Why love scammers are winning the battle for your heart & cash
- February 14, 2019
- Posted by: Kerry Tomlinson, Archer News
- Categories: Archer News, Cyber Crime, Posts with image, Scam Alerts
The winners this Valentine’s Day are romance scammers who put up fake profiles on line and trick you into sending money.
The Federal Trade Commission says there is an almost 150% jump in romance scam cases in the U.S. from 2015 to 2018, with people losing almost $150 million dollars last year alone.
Here’s why we’re losing our hearts and our life savings to the bad guys.
You might find this fellow striking — Mahamet Mahamet Adam, also known as William, a US Army general and marine engineer with a fondness for flowers and dogs.
But this widower is fake.
A fake Facebook profile uses images of a real general. Image: Facebook
The pictures belong to a real general, Mark Hertling, who says he deleted his real Facebook profile last year.
Scammers made more than 2,000 fake pages using his name or picture to trick people out of money and Facebook isn’t stopping the wave of crooks, he said in a tweet.
An image from a Facebook profile named “Mahamat Mahamat Adam.” The image is actually Mark Hertling (below).
Still image of Mark Hertling. Image: US Army Europe
Profile of a Romance Scammer
The fake general fits the typical profile of a romance scammer.
He claims to be widowed, in the military or an engineer, often working on an oil rig, with ties to many countries — and stolen photos of real people.
The combination can be devastating.
“He was in the army, high-ranking according to his photograph and the profile,” said Maggie, a widow herself, in a video for the Derbyshire Police in Britain. “I was very, very attracted to this man, so I replied.”
She believed the picture of the military man she saw online — and the person behind it — were real.
“I was just swept off my feet. Really, really swept off my feet by this tall, handsome, eloquent man,” she said.
Maggie describes her run-in with a romance scammer in a video. Image: Derbyshire Constabulary
Planning a Date
To her delight, he planned to visit.
He just needed a little money to buy the ticket.
“And he said he was always, always going to pay it back. There was never any doubt about that. And I believed him,” she said.
Maggie eventually sent him more than $25,000.
But her husband-to-be never made it to England.
In fact, he never existed in the first place.
“I was lonely. Like so many people, women and men, looking for someone special, someone to love,” she explained. “Just being completely gullible.”
Mark Hertling left Facebook after romance scammers repeatedly used his pictures. Image: Twitter/Mark Hertling
More Likely to Fall
A Federal Trade Commission study says people are more likely to fall victim to a scam if they have gone through a negative life experience in the last two years, like divorce, separation, loss of a job or a spouse.
Bruce, a YouTuber, says in a video that he lost his heart to a romance scammer overseas right after a failed relationship at home.
“The main reason is that the time I had very low self-esteem in myself,” he said. “I had just gotten out of a very bad relationship. I wanted it to work so bad. I focused on the good things and ignored all the bad things.”
YouTubers Bruce & Yuri talk about Bruce’s romance scam relationship. Image: #yuribruce
A study in 2017 from the University of Warwick found people more likely to fall for the romance scam are middle-aged women, highly educated, with tendencies toward impulsivity, sensation-seeking, trust and addiction, though plenty of men, younger folks and people without these characteristics fall victim, too.
Many victims simply don’t admit sending a few hundred dollars to a pretty face overseas.
How Romance Scammers Do It
The scammers reach out to lonely souls through dating sites, as well as Facebook, Instagram, even games like Words with Friends.
“I met mine on Tinder,” said Karen, who posted a video about her experience.
Your new friend quickly declares you the love of their life.
“When they talk to you, they call you the queen, goddess, baby,” she said. “After a couple of weeks, they start talking about marriage. They call you their wife.”
Karen describes her experience with a romance scammer in a YouTube video. Image: Karen Simcox
You may notice red flags, like these:
They claim to be in the U.S., but don’t know places in their town.
They always call after midnight, but the background noise sounds like its midday.
They don’t want you to search them up online.
“They’ll always be in a position where you shouldn’t search them because their lives dangerous or they might lose their job,” Karen said. ”So, you don’t when you should.”
Then the man or woman you’re planning to marry suddenly has a crisis and needs money.
“Their children are ill. Their family members are ill. They’re trapped somewhere in a remote country. Their business is going to go bust,” she explained. “And if you don’t help them, they’ll lose everything.”
Even if you’re suspicious, you’ve already invested your heart.
So, the money follows, again and again.
A Missouri woman whose husband had died of brain cancer sent in all three million dollars to her new fake boyfriend, “Larry B. White” from Christian Mingle, who claimed he was investing in a gold mine in Ghana, according to news reports.
Romance scammers often pretend to be widowed, in the military, working as an engineer & living/working overseas. Image: Facebook
Turning You Into a Scammer
Romance scammers may use you to launder money from other crimes, like email scams where they trick companies out of millions with fake money requests.
Or they may have you send them expensive items.
If you call them out on their scam, they may blackmail you with nude photos you thought you were sending to your dream guy or gal.
“These people are scum. They need to be stopped,” Karen emphasized. “And we need to stop being victims.”
Behind the Scam
Who are these heart-crushing crooks?
In some cases, the very same Nigerian scammers who tried to get you to move $30 million out of their country.
Three men from Nigeria were convicted in 2017, one sentenced to 115 years in prison.
The Justice Department charged nine more people last year.
And another man was arrested this year.
Headlines show three men sentenced for romance scams in 2017. Image: Information Security Media Group
Despite the arrests, the scams continue.
A real colonel, Bryan Denny, fields calls from women who have fallen in love with him via his picture — used by crooks more than 3,000 times.
He’s part of a group Advocate Against Romance Scams, trying to get Facebook to take more action.
The real Bryan Denny, whose pictures have been used by scammers more than 3,000 times. Image: Advocating Against Romance Scams
They’re fighting against an army of scammers, as seen in a program from ABC News in Australia.
Romance scammers can and do work from many countries.
The ABC program shows cafes in Ghana filled with men pretending to be women, as well as young men posing as middle-aged military officers from their apartments.
They tell ABC that their work is not a crime and their victims are simply business clients.
“Sometimes you will be talking to the person and you can even feel pity for that person,” one scammer said. “Wow, the person, she’s crying and all that. You feel pity, but you, too, you need money.”
An ABC Australia program shows a romance scammer talking to a victim at his Ghana apartment. Image: ABC Australia
What to Do
Karen urges people to be cautious and do research, and to speak with family and friends about romances online.
One of the best tools for researching a love interest is to check to see if they are using someone else’s pictures by doing a reverse image search.
If you have been a victim, you can report the crime to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Archer News contacted the fake general, “Mahamat Mahamat Adam,” through his Facebook page, but he did not respond.
We also reported the fake profile to Facebook, but as of last check, it was still up.
Advocating Against Romance Scams posted images showing Facebook does not always take down romance scam profiles when requested.
Facebook tells news outlets that it is constantly working “to detect and block harmful activity, including removing accounts.”
A romance scammer profile from Match.com. Image: Match.com
As we spend more and more time connected, we give scammers more of a chance to reach us.
It all comes down to the picture.
Many people still believe that a picture online is a real person.
Your best gift Valentine’s Day gift to yourself — remember the difference before it destroys you.
“They do it so well. They tailor it to you. They’re so good,” said Karen. “I thought I wouldn’t be caught, but there you go.”
Main image: Annca