By NCL’s Fraud Center Staff
As if finding true love weren’t difficult enough already, now those who go in search of romance online have to be wary of an increasingly common scam – one that we at NCL’s Fraud Center refer to as “the Sweetheart Swindle.” Scammers are frequenting online dating sites and chat rooms, where they attempt to earn a person’s affections and trust so that they can ultimately persuade him or her to send money.
The Sweetheart Swindle can often be a long, drawn out process. It can take a long time to kindle a relationship in which the victim might actually consider sending this kind of cash. And it may take several attempts to get the victim to send money repeatedly over a period of weeks or even months.
Though the details of the scammers’ stories vary with each individual case, the gist is almost always the same: some tragedy has befallen the scammer and he or she desperately needs money. After spending time communicating and building a relationship with the victim, the scammer will ask for help. In a report received by NCL’s Fraud Center, a woman we’ll call “Molly” said she had met a man on a major online dating site, and that they conversed regularly on the site for about a month before the man told Molly that his daughter needed heart surgery. Over the course of several months, Molly sent the man a total of a thousand dollars. Only later did she realize that the man was after her money and nothing more, and that the daughter who needed heart surgery probably didn’t even exist. But by then she was out a thousand bucks.
In another report, “Pam” explained that a man she’d met online asked her for $150 because he’d been hit by a car and needed treatment. He then sent her a document that he claimed was a copy of his medical receipt, and asked her to send him another $760 to help him come to the United States so that they could be together. Pam was in love, and she sent the money. He never showed up, but Pam reported that the man still harasses her for more money from time to time.
We’ve heard reports about such scams occurring on all of the major dating sites, and from victims of varying backgrounds. Men, women, young, old, black, white, gay, straight, etc. So while you shouldn’t let this deter you from finding love online, you should remember that these scammers are out there. And while they may not love you, they would love to take your money, so be sure to only consider giving money to someone you’ve met in person, have known for a long time, and can truly trust. Or be prepared to kiss your money – and your special friend – goodbye.