I’ve always prided myself on being an intelligent and not gullible. I actually found my husband on a long gone site called “The Love Hound.” (Of course we’re divorced now, but that’s nothing to do with internet dating.)
I remember one of my early dates telling me about romance scammers. And I thought I’d never fall for that. But then… I met Paulo.
He was Italian and handsome, rich. He had no children or major baggage. He lived in Los Angeles on Barrington. We SKYPed. He sent me roses. He said all the things I wanted to hear including the “L-word”. He worked with orphan children in Rome where his mother lived. The catch was that he was stuck in Dubai on business.
Thankfully I had a close friend who felt this was too good to be true, that Paulo must be a scammer. I expressed my concerns to him and he sent me a copy of his American passport. I had just gotten a new one and it looked just like mine. My friend sent me an article from the FBI about how scammers can send gifts and flowers on stolen credit cards. I called the florist and asked about the roses. They told me it was legitimate and called Paulo. Paulo called me panic-stricken, “How could you not trust me?” I actually apologized. Then my friend sent me an article on how they SKYPE using a pre-recorded SKYPE by someone else. I didn’t believe her until Paulo asked me for money.
Of course you all can guess the rest of the story. It goes one of two ways: either you send money or you don’t. My momma didn’t raise no fools. I don’t send money to strangers. Paulo got angry and eventually he disappeared.
What is more interesting is that through a fluke in Google’s circles program, I got connected to him and I was contacted by numerous women—all victims of Paulo (and a dozen other names). One woman had a two year relationship and was “engaged” to him. She’d also sent him $40,000. Another woman only sent $100, but she was livid at the idea that he put one over on her. She searched the internet and discovered something very interesting. This guy’s photos appeared on many dating sites, Facebook, etc.—all under different names and languages. Some of the sites were Russian. Some Eastern European. She even found a French warning video how scammers create the illusion of SKYPEing—FEATURING Paulo. In fact, she found hundreds of photos of this man. This guy was everywhere, photos were being used by syndicates in Africa, Eastern Europe, etc. She was able to track down the REAL man in the photos. The poor guy had been a model for many years and used social media to document his trips with his wife and kids. The scammers had stolen these things from him. He was not complicit in any way with the scamming. Poor guy. I can imagine that on the street he probably gets slapped regularly by women who think he’s conned them. But he’s hasn’t. He’s a victim too.
There are many websites on dating site scammers. For those of you out there who think you have a scammer, there are several things you can do. Most of all DO NOT SEND MONEY TO SOMEONE YOU’VE NEVER MET IN PERSON. No exceptions. It doesn’t matter how sad or desperate the story is.
You can read some testimonials on Romance Scam.If you think someone might be a scammer, there is a site TinEye that allows you to run photos recognition for free and locates them on the internet. Scammers use the same photos (if they work, why waste them?) and if you’ve got a scammer, chances are he’ll pop up on numerous sites under different names. And if you’re internet dating, no matter how smart you think you are, watch the FBI podcast on the subject. And, do your fellow dates a good deed: REPORT HIM. It’s unlikely you will ever see your money again since most of these guys are not in the US, but maybe you can keep someone else from falling prey.
Next time: Why do these scammers succeed?
Tracy Schiff was an Associate Editor on the brief lived “Great Expectations Magazine” for the first major video dating service. She has an MFA in Fiction Writing and has sold and/or published stories, articles, screenplays, poems, even a letter to the editor in “The New York Times”. She is single and has been on a number of dating sites for far too long.