I became a private investigator in 2014 but in 2016, I decided to use my skills to focus on the dating sector after I was approached by a victim of romance fraud.
She had met a person through an online dating app and later found out that he had lied about his name and various bits of information. Although my client did not know the person’s real name, their age, or their address, she mentioned that he spoke about a family member who had a very unusual name. By searching this unusual name and looking through his family photographs, I was able to identify the real person behind the scam.
I’d had a similar experience 20 years ago. After I had gotten a divorce, I decided to venture into the world of online dating. I quickly realized that some people would often lie about trivial things. For example, a few people lied to me about their height and thought that I wouldn’t notice when I saw them face to face.
With the rise of smartphones and online dating, many people are not thinking about the different ways in which they are opening themselves up to the world. For example, you would not let a stranger walk through your front door, yet it seems okay to let a stranger into your life through your smartphone or your computer, without thinking of the possible consequences.
With online dating, people don’t often speak to the authorities when they feel that the person on the other side of their screen is lying to them so, I thought, who could they approach when they had suspicions?
In 2018, I founded two private investigation companies, one of which is called Rogue Daters. Scammers usually pretend to be in a relationship with a victim to manipulate them into giving them money, gift cards, or items of value, so I began helping clients identify if the person they had connected with was really who they claimed to be.
At Rogue Daters, we act lawfully and compliantly with GDPR rules to run in-depth searches using our skill set and specialist tools available.
My role as an investigator is to put all of the information together to verify and present the evidence at hand to my clients. I do this by building a concise report showing my findings and recommendations on the client’s next steps. This report can also be given to the authorities if the client wishes to do so. Although my aim is to prevent scams from taking place, I also track down people who have scammed clients.
How to spot a scammer
People often believe that they would never get scammed, and that the people who fall victim to these things are naïve and desperate for love. However, that’s not the case.
When you are online, remember that you do not know who you are connecting with. Although you may think that you are speaking with a man or a woman, it could in fact be a group of men or women conducting organized crimes.
Never let your heart rule your head. If the person that you are talking to is asking for your number straight away, do not give it to them. Ask yourself: “Why they are trying to move you away from the dating app chat immediately?” Scammers often try to communicate off dating apps with their victims so that their chats are not monitored. That way, you will not be able to compile evidence against them or report any issues to the app moderators.
If you are talking to somebody that you are interested in, do not give them too much of your personal information. If you met somebody in a bar, you would often not tell them your life story and personal details until you had built a level of trust. I would advise you to treat online dating the same.
If somebody bombards you with messages and affection, be suspicious. Ask yourself: “Is it too much, too soon?” Often, scammers will tell their victims that they want to marry them and that they see a future with them only weeks after speaking to them.
I often urge people to run their own checks on someone they are dating online. Always Google the name of the person that you are speaking with online. Doing a Google Reverse Image Search is helpful, too.
By uploading an image of this person onto Google, you are able to find any related images, which will show you if the image is actually of them or if they have stolen somebody else’s picture online. But please note that some reverse image search tools may not be accessible on several social media sites.
While looking out for a scammer, I would also advise you to ask yourself questions like, “Does the company that they work at exist?” Often, a scammer will give you a common name instead of their real name. Common names are difficult to run checks on, but that’s where we, as private investigators, are able to help.
Scammers do not just operate in romantic relationships
Many people assume that the majority of my clients are middle-aged women but that’s not the case. Men and women both young and old approach me, as scammers don’t care who they’re taking money from.
Scammers operate in platonic business relationships too. For example, one of my clients met a person online who ran several charities. He asked her if she could donate money to a disaster relief fund. After donating money, she also began working for him because he claimed to be a lawyer. But when she asked to be paid, he ghosted her. She came to me for help and I identified who he really was. It turned out that he was in the U.K. as an illegal immigrant.
Some people were close to cashing in pension pots and selling their houses before asking me to run checks on someone. Others have fallen out with family members because their families had suspicions about the people that they were dating.
Another client was a victim of investment fraud and relationship fraud. The scammer, whom my client thought was her partner, convinced her to invest money into a cryptocurrency pot, and after she made money from it the first time, my client encouraged her friends and family to put money into the pot too. After her friends and family had invested money, the scammer took all of the money from the pot and ghosted my client.
The victim is always my priority
I typically ask my clients to send me all of the evidence that they have, including chat histories. I then run background checks on this person. Often, my work is online, but sometimes I am required to run background checks in person.
For example, a client of mine was in a romantic relationship with somebody that they had met online. But shortly after, this person began to be evasive and dismissive towards my client. After running checks on him, I found out that he lived close to me. So, I drove to his house to do some investigating. I found out that he had a family and was living with somebody else. My client, without confronting this person, immediately ceased all contact with him, as she could not date someone whom she could not trust.
With Valentine’s Day approaching, some people want to fall in love and to have somebody special in their lives, but scammers will take advantage of that.
My intention is not to track scammers, as they will always reinvent themselves if they are not convicted of a crime. My job is to help the victim by gathering evidence to show my client that the person that they are involved with is not who they claim to be and save them from experiencing financial loss and heartbreak.
Samantha Cooper is the founder of Rogue Daters, specializing in romance fraud. You can find out more about her here.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Newsweek associate editor Carine Harb.
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