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BBB: Don’t mix romance with catfish, fake soldiers

  • Special to The Eagle
  • Published Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, at 7:09 a.m.
  • Updated Saturday, Feb. 2, 2013, at 7:15 a.m.

Romance scams have been around since the days when correspondence meant pen and paper rather than text messages. But the Better Business Bureau warns that the Internet era has seen the love-struck victimized in creative new ways. As Valentines Day approaches, be aware of some of these newer variations on love scams.

Many unsuspecting women between the ages of 30 and 55 have found themselves the victim of cyber-theft when they believed they were helping a U. S. soldier who was serving in Afghanistan. Scammers, often from foreign countries, assume the identities of American soldiers on social media dating websites. Sometimes they will take the name and rank of a real soldier, combine it with a photo found on the Internet, and build a fake identity with which they lure women into an online romance.

Eventually the scammer gets around to asking the victim to send money for such things as laptop computers, international telephones, military leave papers or transportation fees. In some cases the money request has been for medical expenses incurred for combat wound treatments or to help pay for the soldier’s flight home. This type of scam relies on the victim being ignorant of the many support programs, assistance mechanisms and standard operating procedures that already exist within the American military establishment. Sadly, it has worked many times. One woman from New York took out a second mortgage on her home to help a fictitious soldier. She lost over $60,000.

The term “catfishing” applies to scammers who construct false identities on social media sites utilizing stolen photos and information from real people. Technically the fake-soldier scam could also be classified as a catfishing scam.

The term originally came from a documentary by the same name that came out in 2010. It was about a woman who built several online identities wooing a young man. An MTV reality show by the same name was spun off from that film last year.

The standard pattern for this hoax is that an online connection is made with a victim, followed by a whirlwind romance that progresses to texting and phone calls. Attempts are made to meet in person but are always cancelled by the scammer due to “family emergencies” or “medical” issues. After some time passes the scammer asks for money to pay for sudden expenses. Commonly, the perpetrator will send flowers and gifts throughout the courtship, including fake photos of themselves.

Here are some red flags that a romance scammer is trying to lure you into their scheme:

• E-mails contain poor grammar and misspelled words.

• You’ve never met the other person face-to-face.

• They immediately profess true love, claiming destiny, fate or God brought you together.

• They use terms of endearment like “sweetie,” “hon” and “babe” early in the relationship.

• Their webcam never seems to work. They prefer instant message chatting.

• They misunderstand common American slang like “night owl” or “poker face.”

• To avoid answering a question they claim to have a phone call or need a bathroom break, to have time to look up a response.

• They get your name wrong. They may be working several “true loves” at once.

• They claim to be well-paid professionals traveling overseas.

• They’ve lost a spouse or child in a terrible accident or have gravely ill family members.

• Urgent financial help is needed, as they cannot access their bank accounts.

• You’re asked to wire money but they always have stories for why their repayment hasn’t arrived.

• They want you to keep the relationship secret.

The Better Business Bureau urges you to think twice when encountering any of the above situations. Use established dating services and check their records out at kansasplains.bbb.org. Consider focusing your efforts on meeting someone locally rather than long-distance.

Denise Groene is the state director of the Better Business Bureau. She may be reached at 800-856-2417.

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