The lockdowns resulting from Covid have seen an explosion in people using dating apps. Most people are able to work their way through the endless requests to connect by minimising the amount of information they give out, however, some fall for what to most of us would sound too good to be true. Dating scams are becoming more and more common, and whilst women tend to be the higher percentage of victims, men are also falling for this type of scam.
The average scenario is that two people ‘meet’ via a dating app. They meet physically and at some point, begin a relationship. It is apparent in most of these scenarios that the victim has money, or at least access to money via various means. The scammer will carefully pose questions and insert ideas into the conversations that are had between the two.
The scammer lavishes attention on their victim, sometimes buying gifts to cement the belief it is genuine. When, or if they meet it is always either at the victim’s property or a hotel/ restaurant etc. The victim can never go to the scammers’ house for one reason or another; building work, lives too far away and so on. On some occasion the victim and the scammer will not meet.
As the relationship progresses the scammer will start with asking for small amounts of money, usually for some innocuous reason, and always with a promise of it being paid back. Covid has provided a perfect way to maintain distance.
We have recently dealt with a client who was conned out of £15,000. The scam was quite elaborate, using fake passports, fake documents, email addresses and law firms. Pictures of the scammer were sent to the victim. One of these images was of him in hospital on a ventilator suffering severe effects of Covid. Unfortunately, the victim had already fallen foul of the scammer. Contacting us was a knee jerk reaction.
The victim contacted us and explained the scenario. Immediately it sounded to our experienced investigators like a scam. We requested that any contact information be sent to us so we could check the validity.
A passport scan was sent to us along with a series of ‘official’ letters and emails. The passport was quickly identified as a very good fake, but there were some obvious errors that if they had been known to the victim would have red flagged this scammer.
Simple checks on the passport identified the Sex and date of Birth did not match. The signature was wrong and some covert identifying marks were missing.
Emails that had been sent claiming money had been seized by customs were littered with spelling mistakes.
Whilst the scam was an elaborate one attention to the small details proved beyond doubt that the requests for information and money were fake.
Our client challenged the scammer who persisted quite remarkably and claimed to be the solicitor acting for the scammer who had died of Covid related complications. A further request for bank details to allow payment of estate monies was made by the scammer. They even went as far as providing a fake death certificate and claiming that the victim has been named as the legal guardian to the scammers child, which required the victim to send money for clothing, flights and accommodation until the ‘legalities’ were completed.
Warning signs of scams when online dating
The explosion in social media and online dating has led to new ways for con artists to work their trade. The “catfish” scam is one such way. Named such as it is all about exaggeration, untruths, and being farfetched, like the old fisherman’s tale.
It’s important to identify such scams before you become financially and emotionally involved.
People who spend a lot of time online tend to be more likely targets. This is because they are likely to have less of a social circle offline, although not always the case, some ‘professional’ people who have fallen victim to these scams say “I don’t have time to go dating, so dating sites let me sit at home and ‘shop’”. Online dating sites are prime hunting ground for catfish scams, as the people on them often don’t tell friends and family.
It is thought that 8 out of 10 profiles on some sites may be fake.
The old adage ‘everyone lies on their CV’ must ring true for dating profiles. Let’s face it, you are selling yourself, so you are going to embellish your attributes and omit the bits that don’t show you in a good light.
Remember, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
So, What Are the Warning Signs?
- Unusual Social Profiles
- Low number of friends
- Non-existent on social media
- Unusual profile pictures/look like a model/lack of identifying features for the location/or only “holiday” snaps
- No Friends and family
- Little content
Scammers tend to steal pictures from other people so have limited access to new ones
An easy way to check if these pictures are from the internet is to do a reverse image search
They want to develop the relationship quickly
Scammers ultimately want money; they won’t waste time in developing the relationship to the point of “loving” you, even though they’ve never met you.
- They will usually be the first to declare love.
- They will make statements and ask questions designed to assess your levels of sympathy/generosity/vulnerability. Claiming to have a dead spouse or child is a favoured way of judging how sympathetic someone is.
*We investigated a scammer who targeted a clients’ wife, claiming to have lost a child some years previously. After periods of surveillance and an investigation we found out that nothing the scammer had told our clients’ wife was true, including losing his daughter in a road traffic accident. *
- They may not know much about their career choice. Any questions will be responded to with quotes from search results.
- They may have little local knowledge of the areas they grew up in, work in, live in.
- Ask them questions, if answers are wrong or vague, or the questions deflected then the warning signs are there.
- They are online, but don’t know how to or can’t use things such as Facebook, twitter, skype etc.
Spelling and Grammar
- Scammers often claim to have good jobs and careers. As such they should have good language skills and be educated.
- Look for basic grammar errors.
- Poor use of language.
- Spelling mistakes.
- Many are based abroad and not using their native tongue
- Most will claim to travel a lot (usually makes a good excuse to be out of phone signal etc.).
- They will enjoy nice holidays.
- Usually adventurous or charitable.
- Will occasionally mention the “dead partner” an “accident” or such.
- A lot of interests. They will ensure they share an interest with you to build your trust.
- Catfish invariably have a great career, usually one that takes them abroad.
- Military is a favoured one as it allows claims of being in remote areas and unable to access phone or internet.
- Oil rig worker seems to also be an emerging trend. Usually in the Mexican Gulf.
- Whatever career they state will usually be well paid. Then when they ask for money it’s believable, they’ll pay it back on their return to the U.K.
- Africa, the Middle East, and the Gulf of Mexico are common areas.
- The aim of the Catfish scam is to get money.
- A disaster will usually befall the person just after they tell you they love you.
- An accident in a remote area, no access to their UK account and a need to pay medical bills.
- Think about your security for online banking, are they asking questions that could identify passwords and answers to security questions. (Where were you born/mother’s maiden name/ pets names etc.)
- Think, if they are such a great person, why don’t they have friends and family in the UK who can send money?
How Can A Private Investigator Help?
Whilst there are things you can do yourself, such as reverse image searches and looking for them on social media and such, a Private investigator will be more familiar with common scams and finding people.
You could hire a Private detective to search birth records, addresses and various databases for evidence to corroborate, and prove wrong, the story the suspected scammer tells you.