
Another tool scammers use to extort money from their victims is gained with fake dating sites. When you sign up for an online dating site you have to create a profile. Scammers will create fake sites and bait users into revealing secrets, including financial information, under the guise of setting up a detailed profile.
Upon learning all of this information, scammers now have an arsenal to use against their victims when the time is right.
Blackmail and Military Romance Scams
Military romance scams are very prevalent, not just on dating sites but with social media. Scammers set up accounts posing as members of the military and they prey upon victims who want to help servicemen and women in need. The military cover works particularly well because it’s easy to explain why they can’t meet in person.
All of the same tricks apply here, but in the case of military romance scams the scammers can hint that things will happen to the victim thanks to their connections to the military and the government. There’s a sense of danger tied to these scams because of the connection to the military, and the scammers will use that to threaten violence or harm to the victim and her family if she doesn’t comply.
The best way to protect yourself from falling victim to a romance scammer is to avoid falling for their schemes. While you need to have a certain degree of open-mindedness in order to have a successful online dating experience, you still need to remain vigilant. There are people who spend their lives trying to scam other people, so it’s really you against countless scammers working to trick you.
In your everyday life, you wouldn’t give out personal information to a stranger on the street, so that rule definitely applies for online dating. When you’re starting out, keep conversation light. Talk on the phone. Do a Facetime or hangout online.
The first clue that there’s a problem is when the person on the other end keeps making excuses as to why he can’t talk or chat with you in person.
Watch for bad grammar or phrases that seem very cliche, as these are signs that someone has either copied a bad profile (remember that the Yahoo Boys buy and sell profiles to each other) or copied and pasted lines of dialogue from a website.
If the person you’ve been talking with comes on very strong, professing love for you after a few days, that’s a major warning sign.
The biggest warning sign of all is when the person you met asks for money. It could be a small amount, like $20 to cover dinner when a paycheck doesn’t come through. When anyone asks for money through an online dating site, no matter how great your relationship is, then you need to cease all communication immediately.
Don’t send nude photos or personal information to anyone you don’t know. If you haven’t met in person, and he keeps giving excuses as to why that can’t happen, then don’t send anything to him until a meeting takes place. If you don’t give the scammers ammunition, they won’t have anything to use against you.
Above all, just use common sense in all online dating activities. Romance scams and blackmail schemes happen every single day, and the best way to make sure it doesn’t happen to you is to put an end to any suspicious behaviour right away.