For her, soon reality sank in. The crook had wired the woman even more money to launder, but she refused and the FBI stepped in and seized the cash. Now the bad guy wanted “his” money, so he sent another one of his victims, who traveled from New Jersey to Virginia by cab, to knock on her door and demand the loot. At that point “she was actually very, very scared,” the agent says.
10 romance scam warning signs
While scams vary, Wyman says the romance fraudsters he’s encountered share these traits and techniques:
1. They go from 0 to 60 fast. They “profess love too quickly,” he says. After a week of trading texts, the fraudster will say he’s found his “soulmate” and declare his undying devotion.
Wyman says it’s not that he doesn’t believe in love at first sight; that happened, in fact, when he met his wife. “But I don’t know that I was professing it within the week — she would have thought I was crazy,” he remembers.
2. They’re flirtatious. They use flowery, over-the-top language, calling victims “honey” and “babe” and other pet names “just very early on in a process with someone that they’re never actually met in person.”
3. They’re convincing liars. They cook up stories to explain why they can’t meet, saying, for example, that they’re working on an oil rig. Or they cast themselves as an “amazing” businessman at work in a foreign country.
4. They’re identity thieves. They filch someone else’s photos from the web and hide behind the images. A reverse-image search of a photo might quickly reveal the deception.
As with any representation made, Wyman urges thinking like a detective. “Does it seem logical that this person who ‘lives on an oil rig’ is sending you a picture holding a beer can that’s from the ’70s wearing Vietnam-era silky shorts?” he asks.
5. They’re two-timers. Fraudsters may pretend you’re their one and only, but they “definitely” pursue multiple victims at the same time. In one of his cases, Wyman says an analysis of telephone records showed an offender using different aliases simultaneously pursued two victims in Virginia and third in North Carolina.
The same offenders can pose as a male suitor in some scams and female admirers in others, he says.
6. They’re always promising to visit in person but…
7. Planned in-person visits are always postponed because of an unforeseen event, such as a hospitalization or flight delay.
8. They need funds to fix a problem. And they will ask for gift cards, prepaid cards, wire transfers or cryptocurrency, whatever is easiest for the victim to send.
Again, play detective. If a suitor says he’s a successful businessman abroad and needs $5,000 fast to release goods from customs, would someone in the finance department of his company or a banker not be able to help? Why are you, new to his life, being hit up for quick cash by a “successful” businessman?
9. They switch scams. Like the Manassas woman, it’s not uncommon for romance scam victims to be converted into mules for money laundering. That crime, too, varies, and one form of it is package reshipping. The goods in the packages that are sent to the victims generally were pilfered or purchased with stolen credit cards, Wyman says, and shipping the valuables to another address is a ploy to deceive investigators. What’s reshipped? Electronics, shoes, cosmetics — you name it, he says.
10. The love they feign is not forever. Fraudsters move on if a victim doesn’t send them funds, Wyman says, since “they’re not going to spend a bunch of time with a person that they don’t think they can actually get to do what they want.”