Millions of Americans visit online dating websites every year, hoping to find a companion or even a soul mate. We want to warn you that criminals use these sites looking to turn the lonely and vulnerable into fast money through a variety of scams.
These criminals troll social media sites and chat rooms in search of romantic victims; they usually claim to be Americans traveling or working abroad. We are putting this message out because, yes, it does happen in Wilmington.
As internet schemes go, eventually they make their way to Wilmington. Lately, it has been happening far too often.
Here’s how the scam usually works: You’re contacted online by someone who appears interested in you. He or she may have a profile you can read or a picture that is e-mailed to you. For weeks, even months, you may chat back and forth with one another, forming a connection.
You may even be sent flowers or other gifts. But ultimately, it’s going to happen — your new found boyfriend or girlfriend is going to ask you for money. So you send money, but rest assured the requests won’t stop there. There will be more hardships that only you can help alleviate with your financial gifts.
He/she may also send you checks to cash since he’s out of the country and can’t cash them himself, or they may ask you to forward them a package. So what really happened? You were targeted by criminals, probably based on personal information you uploaded on dating or social media sites.
The pictures you were sent were most likely phony, lifted from other websites. The profiles were fake as well, carefully crafted to match your interests. In addition to losing your money to someone who had no intention of ever visiting you, you may also have unknowingly taken part in a money laundering scheme by cashing phony checks and sending the money overseas, and by shipping stolen merchandise (the forwarded package).
How to recognizing an online dating scam artist
Your online “date” may only be interested in your money if he or she:
• Presses you to leave the dating website you met through and to communicate using personal e-mail or instant messaging.
• Professes instant feelings of love.
• They have a foreign accent when the website states they grew up in Ohio.
• Sends you a photograph of himself or herself that looks like something from a glamour magazine.
• Claims to be from the U.S. and is traveling or working overseas.
• Makes plans to visit you but is then unable to do so because of a tragic event.
• Asks for money for a variety of reasons (travel, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospitals bills for child or other relative, visas or other official documents, losses from a financial setback or crime victimization).
One way to steer clear of these criminals all together is to stick to online dating websites with nationally known reputations.
Duane Weyand is Wilmington Chief of Police.