Some catfishers use these fake identities to annoy or harass others online, or just to flirt without commitment. They lure their victims into an online relationship and use it to get money out of them – sometimes thousands of dollars.
Huff Post cites a case in which a single person was working 25 online romance scams at once, posing as both men and women.Some of the most successful scammers have extracted tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars from a single victim. Barb Sluppik, who runs the watchdog site Romance Scams.org, says in an interview with Consumer Reports that she’s worked with “men and women of all ages – doctors and lawyers, CEOs of companies, people from the entertainment industry – who you’d never think in a million years would fall for these scams but do.” Even celebrities aren’t immune, as the world learned in 2012 when Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o discovered he’d spent two years in an online relationship with a woman who never existed.Scammers typically ask their victims for money in a form that’s hard to trace, such as a prepaid card or a wire transfer.The victims are often happy to pay because they think helping out their love interest will make it easier for them to finally meet in person.According to Huff Post, most of them are located in Ghana and Nigeria, but an increasing number originate in communities of West African immigrants in Canada, Malaysia, and Britain.
Some of them are career criminals, but many are college students with low incomes looking for extra cash.
According to Huff Post, FBI agents believe roughly 85% of all romance scams are never reported because the victims are too embarrassed to come forward.
Online romance scams are a form of “catfishing” scam, in which a person creates a fake online identify.
Next, they seek out victims – usually people who are lonely and vulnerable – and work to build up relationships with them.
They can spend months winning over their victims with regular conversations, long e-mails, poetry, gifts, and declarations of love – everything except face-to-face meetings.
Instead, the scammer continues to string the victim along with more requests for money, sometimes keeping up the fraud for years.