They break your heart, steal your money, and disappear without a trace. Operating from internet cafés in Nigeria and Ghana, romance scammers are conning thousands of Americans looking for love. If you’re new to the world of online dating, here are a few pointers on how to protect yourself.
Romance Scams: A Billion Dollar Business
Online dating is more popular than ever. At least 15% of American adults use dating sites like OKCupid, eharmony and Tinder, and the number is growing every year.
But for every 100 genuine dating profiles you swipe through on your quest for love, there’s a possibility that as many as 10 you see could be fake. Welcome to the shady, costly world of “romance scams.”
Romance scams, like so-called “419 scams,” are a form of advance-fee fraud often originating from Nigeria and Ghana. They all work something pretty much the same way. The scammer “hooks” its prey with a sob story or a promise of riches in exchange for money up front. Once the money is sent the scammer cuts off all ties and disappears without a trace. Since they hide behind phony profiles and email addresses overseas they’re nearly impossible to track down. This means there’s usually little the authorities or bank can do to help recoup losses.
In 2016, the FBI reported that losses associated with romance scam complaints had exceeded $230 million, a 20% increase from the year before. In the West African developing country of Ghana, there’s even a name for professional romance scammers: “Sakawa Boys” (after the Ghanaian word for “fraud”).
A Scammer’s Modus Operandi
Ghana romance scammers often target vulnerable individuals (elderly people, widows, etc.) and cruelly exploit their chairitability and loneliness. They create fake dating profiles, message unsuspecting singles and spend weeks getting to know them and gaining their confidence.
At some point during communication, all scammers ask for money. They might claim to have been in an accident, or ask for money to help build a church or aid an ailing relative. By this time the victim will be so blinded by their desire to make a connection that they’re willing to wire (sometimes significant amounts of) money or share bank info with the fraudster, a person they’ve never even met face-to-face.
Signs It’s a Ghana Romance Scam
Refusing to meet in person is a classic sign of any romance scammer or catfish, but it’s just one of several red flags you’ll encounter if you find yourself unlucky in love enough to fall prey to one of them.
Other signs you’re dealing with a con-artist include:
- “Broken” English, poor grammar or frequent spelling mistakes
- Generic-looking profile picture, usually stolen from elsewhere online
- Avoiding video chat (via Skype or Facetime) or talking on phone
- Contradictory or vague statements about personal life or past
The biggest red flag of all is, of course, asking for money. Never, ever, send money online to someone before meeting them first.
How to Run a Background Check
If you’ve met someone new online and are feeling suspicious, run a quick background check on their email address or, if you were lucky enough to get it, their phone number. This can be a quick way to verify someone’s identity. You might find their name, address history, social media photos, and more.
Even if they aren’t a scammer, doing background research on anyone you meet online is critical to your safety, especially before sharing personal information or meet in person.
It may just mean the difference between falling in love, and falling for it.