KUSA - An estimated 40 million people have tried online dating. With a huge pool of people looking for love, they have to be wary of sharks in the water. Scam artists often operating from overseas try to steal your heart and all your money.
One victim interviewed by 9Wants to Know was so worried about embarrassment and damage to reputation, she asked us not to use her real name.
"Allie" says the crook was using a stolen picture of a U.S. soldier in uniform, but she didn't know that when she first encountered him online in January.
"He saw my profile, and he emailed me," Allie said. "We just started talking and getting to know each other via email."
He said his home was in Longmont, but he was stationed in Afghanistan. He shared intimate, personal heartbreaks. He claimed his mom and sister died in a car accident and his dad died from cancer. He professed his love and said he wanted to take military leave to visit her.
BLOG: My relationship with an online scam artist
Allie describes his plan, saying "He would show up here, and we would meet and see where it would go from there, but he did say it was going to cost $3,500."
He asked Allie to pay the money. At that point she got suspicious of the month-long online relationship. She reported the details to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which tracks romance scams.
Allie didn't stop there. She demanded her faux boyfriend to reveal his real identity. He admitted he lived in Nigeria, but he claimed to have fallen in love with her during the course of the scam. Allie didn't believe that.
"I'm a pretty smart woman, and if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone." Allie said. "So, I really wanted to reach out and make people aware."
Allie also turned to 9Wants to Know to help her locate the real soldier in those pictures. She felt that he, in a way, was also a victim. We used an online image search to trace the picture, and we came up with a possible name: Brandon Barrett.
9Wants to Know used a background search, and we were able to track down Brandon Barrett's real dad. He's alive and well in the Denver area. He led us to Brandon who was living in Oklahoma. Brandon told us the scammer must have swiped the photos from his Facebook profile.
"Ultimately, I would never think something I would put on a private network would be used for something like that," Brandon said.
He realizes there's little anyone can do to stop this kind of photo theft, and he hopes online daters will be skeptical romantics.
"The more I thought about it, the easiest way to verify is if someone is real or not is to do what you and I are doing now so you can see the actual person for themselves," Brandon said.
Thursday night on 9NEWS at 9 and 10 p.m., 9NEWS Investigative Reporter Melissa Blasius gives her first-hand account of her month-long experience communicating with a romance scam artist. See how they try to convince victims to fall in love without ever meeting, and see what lengths they will go to in order to take your every last penny.
Experts on uncovering these scams joined 9NEWS Investigative Reporter Melissa Blasius for an online chat at noon.
They discussed spotting a fake on an online dating site, how to protect your personal information while getting to know someone on the internet, and what to do if you feel that you've been scammed.
Joining us on the chat:
Barb Sluppick, Owner / Peer Counselor, www.romancescams.org
Christie Hartman, PhD, Psychologist and Dating Coach
Alex Holden, Hold Security, Computer Forensics Expert
You can read through the chat to get advice and answers below or at: http://on9news.tv/9wtk. Mobile users can check here: http://on9news.tv/YYZ2qs.
They might be a scammer if...
- Their profile picture looks professionally done. Some come from modeling websites
- Their height/weight is not proportional -e.g. 6' and 95 lbs
- They claim to be older/younger than the photo looks
- They immediately want to get off the website and onto Yahoo IM or MSN IM
- They are not usually around on the weekends to IM
- Their spelling is atrocious
- They are notorious for using "i" instead of "I"
- They consistently use webspeak or abbreviations: u r ur cos pls/plz ma sry brb div acc
- They misunderstand our slang or comparisons such as night owl/early bird, poker face
- They immediately start using pet names with you: hon/hun baby/babe sweety/sweetie
- They do not like to answer personal questions about themselves and tend to ignore questions
- The details they give you on IM are often different that what was stated on their profiles, one of the more common discrepancies are date of birth, height/weight, and age
- They do not know common questions that every US citizen would know the answer to
- They like to send you poems or love letters, most of which can be traced back to lovingyou.com.
- They claim it was destiny or fate and you are meant to be together
- They claim God brought you to him/her
- 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 are so in love with you that they cannot live without you BUT they need you to send them some money so they can come to you
- They typically claim to be from the US (or your local region) but they are overseas, or going overseas mainly to West Africa, Malaysia, sometimes the UK for business or family matters.
- They often do not know the correct time difference between where you are and where they claim to be
- 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
- They tend to ask you to send them cell phones and laptops
- They would like to mail you packages or letters and have you forward them on for them, sometimes to Africa, sometimes to another US address
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