'Are You Real?' — Inside an Online Dating Scam
To her relief, she got a photo moments later. We received an invitation to their wedding. And she told her brothers and her friends that they would finally get to meet this mystery boyfriend. Some of the other men she'd met on Match had also quickly offered personal email addresses, so Amy didn't sense anything unusual when she wrote back to the Yahoo address from her own account. Photo by Gregg Segal He was the answer to her prayers. A few minutes later, he texted her back. We wrote to Joseph, and when he wrote back, he asked to meet us at James Beach, a popular Venice bar and restaurant.
Real-life couples prove that it's possible to find love online
Impostor scams can flourish wherever the Internet exists Eastern Europe and Russia are also hot spots , but most dating fraud originates in Nigeria and Ghana, or in countries such as Malaysia and the U. When doubt started to creep into her mind, she would look at his pictures or read his messages. One guy in particular was 6'7", transplanted to Venice Beach from Portland, Oregon, and seemed sincere and outdoorsy. Please don't show me this again for 90 days. Since he left scamming, he's spoken out against the practice. Love, Dwayne Not long after this, slightly less than a month since his first contact, Dwayne brought up his money troubles. Duane suggested they both fill out questionnaires listing not only their favorite foods and hobbies but also personality quirks and financial status.
Bethany Ramos is an editor, blogger, and chick lit author. We send email instead of snail mail. We drive cars instead of horse-drawn carriages. It only makes sense that we could successfully find love on the internet instead of scouting out random guys at a bar. Maybe it's the potential "danger" of the internet that holds people back the same danger that applies to bringing home a sketchy dude you just met at a bar, I might add , but many people are reluctant to date online.
Fair warning for those who fall into this pool of skeptics: These absolutely adorable and absolutely true online dating success stories will probably change your mind. Andrea-Rachel Parker, working actress and founder of Foubeaubelle. We were in different classes. We knew many of the same people. I was way more popular than he was though, so he kept to himself, and we simply said 'hello' and 'bye' to one another.
My distinct memory of him was at a party. I had to leave rather early. My step-father came to pick me up, and as I was leaving, he pulled me to him and asked me to dance. I remember saying to myself, 'Wow, he is hot! I was a good girl raised more conservatively, so nothing ever happened. So it wasn't until after school when he reached out.
He came to see [me once] and took me to grab a bite. We didn't speak for a long time after that, years I believe, and so one day, I see an inbox with a long, beautiful compliment. We went a long time just talking online and then eventually moved through text. I didn't know that I would fall in love with him then, but looking back maybe I should have. It was always just so comfortable, no pressure, and he was always just so open to all my quirky ways. We have been together for two years, and I never thought that it would be him to have me feeling like this.
If it wasn't for the online social world, who knows what could be our realities now? I got married at 17 to a man I met in a chat room. He's Just Stuck in Traffic , explains, "I online dated on and off for about five years. I had so many train wreck dates and a lot of weirdos, whack jobs, losers and players contacting me that I started to record them all and eventually wrote a book about my dating life.
On my fortieth birthday, I was talking to my dad on the phone, lamenting about my single status and whining that I would probably be alone for the rest of my life. My father suggested I go back online, to which I said, 'Are you crazy? Then I would close the book on online dating forever. Two weeks into my month, I met someone. Our first phone conversation was two hours long! I broke my rule of no meals on a first online date and made dinner plans. I figured even if there is no chemistry, I know I can talk to this guy.
The first date was instant fireworks for both of us. Jonathan had a second date the next night with a girl from online, and he cancelled it, telling her, 'I met someone!
We were engaged six months later and married five months after that. As an insider in the online dating world, working to develop the customer service division of the popular online dating site SugarDaddie.
Van Hochman, author of Dude! What Were You Thinking? The editorial staff placed him on our monitor list as a potential spammer just to be safe. Several months went by when we received a call from the young woman he was corresponding with asking us to remove her as well. It turned out that they had begun dating, but she was looking for more of a family and thought he, due to his lifestyle, was too much of a player.
Remember, we are a Sugar Daddy dating site! According to the woman, he showed up one day in an SUV with a puppy and a small section of white picket fence and had sold the Ferrari. This, all in an attempt to show she meant more than anything else he had. We received an invitation to their wedding. You see, the backstory is that I was interviewed by a TV Asia reporter at a conference that I attended. She was so impressed by my enthusiasm that six months later she asked me to blog on her online magazine.
She wanted me to talk about my experiences as an Indian born in America and the dating scene here, as a relationship expert of sorts. I decided then that I needed to take down my online profiles and start to meet people in the real world.
I looked down and noticed that he only lived ten minutes from me, and so I threw caution to the wind and sent him a message. I invited him out for a drink and to play darts at a pub that was halfway between us.
I heard the tiny ding of the notification on my phone when I realized he'd responded back, and positively, even enthusiastically.
The mainstreaming of online dating is a revolution in progress, one that's blurring the boundaries between "real" and online relationships. But the online-dating boom has also fueled an invisible epidemic. According to the Federal Trade Commission FTC , complaints about impostor ploys such as the romance scam more than doubled between and And that figure is probably low, because many victims never report the crime — or even tell their closest friends and family members that it occurred.
Shame, fear of ridicule and the victim's own denial enforce this contract of silence. The power of the romance scam — its ability to operate undetected and to beguile its victim into a kind of partnership — lies here, in the gulf between what the victim believes and what is actually happening. Outside the scam, it's almost impossible to explain such irrational behavior.
How on earth could you hand over your life savings to a stranger you met on the Internet, someone you've never even seen in real life? When Amy talks about how she fell in love, she always mentions his voice.
It was mesmerizing — musical, clipped, flecked with endearing Britishisms. His writing was like this, too — not just the British-style spellings of words such as "colour" and "favourite," but the way he dropped "sweetie" and "my dear" into every other sentence. They exchanged numbers and began talking every day.
His teenage years in Manchester explained the accent, but there was another sound in there, too, a wisp of something she couldn't place. They spoke of the things you talk about at the beginning of a relationship — hopes, dreams, plans for the future.
She opened up about her marriage, her grief, her work, her faith and her conviction that things happened for a reason. Amy had never met a man who was so passionately curious about her. And she was just as fascinated by Duane. Or was it Dwayne? In his early emails, the spelling seemed to switch. She found his LinkedIn profile — it was short, with just a few connections. There were other curiosities. Amy felt they were in some kind of time warp. She would be fixing breakfast and he'd be talking about going out for the evening.
He traveled a lot for his work, he said. Almost casually, he explained he was calling not from Virginia but from Malaysia, where he was finishing up a computer job. Looking back, would things have been different if he'd said he was in Nigeria?
Amy knew all about those people who posed as Nigerian bankers and gulled victims with awkwardly phrased "business opportunities" over spam email. But this was different; Amy loved to travel and knew lots of people from overseas. The fact that Dwayne was living in Malaysia added an exotic note to his "eau de enigma.
A former "Yahoo boy" shows how teams of con artists fleece victims from Internet cafes. Born in neighboring Benin, he and his family moved to Nigeria during his childhood and went looking for opportunities in the emerging economic powerhouse of Africa's most populous nation.
Instead, he found "the game" — Nigeria's shadow economy of scams, named for the article in the Nigerian criminal code that deals with fraud. Enitan is not the scammer Amy encountered in ; his fraud career ended in , he says. Since he left scamming, he's spoken out against the practice. But based on his account, the fraud playbook he followed has not changed.
He agreed to talk on the condition that he would not be identified by name. Typically, scams are advance-fee frauds — variations of the age-old "Spanish prisoner" gambit, which promises riches to unsuspecting strangers in exchange for a modest payment. Sent first as printed letters, then as faxes and emails purporting to be from Nigerian officials, these offers are now part of Internet lore.
Indeed, they're so well known that ers have adopted a more effective variation — mining dating sites for targets of romance scams. Impostor scams can flourish wherever the Internet exists Eastern Europe and Russia are also hot spots , but most dating fraud originates in Nigeria and Ghana, or in countries such as Malaysia and the U. In fast-developing parts of the world with high unemployment, a large percentage of English-speaking young men, and a postcolonial legacy of political instability and corruption, playing the game can be a tempting way out.
That's when he drifted in with the legions of other young Nigerian men known as Yahoo Boys, named for their preference for free Yahoo. He learned the con from an older mentor, and he, in turn, passed on his skills to younger friends.
Enitan describes a three-stage model. Using stolen credit card numbers, the scammer would flood dating sites with fake profiles. Victims can be found anywhere — scammers also forage for connections on social media — but dating services provide the most fertile territory. Profile photos are pirated from social media or other dating sites.
To snare women, he'd pose as older men, financially secure and often in the military or in engineering professions. For male victims, he just needed a photo of an alluring younger woman: All his victims, Enitan says, described themselves as divorced or widowed.
Ideally, the prospective victim makes the first move. Grooming the victim begins in the second stage. After learning everything he can about his target, he would launch a campaign of love notes and gifts.
It feels like the universe is manifesting my perfect partner right before my very eyes. Prayers answered and yes it does seem like we have known each other a long time.
Amy wrote that seven days after receiving the first message from Dwayne. They were on the phone for hours every day at this point.
His was the first voice she heard in the morning, and the last before bed. Typically, Amy would talk and text with him until about 11 a. In their emails, they filled pages with minutiae about their lives — her upcoming holiday trip to Sarasota, Florida, with a girlfriend; his visit to a textile museum in Kuala Lumpur. Mixed amid this were Dwayne's increasingly ardent declarations of affection:. Last night, in my dreams, I saw you on the pier.
The wind was blowing through your hair, and your eyes held the fading sunlight. Florid passages like that did not spring from Dwayne's imagination. He cribbed them from the Internet. Still, on Amy those words cast a powerful spell. That's how she thinks of it now — it was like a switch flicked in her head. She'd been in love before. But this was different, a kind of manic euphoria. Will you appear someday. Or are you just a beautiful, exotic dream … if you are … I don't want to wake up!
At the core of every romance scam is the relationship itself, a fiction so improbable that most of us initially marvel in disbelief: How do you fall in love — really fall in love — with someone you never meet? Until the term "catfishing" crept into the vernacular, love affairs with digital impostors were little-known phenomena.
The term comes from the documentary film Catfish , about a man with a girlfriend who, we learn, does not exist; it later inspired an MTV series. Pretending to be someone else online is a social media parlor game among some young people. But Amy had never seen the show or heard the term; she had no idea the practice was so common.
Computer-mediated relationships, she says, can be "hyperpersonal — more strong and intimate than physical relationships. Research has shown that certain personality types are particularly vulnerable to romance scams. Unsurprisingly, age is a factor: Not only are older victims more likely to lose larger sums of money, there's evidence that our ability to detect deception declines with age.
But when she surveyed scam victims in the U. These people tended to describe themselves as romantics and risk takers, believers in fate and destiny.
Many, like Amy, were survivors of abusive relationships. Women were actually slightly less likely to be scammed than men — but were far more likely to report and talk about it. The other term that Amy would later learn is "love bombing. In both situations, the victim's defenses are broken down by exhaustion, social isolation and an overwhelming amount of attention.
Amy would later describe the feeling as akin to being brainwashed. This is the painstaking grooming process that Enitan calls "taking the brain. When she came home from her trip to Florida over the holidays, Amy found a bouquet of flowers waiting for her, and a note:. Not long after this, slightly less than a month since his first contact, Dwayne brought up his money troubles. But some components he purchased from Hong Kong were stuck in customs. He didn't need money, he assured her — he had a hefty trust fund in the U.
But he couldn't use his funds to cover the customs fees. And he couldn't come back to Virginia until he finished the job. So, if there was any way Amy could help him out, he'd pay her back when he returned to the States.
When Amy asked for proof of his identity, Dwayne sent copies of his passport and financial documents. Finally, Dwayne set a day for his flight home and emailed his itinerary. He'd be there January Amy even bought tickets for their first real date — a Latin dance concert in a nearby city that night. And she told her brothers and her friends that they would finally get to meet this mystery boyfriend.
But first, another problem came up: He had to pay his workers. She had the money. And Dwayne knew it. Not exactly how much, perhaps. But he knew she owned her home and two other properties. He knew that her mother and husband had recently died. And he knew she was in love.
January 25 came and went. A new problem delayed him; Amy took one of her friends to the concert. Dwayne apologized profusely and sent her more flowers, again with the promise to pay her back. Soon, he needed more money. This part of the con follows a familiar pattern. The scammer promises a payoff — a face-to-face meeting — that forever recedes as crises and logistical barriers intervene.
As February wore on, Amy was still telling friends that Dwayne was coming in a matter of days or weeks. But she never mentioned the money she was lending him. It's not that she was intentionally misleading anyone.
Petition online dating sites to help stop scammers. She'd get it back as soon as he came, of course. When doubt started to creep into her mind, she would look at his pictures or read his messages. Still, almost in spite of herself, she wondered. Little things seemed odd. Sometimes, out of the blue, he'd fire off a series of rapid-fire instant messages—"oh baby i love you" and so forth. It felt almost like she was talking to someone else.
Another time, she asked what he had for dinner and was surprised to hear his answer—stir-fried chicken. To her relief, she got a photo moments later. There he was, sitting on a bench in the sun on the other side of the world. Psychologists call this "confirmation bias" — if you love someone, you look for reasons they are telling the truth, not reasons they are lying.
We tend to find what we are looking for. And Amy was looking, desperately, for reasons to trust Dwayne, because the money was really adding up. Besides, he'd be there on February She planned to make dinner for him that first night.
She bought all his favorite foods — fresh salmon, sourdough bread, a nice Merlot. The trip would take more than a day: He had to fly to Beijing, then Chicago, and finally connect to Virginia.
He'd call her as soon as he got to Chicago. His last message was a brief text that he said he sent from the airport in Kuala Lumpur. Then, when the day finally came, Amy's phone remained silent, despite her efforts to get in touch. Something must have gone wrong.
Why hadn't he called or texted her back? She tried to tamp down the pinpricks of panic. When she collapsed into bed that night, she thought about how this had been the first day in almost three months that they hadn't spoken.
Dwayne finally contacted Amy three days later. He sent a single text. Something about being held up by immigration at the airport in Kuala Lumpur and needing money to bribe the officials.
This was the third time that Dwayne had failed to show, the third last-minute catastrophe. Still, she wired him the money. Amy's sister-in-law was the first to figure it out. Phil show, in which the TV therapist confronted two women who claimed to be engaged to men they'd met online. Amy watched in growing horror. This was the same Beijing-bound route Dwayne had planned to be on earlier. As the story of the vanished airliner filled the airwaves, Amy couldn't help but worry that Dwayne had been aboard — maybe he'd managed to take a later flight?
Finally, he called her. But the call went to her home landline, not the mobile phone she'd been using.
Imsges: internet dating love stories
Fair warning for those who fall into this pool of skeptics: The wind was blowing through your hair, and your eyes held the fading sunlight.
When Amy asked for proof of his identity, Dwayne sent copies of his passport and financial documents. The trip would take more than a day: But this was different; Amy loved to travel and knew lots of people from overseas.
How do you fall in love — really fall in love — with someone you never meet? I figured even if there dating site to meet black guys no chemistry, I know I can talk to this guy. People have to go through a grieving process. I invited him out for a drink and to play darts at a pub intetnet was halfway between us. She resolved internet dating love stories be pickier, only contacting men who were closely matched — 90 percent or more, as determined by the algorithm pulling the strings behind her online search.
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