Have you ever heard of a “romance scam”?  I never had until this past weekend….when I realized that I was very close to being a victim.

I met someone online a couple of weeks ago and we have been talking daily.  Immediately there were little things that bothered me but nothing that I could not explain away.  And I did rationalize a lot about those little things.  There was nothing that was a huge red flag, just little things that built up over time.  Things that did not make sense.

He said he was from Silver Spring and had been there since college.  He said that his mother had died of breast cancer just after high school and his dad had gone back to England where he was originally from after her death.  He had an older brother who had been killed in the Army and now his father had died.  He was in England trying to settle the estate.  In addition, he had not been in a relationship in just over 2 years as his fiance at the time had cheated on him with his best friend.  It was heartbreaking to hear about someone who was virtually all alone in the world.

The first thing I noticed was that his spelling and grammer were atrocious.  I mean there were times when even reading it out loud was not enough to make it make full sense.  And sometimes his word choices were strange.  He would say healthy instead of nice.  He said “toasters” instead of admirers.   His phrasing was sometimes off.  He sounded like someone for whom English was not their first language.  I asked him about it.  He said his mom was Hungarian and his dad British.  He spoke fluent German (supposedly) as well as a little French and Spanish.  But he still sounded like someone who was taught English from a book vs. someone who had grown up speaking it.

The second thing I noticed was that he started saying “I miss you” each time we spoke.  Miss me?  You haven’t even met me.  You don’t know me at all.  And yet you miss me?  He spoke of his desire to marry and how his life would be so much better.  It kind of creeped me out and when I called him on it, he stopped for a while and then it would start again.  He said that he felt he had to tell me how he felt.  It was unnerving to say the least.

Often while speaking on IM, there would be long breaks between his messages.  He always had some excuse like he had to open a window, turn off the TV, go to the bathroom, etc.  And sometimes his responses did not seem to be in line with what we were talking about…or were just not correct.  I asked him how old his dad was when he died.  He said 50.  I said, you are 40 and your dad was 50?  And he just died?  And he laughed it off saying he was sorry he had misread my question.  His dad was 71, his mom had been 50 when she died.

And the largest thing was that his timing seemed to be off.  When it should have been 5pm his time, he was talking about getting lunch.  Or when he said that he would sign on at 7pm my time (which would be midnight his time), he would instead sign on at 9pm which should have been 2am his time.

You look at all of these things together and they look suspicious.  But at the time, they were little nagging things that were explained away in the moment.   However, this past weekend, I got an email from him with a love letter in it.  It was totally out of context of anything we had spoken about.  It spoke of me saving him from the life had been living and how he couldn’t wait to see me again.  And it sounded totally familiar.  Like I had seen it before.

So I took the text from the email, put it into Google and found about 9000 references to this love letter.  Now, had I not been already suspicious, I would not have found this so odd.  I mean, really, quoting a love letter is something that someone would do who was not able to write well and wanted to impress.  But, at this point it was screaming out…WHAT???

A friend urged me to look deeper.  What else was bothering me and what could I find out.  She looked up his email address.  Nothing.  She looked up his IM name.  Nothing.  We looked on the White Pages and could not find anyone with his name in Silver Spring.  I left myself open to the possibility that he lived in a suburb…but nothing was coming up close.  So I decided to see if he was on any other dating sites.  It is very common to be listed on multiple dating sites (especially if you don’t actually join…you just have the free profile).

His screen name was not coming up with anything so I took the text of his “About Me” from his profile and put it into Google.  And he turned up on a dating site for Seventh Day Adventist.  But he had told me he was Catholic.  Went to Mass each week.   Hmmmm…

So I took the paragraph that he wrote about what he was looking for and put it into Google.  And then I found a profile on another site…same paragraph – word for word….but a different name and a DIFFERENT PICTURE.

Oh crap.

The last search was on him name and dating.  And I found his name connected with what is known as a romance scam.  This girl said that she had spoken to him for a year and that he said he had to stay overseas for one reason after another and eventually he wanted to send her some travelers checks to cash for him.  Sound familiar?  Yes we call it a Nigerian scam.  You know the ones…you get an email from someone claiming to have a lot of money tied up that they can no access and they need someone to help them by cashing a large check…which ends up being fake.

She had not actually gone through with the money thing and had finally realized that something was not right.  She like me had started to put together the signs and little nagging things and had concluded he was not for real.

So I emailed him and said – who are YOU?  And he responded that he was angry I would ask and question him when he had been so open with me.  And he said we can talk later on IM.  I decided to once again give him the benefit of the doubt, but I knew that he was not who he said he was…I could feel it.  Yesterday afternoon, he sent me an IM and he acted like nothing had changed.  I finally asked him “Aren’t you going to ask about the emails?”  He again said he was angry but wanted to move on.

At that point I had no doubt whatsoever that he was not for real.  So I blocked him from my email.  Removed him from IM and blocked his screen name.  And I emailed the website where we met and told them that I had reason to believe he was not who he said he was.  And within 24 hours they had removed him from the site.

I had been duped.

Now I am lucky, I didn’t give him anything.  Just a little of my time and energy.  Nothing ever progressed to asking for money or giving anything else.  I feel like I dodged a bullet.  There are stories about men and women who lost everything to these scammers…some even opting for suicide out of embarrassment at having been scammed this way.   And all I have to say is – trust your gut.  There were things that bothered me immediately.  There were little inconsistencies that built up.  And remember – a well placed web search can do wonders.

Here is a list of red flags from if you think you may be talking to a scammer:

When Contact is First Made

  • They immediately want to get off the web site and onto Yahoo IM or MSN IM
  • Their profile seems to disappear off the web site immediately after conversation begins
  • They claim it was destiny or fate and you are meant to be together
  • They immediately ask for your picture and they send you a picture of themselves
  • They immediately want your address so as to send you flowers, candy, and teddy bears, often purchased with stolen credit cards
  • They claim to love you either immediately or within 24-48 hours
  • They immediately start using pet names with you: hon/hun baby/babe sweety/sweetie
  • They claim God brought you to him/her
  • They typically claim to be from the US (or your local region) but they are overseas, or going overseas mainly to Nigeria, sometimes the UK for business or family matters

Communication Skills

  • Their spelling is atrocious
  • Their grammar is not consistent with how Americans speak, French speak etc.
  • They appear uneducated with their speaking/writing skills
  • They over-use emotions
  • They are notorious for using BUZZ
  • They are notorious for using “i” instead of “I”
  • They consistently use web speak or abbreviations; u r ur cos pls/plz ma sry brb div
  • They often mix up their phrases: “i” will like to heer from you soonest, I am kool, Do you have any man you care to meet, Do you have any man you planning to meet, Looking for someone to love and care for in life, Am cheerfull in life, I will like to meet someone that is careing and loveing for real in life, “i” am too young for my age if you don’t know, Ok so how will you feel if i says i dont mind you, i will like you to be my best friend, You are so pretty for my likeness
  • They misunderstand our slang or comparisons such as night owl/early bird, poker face

Their Habits

  • They are not usually around on the weekends to IM
  • They IM at unusual hours for your time zone
  • There are times they are gone from the conversation for a length of time and will sometimes come back at you with a different name, they’re usually conversing with more than one person at a time
  • If you ask them a question they don’t know they will usually be offline for a length of time so they can go look up the answer on the internet always claiming they had a phone call or had to go to the bathroom etc.
  • They like to send you poems or love letters, most of which can be traced back to Sometimes they even forget to change the name in the poem or letter to match your name
  • They send you flowers, teddy bears, and candy within the first few weeks of talking
  • They typically ask you to get on your web cam yet they never seem to have a web cam of their own
  • They ask for your phone number but when they call you can barely understand a word they say because of their accent and back ground noise
  • They may give you a phone number but it’s typically a calling card or a call center, you can rarely get them on the phone
  • They do not like to answer personal questions about themselves and tend to ignore questions
  • They often do not know the correct time difference between where you are and where they claim to be
  • They often claim to have one parent that is of African descent
  • A majority of them claim to have lost a spouse/child/parent in a horrific traffic accident or airplane accident or any of the above are sick or in the hospital
  • They have no close family or friend or business associates to turn to, even the US embassy, instead they can only rely on a stranger they picked off the internet
  • To them love equals financial assistance…if you do not send them money or help them out with what they ask, you do not love them
  • If you deny them or question them they become verbally abusive and will resort to threats
  • They will insist you keep the relationship a secret until “they” come to you live with you
  • Above all, if you call them a scammer they are highly offended and some will start throwing words at you in their native language

Their Inconsistencies

  • The details they give you on IM are often different that what was stated on their profiles, one of the more common ones they give different answers to is their birth date, height/weight, and age etc.
  • If you catch them on an inconsistency they will claim a friend or relative must’ve been using their id to chat with you, they will always try to come up with a cover-up and of course, you are always wrong or mistaken
  • They often misspell the cities/towns they claim they are from and are unfamiliar with any of the local landmarks and attractions
  • They do not know common questions that every US citizen would know the answer to
I did not encounter all of these but enough that there was reasonable suspicion.  Single people be warned…and be safe.

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