Cyber romance scams cost US victims $50 million in 2011

Filed Under: Law & order, Spam

Man internet dating, courtesy of ShutterstockA recent report about internet crime finds that lonely, middle-aged or elderly people, mostly in the US, are suckers for a good romance scam.

We - and when I say "we", I mean "people who aren't me", because I lost nothing to online dating in 2011 but did gain a really nice red umbrella on a first date - thought that we were dating decent, nice people, and we accepted the flowers, the poetry, and the declarations of undying love..

..and it all wound up costing us a total of $50.4 million.

That's the total reported losses from a collection of 5,663 romance-specific complaints. On average, each victim reported a loss of $8,900.

Victims forked out, typically, for airline tickets or to supposedly help out their newfound love.

The numbers come from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in the US, a partnership between the National White Collar Crime Center, the US Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance and the FBI.

Last year, the IC3 received romance scam-related complaints at a rate of 15 a day, at a daily loss of about $138,000, or more than $5,700 an hour.

How, you may well ask, did the IC3 come up with those numbers?

The IC3's 2011 Internet Crime Report is based on the 314,246 total complaints the center received last year.

Out of that number, 115,903 complaints reported financial loss for a reported total loss of almost $500 million.

The report says that the IC3 staff review any complaints that claim a loss of more than $100,000.

Which makes it sound like they're taking it on faith when a complainer says he lost less than $100,000.

That's a lot of faith! I'd take the IC3's numbers on faith, too, except I just noticed that the report says that FBI-related scams were the most reported
offense, followed by identity theft and advance fee fraud, but the numbers in its pie chart on page 10 show that work-from-home scams clocked in at 17,352, and FBI scams clocked in at 14,350, so my head's all scrambled and my faith is shaken.

Pie charts from FBI report

I put in a call to the IC3, so if I hear back, I'll update the story, because mixed-up numbers will jeopardize my brilliant plan, which is to combine the top scams into a hybrid super-scam.

Any criminal entrepreneur can see that they should be combining these two money-makers and running FBI romance scams. Or perhaps work-from-home romance scams. Or even work-for-the-FBI-from-home-for-a-really-hot-FBI-boss-who-secretly-loves-you scam.

They'd rake it in, since FBI agents have a tendency to look like super agent Jason Bourne, aka Matt Damon, all buff and square-jawed.

Just take a look at the video in this article. It shows FBI agents sneaking a server back after they maybe glued some tracking software into its innards.

After seeing the buffitude of the agents therein, you'll surely agree with the reader who commented that he/she would appreciate romancing, or something along those lines, from such an FBI agent:

"Anyone got the name/number of MIB there? He looks HOT - he can install a trojan in my back door any day."

IC3On a more serious note, regardless of the IC3's head-scratching numbers, it can't be denied that people are getting scammed.

Victims get ripped off because they're lonely, or perhaps they get taken in by loan-intimidation scammers armed with accurate information, such as the victim's social security number or date of birth.

One of the most frequent type of scam offers money for people to work at home, and most typically the operation is coming from a cyber criminal using victims as mules to move stolen funds. This is one of the most pernicious crimes, since the victims/mules may face criminal charges.

The report has a slew of good tips on avoiding getting victimized in its Appendix I on page 20.

As far as I can tell, the tips for what to watch out for in fake job offers are perfect for avoiding fake lovers and fake FBI agent lovers, particularly the first one:

  • Be wary of inflated claims of product effectiveness.
  • Be cautious of exaggerated claims of possible earnings or profits.
  • Beware when money is required up front for instructions or products.
  • Be leery when the job posting claims “no experience necessary.”
  • Do not give your Social Security number when first interacting with your prospective employer.
  • Be wary when replying to unsolicited emails for work-at-home employment.

Be careful out there, and good luck finding love or companionship that's real.

Woman and man internet dating cartoons, courtesy of Shutterstock

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9 Responses to Cyber romance scams cost US victims $50 million in 2011

  1. duckhunter · 1236 days ago

    Oh my gosh ... as a scam fighter of nearly 4 years, and member of, I know of just 4 people whose total loss among them was $353,000.00. And that's just four people. What makes matters worse, approximately 70% of people don't report the crime, particularly if they are male.

    I realize that you can only report on the information that you are given, and thoroughly appreciate that you do ... but these figures are so out of range. The amount of money that gets filtered from the 'Western World' to West Africa yearly has been estimated to be in the billions. It's absolutely astonishing. And that's just the major scam hub. There are others.

  2. Another great example of the need for trust online. At miiCard we wonder if proving real identities (to passport/ driver's licence level) on dating and other social networking sites would be a positive step toward reducing this kind of fraud.

    • Lateral · 1234 days ago

      I suppose that just moves the problem elsewhere. You're relying on 3rd parties to keep copies of your passport and driver's license safe and secure. Sounds like a PII gold mine.


  3. Eve · 1236 days ago

    Oh my gosh....this is so scary . I myself was scammed "Romance Scam" and then tried the FBI to work for me to get my FUNDS back . Only to be told it will cost me Monies to register my Claim with the NIgerian gov't/ . Impersonators (FBI) I had no idea they did this sort of thing.

    Anyone can post documents that look real on line. Believable to the untrained eye.

    IT sickens me that people prey on others. I do not trust anything online NOW. Sad but I think wise.

  4. Steve · 1236 days ago

    I am surprised this is so common.

    You would think that any thought of handing over money to someone you never met on the itnernet would trigger alarm bells but its shockingly widespread.

  5. Robert Wurzburg · 1235 days ago

    The problem with IC3 is if you are reporting a suspected scam ( and you know what
    these things look like after awhile) if you did not lose any money, they take no action.
    They do not even give you the courtesy of acknowledgement or reply your complaint
    has been received, even if you did lose money.
    I'm sick and tired of hearing from law-enforcement authorities that they don't have the
    manpower, time, or resources to find and prosecute these criminals. So as long as
    that is going to be how they don't investigate and litigate these crimes in the U.S. we
    are going to be out of luck and our money, until they take Internet crime seriously and
    make a real effort to prosecute offenders.
    I'd love to to a cyber-vigilante force out there, nailing these crooks when the authorities
    won't go after them and shut their websites down, take away their ISP services, and
    confiscate their hardware and software.

    • Jonny · 1233 days ago

      That's a great idea, Robert, but the authorities might waste resources to go after you instead of the real criminals, but I'd be on your side 1000%!

  6. Daniel Kodua · 1069 days ago

    You met this blonde white lady on a dating site, she tells you she is in Ghana and has been in Ghana for a couple of years now. She either came here with her Dad, and Dad is no more or she is here alone. Basically she wants you to buy her grocery, she can't go pick up the items and wants you to send items in her Uncle's name. There are various variations of this story, but bottom line is that you are being scammed. The picture is a fake, and make sure you don't fall for what you saw on webcam. It is a recorded webcam video that was downloaded online.

    You met this white man online, he is either an American or from some European country. He is in Ghana on business and is unable to use his credit card. There are various variations of this story, he may even be in Ghana doing charity work and wants you to shop for him online. He is so busy he won't be able to pick up the items and wants his driver to go pick the items up for him. You are being scammed, once again forget about the fact that you think you saw him on webcam. The picture is a fake, the webcam is a fake.

    You met a guy online, he tells you he is an American fighting in Afghanistan or currently in Iraq. He has a son in Ghana and wants to send him some food. Due to high security, he cannot or is prohibited from using his credit card from base, and wants you to do some shopping for his son. He sends you pictures of someone actually at some army base. Don't do it, you are being scammed.

    You met this gorgeous lady online, she doesn't ask you for anything for a while. You chat with her for about a month, she even does some strip tease for you on webcam. You are happy you found someone who is not just looking for money. After gaining your trust, she tells you to shop for her online. Chances are you were being baited, and she is scamming you. The webcam may have just been a pre-recorded downloaded video of some porn star online.

    The story goes on and on, we are not saying anyone you meet online is a scammer. However, it is up to you to use common sense and trust your instincts. Names like Yaw, Kojo, Kwame, Kofi, Issaka, Abdul, Yakubu, Ibrahim etc are male names. No lady in Ghana is named Agyei Francis, the scammer just gave you their last name first such that they can use their ID. If for any reason you suspect you are being scammed, you most likely are being scammed.

    Please contact the Scam team in Ghana Below.

    ACP Daniel Kodua

    Thank you.

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.