Transcript – Naked Security Video – What to do when you come across a romance scammer


Hello everybody. I’m Paul Ducklin from Naked Security at Sophos. Welcome to our YouTube channel.

This is a series of videos entitled “What to do when,” and the idea is that if you’re going to get caught up in a cybersecurity disaster, the time to have prepared for it is before rather than after.

Actually, what we really hope is that by preparing in advance, it won’t be “What to do when.” but “What to do so that there ISN’T a when.”

Today’s topic is: “What to do when you come across a romance scammer?”

What is a romance scam

So let’s start: what is a romance scam?

Very simply put, it’s when you meet someone, for example on a dating site; you decide you quite like them; they seem to fit in with your lifestyle; and they’ve got some common interests with you.

You go off the dating platform; you chat to them as you would to build up any relationship; you decide you quite like them…

…but it’s all a pack of lies, and the crook is trying to draw you in so that they can get something out of you in the future.

How do they play out?

So, how do these things typically play out?

The idea is that the crook will look around on the dating site, probably visit your Facebook profile, look at what you’re saying on Twitter, find out what your birthday photo shows – it give them a good idea of what interests you have.

They’ll become the person that you want them to be.

At some point in the future, when you want to meet up with the person for the first time – because typically this will be a long-distance relationship – then instead of (just like you would in real life) agreeing to meet them at a neutral location and maybe have a date and going halvies [paying 50:50] on it, what will happen is…

…suddenly the other person wants to meet you, but all the money needs to come from your side, and there will typically be a long and complicated story that will allow them to make money not just the days or weeks but sometimes even for months or years.

What do the crooks want?

In terms of “What do they want?”, almost always what they’re after is money.

Typically they’ll start small and because they’re in this for the long game they will keep feeding you stories about why they need a little bit more for this, that and the other.

Remember, these guys are professionals.

They work in teams, so the guy you’re chatting to that you’ve fallen in love with who needed $800 for a visa… and then he needed another $125 dollars for the attorneys fees to get the visa sorted… and then he needed money for the airline ticket…

Well, guess what? Then you get a phone call from a “hospital” – one of the other guys in the gang saying, “Oh, it’s terrible news, we’ve we’ve had this chap admitted and he’s in hospital and he doesn’t have any money.”

Suddenly you’re on the hook for all of this stuff, and all the time the crook is continuing to play for what you want him or her to be in a way that you think there’s still a relationship going on here.

So, you’re willing to cough up more money, and more money and more money. We’ve read of cases where people haven’t just been taken for thousands of dollars over weeks or even tens of thousands of dollars over months but hundreds of thousands of dollars or even more over many years.

Once you’re sucked in, it’s pretty difficult to give up on the dream, because as soon as you admit that you’ve been fleeced you have to face the fact that it’s all over.

So, the best thing is to avoid getting sucked in in the first place, or if you do get sucked in to get out early.

What to do?

Let’s look at three simple tips that can help you do that.

First of all, if you do go on dating sites and you do meet people online, don’t be amazed at if they suddenly seem to know an awful lot about you and they just seem magically to have interests that mesh with yours!

You’ve probably given away – on your social media accounts, on Facebook pages, on Twitter, all over the place – enough for somebody to pretend to be the person you want them to be.

It’s OK to give all that stuff away on social media if that’s what you want to do, but don’t be surprised if other people find out what it is.

You put it there to be found, so it’s not some kind of emotional magic if somebody looks it up and then plays it back to you.

The second thing to bear in mind is, if you are building a long-distance relationship with somebody online, that it can work out perfectly fine – if you’re both real people and you’re both actually interested in the relationship.

But watch out when money comes up for the first time.

As we said earlier, what would typically happen when you meet someone in your own area and you’re going on a date for the first time, you typically meet up and you kind of expect that you’d each put in half of what it’s going to cost.

So be very careful if suddenly the other person wants to meet you, and they want to come to you, and you have to provide all the money.

I’m not saying that means it is a scam, but it’s probably a very very good warning sign.

The last tip is that if you have got sucked into one of these – if you have already given money away to crooks – and then you realise, ” Wait a minute this is all a pack of lies,” don’t throw good money after bad. (Or bad money after good – I can never remember which way around that goes.)

Don’t be afraid to confront your demons. Cut the relationship dead and get out before you’re scammed out of even more money, because remember that the only thing worse than being scammed for $10,000 is being scammed for $100,000.

And let me just finish by saying that if you do get sucked into one of these scams, it’s not a sign that you’re unintelligent, or thoughtless, or foolish, or anything like that.

You’re trying to use online dating in the way it was intended, and you’ve been deluded by someone you’ve never met.

If somebody from your trusted circle of friends or family tries to advise you that this may not be what it seems, don’t spurn them; don’t show them the hand.

Maybe listen to what they’ve got to say: they could save you a lot more heartache in the future.

So, thanks for listening folks please take care out there. If you’re getting into online dating, don’t get sucked into a scam.

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