Losing a partner or going through a divorce can be a devastating and exhausting ordeal. As time passes and the dust settles, you may be considering (or already have started) online dating. You want to try to fill the void left by your previous spouse with the connection with another partner. Online dating can be a valuable option, allowing you to test the waters from the comfort of your home or phone, but unfortunately, there are those that prey on those in your situation, especially if you are widowed.
There has been a recent uptick in cases I've received with stories that are similar to the point of being uncanny: Client is widowed, (or divorced) and in their lonely state, try online dating. They check the "widowed' or "divorced" box on their dating profile and begin to feel out for matches. Someone contacts them, they kick it off, and things move fast. The match is usually foreign, which adds to the allure. The match is also widowed or divorced and the clients feel connected through their hardships. The match sends them songs, love poems, little "thinking of you" mementos. Everything seems to be going well, but then the match discusses devastating situations that have happened in their lives. They don't know how they are going to get by without extra financial support. They ask to borrow money from you; The big job they were boasting about before will pick up, they swear they'll pay you back. The clients feel for them: after all, they've been in tough situations themselves. The client sends off money, usually a very large sum, through a wire transfer, such as Western Union. Once everything is said and done, the match goes ghost. Stops replying to messages, phone calls, emails, Skype calls. Now they are not only left heartbroken but at a loss of a huge amount of capital. They come to us to try to find the scammer, to try to get their money back, and stop them so this doesn't happen to someone else.
To put it simply: money. Widows usually receive an inheritance and/or insurance payout from the deceased spouse. Even those who are divorced can be targets, despite many who have to pay for legal services, they can still get a big divorce settlement. Combine that with people who are in this type of situation are emotionally devastated and vulnerable, scammers have the perfect target to siphon money. These scammers specifically look for profiles that are listed as "widowed" or "divorced" and will be the ones to message you first.
Calls repeatedly go to voicemail or endlessly ring. Many scammers use apps or services to redirect several numbers (or burner numbers) back to their main phone to avoid giving out their real phone number. Scammers prefer to maintain contact through text or email.
Any answers seem generic or to a script. "Parroted" answers happen when the match asks a question, you answer, and you get an answer that would amount to "me too." While having a lot in common can be a sign of a good match, if almost every question or topic that comes up you both agree upon, they may be scamming you by manipulating you in establishing a connection. These answers may also come across as inconsistent with their profile or other social media profiles.
Some boast about their big jobs to try to attract you to their wealth. If they do, all too conveniently they lose their job or some other devastating event happens where they cannot pay the bills anymore. They ask if they can "borrow" some money to cover unforeseen expenses. These expenses can include rent, medical expenses for themselves or a loved one, money lost from theft or a failing business, or travel expenses to come to see you. These payments can be requested by them in the form of a wire transfer, transfer of assets, money order, prepaid card, gift cards, or e-currency. Don't believe that by paying them once that it will stop: scammers will only get more aggressive and come up with more stories to keep the cash flowing from you. Scammers will even resort to extortion over any compromising content you may have shared with them. (Also known as revenge porn or "sextortion")
Says "I love you" or "you're my soulmate" in a very short period of time, without having met you in person. This can happen within just a few emails or message exchanges. As mentioned earlier, they prefer to move you over to maintaining contact through a chat app or email to avoid being detected by online dating websites, who have protections in place in their message boxes.
Many scammers love to use poetry and love songs and send them over to you as a way to win you over. Back to the last point of moving quickly, they will shower you with flattery very early on even when they barely know you.
If your relationship is long-distance, scammers use that to their advantage as to why they can't meet. Even if you travel to where they claim to live, they always come up with an excuse for why they can't get together with you.
If you decline to "lend" money or suspect they are not what they seem, the scammer can become irate and make you feel guilty for accusing them or by not giving money. This usually results in them fabricating another situation that requires money. If you stand your ground on not giving money or you do send money to them, the scammer disappears, known as "ghosting", by no longer contacting you and replying to any messages or calls.
Overall, the best thing to practice is the old adage: If it's too good to be true, it probably is. Don't share personal or compromising photos or videos, which can be used as blackmail by scammers. Use Google Image Search to help confirm that the pictures they send or show in their profile are who they say they are and not a catfish account. (But be warned: basic Google Search and People Search services may not be enough or accurate.) Avoid giving out any personal information, (including credit card numbers, passwords, and addresses) and never give money to someone you met online. If you agree to meet in person, let a close friend or family know, and always meet in a public area.
If you are a victim of a dating scam, you need to do the following:
Change any bank information that was given to the scammer and see if there is any way the money can be traced, blocked, or returned to you. Unfortunately, there is a very high probability you will not get your money back, especially if it was done through a Western Union or e-currency.
Scammers like to double-dip: They can do a recovery scam, by claiming to be a police officer or legal professional, promising to help you recover the money and put the scammer in jail. They won't ask for money until after they "claim" to have arrested the scammer.
It is very likely that money has been taken from other victims, which would involve you in a money-laundering scheme.
Hire a private investigator to locate the scammer so you can hand the information to the proper authorities. (such as the FBI, who are unlikely to work with you unless you have a concrete lead on the scammer. Note that if the scammer is located internationally, unfortunately, there is not much that can be done to get your money back.)