2013-01-31 / Columns

TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE

A column on consumer issues
By Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem’s Consumer Protection and Antitrust Division

Romance—Dating Scams

You thought you’d met your perfect match online, but now you are not so sure.

Romance scammers target victims by creating fake profiles on legitimate dating sites or by joining an online dating chat room. Once victims are “talking” to the scammer, the scammer expresses strong feelings for them within a short time and will suggest the victim move the relationship away from the website, to phone, email, webcam, texting or instant messaging.

The scammer will go to great lengths to gain the victim’s trust. Once the scammers are confident they have a victim’s sympathy, they will tell the victim about a “problem” they are experiencing and ask for advice and money. Once the victim has sent money, the scammers will continue to ask for more money until the victim realizes something is wrong.

Some signs of the romance scam may include one or more of the following:

The scammer and the victim meet online – via dating sites, chat rooms or common interest sites. The relationship continues using email, webcam, instant messages, phone calls, etc.

The scammer asks the victim a lot of personal questions, but doesn’t share much about him or herself.

After a very short time, the scammer claims to have strong feelings for the victim.

The scammer appears to have a run of bad luck—car accidents, muggings, family members being hospitalized, trying to gain custody of child, etc.

After gaining the victim’s trust, the scammer asks for money, gifts or bank account or credit card details. The scammer continues to ask for money, but makes no attempt to actually meet the victim.

A common tactic the scam artist uses is to try to alienate the victim from their family members. The scammer will tell the victim not to let their family know about the relationship and if they do, the scammers will do their best to undermine the family’s influence, especially if the victim’s family shows concern about them being involved in the online relationship. This often causes a rift between the victim and the victim’s family.

Despite efforts by family, financial institutions and law enforcement authorities, it is often extremely difficult to convince a victim of this scheme that it is, in fact, a scam. Wiring agents and financial institutions have refused to wire money on behalf of the victims, but the scammer often comes up with alternative methods of getting the money. Money sent to a scammer cannot be recovered, and because the scam artists are located outside the United States, they are beyond the reach of United States law enforcement officials.

Protect yourself from dating and romance scams:

Trust your instincts. If you think something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.

Never send money or give credit card or bank account information to someone you have never met in person.

Keep private information private.

The Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division investigates allegations of fraud in the marketplace. Investigators also mediate individual complaints against businesses. If you have a consumer problem or question, call the Consumer Protection Division at 328-3404, toll-free at 1-800- 472-2600, or 1-800-366-6888 (w/TTY). This article and other consumer information is located on our website at www. ag.nd.gov.

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