Online dating is the theme of my second novel, Chatting as Adalee. Meeting people online has become increasingly common, making this both a relatable topic for a piece of art and a reality in our lives.
Much of the research I did for this novel was originally done for a now defunct online romance scam victims’ recovery group. The content is re-used with permission from the last remaining members.
The eight "red flags" of a scammer are featured on almost every web site and television show devoted to stopping online romance scammers. We should all know them by now, and once a target fully accepts the fact that they were scammed, they are easy to pinpoint. Looking back, many scam victims realize they did indeed see these common red flags, but made numerous excuses for the person they thought they were talking to.
Red Flag 1: The person tells you he or she loves you within days or weeks of meeting you online and has never met you offline.
"When you know, you just know.”
Things do move faster online, and there are people who have fallen in love online. This makes early declarations of love very convenient for scammers
If this were a real person truly interested in you, they would be willing to see if a relationship might develop naturally. Tell the person you absolutely will not make a commitment to anyone you haven't either met offline at least once or talked to online steadily for at least six months to a year.
Anyone who keeps pouring on the love talk, acts insulted or hurt, or vanishes suddenly is a scammer.
"Well maybe this person just has a crush on me and is a bit socially awkward."
While it is possible to develop a crush on someone you only know online, telling that person you love them and want to build a life with them after only talking to them briefly is simply not adult behavior. No real adult, no matter how socially awkward, would respond to a crush from an online community by making declarations of love and devotion. Anyone who tells you they are in love with you, devoted to you, etc before they’ve gotten to know you is trying to manipulate you, not flirt with you. Tell the person you are flattered they have a crush on you, then add that you absolutely will not make any type of declaration of devotion or promises of love to anyone you do not know well. If the person keeps insisting its love, acts like you've hurt their feelings, makes excuses why they can't meet, or disappears, it is a scammer.
Red Flag 2: The boyfriend or girlfriend has some connection to Nigeria, Ghana, or other country with a high concentration of scammers
"The whole nation or region can't be nothing but scammers. Maybe my boyfriend or girlfriend really does need to travel to this region for work."
It has become common knowledge that any mention of one of these nations is a definite sign of a romance scam. The person just wants you to be willing to send money to that country. Call the office of a professional in your community or nearest city who works in the same field as your online love. Ask them how many times they, or the people in their corporation, have been to Nigeria, Ghana, etc to perform the type of work your online love describes. For example, if your boyfriend claims he is a construction worker traveling to Ghana to help build a certain type of building there, call some construction companies and ask how common this type of work is. You will find these types of projects don't exist. Don't be swayed if the person has sent you photos or web pages devoted to the alleged project. Do a little more online and phone research. You will find that these photos or web sites actually belong to a completely different company or organization.
Note: This only applies to the Nigerian scam. It is possible that you are being scammed by an American scammer. In this case, Nigeria or Ghana will not be mentioned, and all their professional and location details will "check out." This does not mean you don't have a scammer. It just means you don't have a Nigerian scammer. Everything else in this article still applies to you.
Red Flag 3: The person's life does not seem to match up with the life they describe.
"Well, people are complex. Everything about a person doesn't fit into a neat character description. We like different things, get in moods, delve into topics, and deal with situations that come up."
Yes, it is possible for a guy with high class tastes to also enjoy a raunchy comedy movie from time to time, and a very busy executive may have gotten a few days off, but if the person's overall pattern of living does not mesh with the situation they describe, you are talking to a scammer. It is not possible for a person to have children who never interrupt the conversation or need to be bathed, fed, or otherwise cared for. People are not highly confident one minute and suffering from low self esteem the next. They are not wealthy today and of modest financial means the following evening. Get a journal. You can use a new document on your computer if you cannot afford to buy a notebook or don't want one lying around. Write down all of these gut feelings and twinges. You don't have to tell anyone about them, and please do not tell the online romance. Just keep them for yourself, and read them over at the end of each day. You will begin to see a strange pattern. This is a picture of a scammer forming.
Red Flag 4: Your online boyfriend or girlfriend asks you for money or drops strong hints that he or she is broke or struggling financially. Health, travel, or family problems are the cause.
"What's the big deal? Couples discuss finances. They also help each other out. Even good friends do that."
This is indeed true. That’s why it works so well for so many scammers.
Couples and friends may help each other out financially, but asking your boyfriend or girlfriend or any other individual for money...or hinting and waiting for an offer... is the least effective ways to deal with a crisis or need.
Somebody who really was in trouble in a foreign country would contact their nation's embassy or ask you to make the call. They wouldn't ask you to send cash that might be stolen on the way.
A person who really did need a laptop or cell phone for their child and could not afford it could speak to a company that offered a lifeline phone or an organization that donated computers to needy children. The phone would be available that day, or shipped to them much faster than it would take them to persuade you to send the phone and wait for it to arrive.
An American in financial distress can apply for several programs, both through the government and through non-profit organizations that would be much more likely to be able to meet his or her needs than a gift from a boyfriend or girlfriend living across the country or the world. Imagine you need food right now. What would be more likely to meet your immediate need in time for you to eat tonight, a trip to your local food bank and soup kitchen, or an email or text to your partner or friend who lives in L.A. and might not even see the message until tomorrow morning?
Tell the person that you never send any money to anyone in any circumstance, even if you and your friends regularly help each other out, or if you and your ex paid each others’ bills often. Next, offer to find and send the new online love the necessary paperwork or contact information for an outside source to meet their stated need. If they greet the offer with more excuses, it is likely to be a scam.
Red Flag 5: Your online boyfriend or girlfriend sends you small gifts such as flowers, candy or chocolate covered fruit, gift cards to your favorite store, teddy bears, or small pieces of jewelry.
"See? He isn't asking me for money. He's spending money on me. That proves he's real."
That is precisely what this person or group of people want you to think. Getting little tangible items from the person makes them seem more real. These gifts also serve as a way for scammers to verify your address with the goal of asking you to receive and reship packages for them that will turn out to be full of illegal materials. Your presents were also paid for by money stolen from other victims. Refuse to accept anything sent to you from anyone you do not know well.
Red Flag 6: The person is sometimes coherent, even eloquent and sometimes appears to have difficulty following the conversation. They say "back" when they haven't told you they were leaving the computer, can't remember things the two of you discussed yesterday, or use repeated lines.
"He is under a lot of stress. I am also not the only person in his life. He is probably talking to his mother or cousin or platonic friends via IM as well."
No matter how stressed we are, we can still speak our first language. Difficulty with a language the person has stated was their native language or a language they are fluent in is a sure sign of a Nigerian or Ghanian scammer.
Scammers from Nigeria, and from the US will use repeated lines to buy time when too many victims are online at once and they need to pretend each person is the only one they are talking to. Saying "back" when they haven't left your chat, not knowing what the two of you were just talking about, or missing large chunks of your dialogue are not signs of stress. These are signs that the person is struggling to keep up with all the victims he or she is juggling, or that someone else has taken a turn at the keyboard.
Real people will admit they are doing a lot of things online or talking to other people and they will tell you if a friend of theirs wants to use their account to say "hello." Ask the person flat out what they are doing and who else they are talking to. If they "hem and haw," act angry or insulted, blame computer problems, or suddenly have to go, they are talking to people they do not want you to know about.
Red Flag 7: They want you to keep the relationship completely secret, swear you won't tell anyone they asked you for favors or money, and/or want you to spend all of your time communicating with them and them alone.
"It's romantic. My boyfriend or girlfriend is just a very private person.”
Excessive secrecy, especially about money or favors, demanding you spend all your time talking to them, and behaving with extreme amounts of jealousy are nothing more than isolation and control tactics.
Asking your partner to give up contact with anyone they have been “romantically involved” with is reasonable, unless the two of them have kids together. Demanding that your partner stop talking to their parents, always platonic friends, children, siblings, extended family, acquaintances, or professional contacts is not.
The person who tries this is not trying to be romantic. They’re not jealous because they think you’re so attractive. They just don’t want you telling anyone else about the relationship because that person might point out the red flags of a scam.
Red Flag 8: Your online boyfriend/girlfriend/fiance resists meeting offline, or makes enthusiastic plans to meet that fail to materialize.
“These things happen. He must be in serious trouble if he can’t meet me.”
By now you probably noticed that a few of these situations are strikingly similar to things that could happen in completely genuine relationships. Yes, you could fall in love online. You could fall in love fast. You could help out a very real boyfriend or girlfriend…and you could get in an accident, miss a plane, have a family emergency come up, or be broke or sick or in school or in an inflexible work situation and be unable to travel.
It is still highly unlikely that someone who has fallen in love with you and decided to begin a relationship will be completely unavailable to meet you, and what are the odds that an emergency situation would occur right when the two of you are meant to meet….especially more than once?
Anyone who cannot even meet you once to take your relationship from strictly online to long distance, or who keeps experiencing “emergencies” that occur right when you plan to meet isn’t just horribly unlucky….they’re hiding something.