Since you probably are not the one who initiated contact (by clicking on the profile and sending a message), your first contact with them will likely be when the con artist send you a message wanting to meet you. Here are a few things to watch for:
They claim an instant attraction: If you get a message saying someone more or less fell for you the minute they read your profile, beware. They usually claim they read your great (sweet, caring, whatever) profile and that they saw how beautiful or cute you are look and they want to meet you, because you might be the one for them. Potential victims have been known to get messages saying they’re beautifuor handsome when they haven’t even posted a photo, and comments about being sweet and terrific when the text in their profile is practically empty.
Immediately asking you to instant message or email: This is a huge, huge red flag. If you get a message from someone you’ve never connected with before and they include their email and IM address, run fast. Anyone upstanding on a dating site will not push you into offline communication in their first message. Online scam artists almost always push for this right off the bat. The reasons are multiple:
- Better control over the conversation, and over you; they can instantly adapt to your responses and needs
- They work in shifts – this allows someone in their little business to ‘talk’ with you, 24/7
- They know they will get kicked off the site soon; this gives them a short window of time to lure a victim into the direct communication crucial for their scams
- Instant messages allow them to adapt their dialogue in ways that better entice the victim
The entire con job depends on being able to communicate with you directly, without going through the website. If you trade emails with them but you say you don’t do Instant Messaging, they may even go as far as creating an account for you and send you the username and password.
Instant messaging works better than emailing for these tricksters because they can create an air of immediacy and urgency, and they can lure you back to the conversation quickly. Emails are a first step if you don’t go for the request to IM, but those are more difficult scams for the con artists to manage, because they know you may read them right away, or hours or days later.
Phone contact: The con artist may or may not ask you to talk by phone. Some are quite good at pulling off the con job with no contact other than IM or email. This is especially important if they have a distinct accent that would tip you off that they aren’t who they’ve represented themselves to be.
Laying the groundwork for the con: This will likely be a family emergency of some sort, such as the ‘son’ or ‘elderly parent’ needing surgery. It can also be an agreement to meet you in person, at your expense. These people have no conscience – this is their industry; they’ve honed their skills and they’re good at it. Often, the con artist is very skilled at getting you to offer whatever they want; they don’t even need to ask for it, you volunteer it.
Family crisis scams: At some point, often fairly early, they will begin setting the stage for an emergency that only you (and your money) can solve. They generally don’t ask for money directly (although they can). Instead, they lay out a scenario that appeals to your sympathy. The son or elderly parent suddenly gets sick, and they send you messages with regular updates, clearly showing their anxiety. But the illness or the surgery they need isn’t covered by insurance. Or the only place that can perform the surgery is in another city, and they don’t have airfare to get there.
Note that these are quite often indirect strategies. They do not openly ask for money – they simply begin the sob story (carefully and slowly) to suck you in and get you to offer the help. You are presented with the opportunity, not the specific request, in many cases. If you fail to offer the help, they may get brazen enough to ask for it. But since they are actively pursuing other victims at the same time they’re conning you, why waste time going that far?
Travel cons: Another ploy is to woo and entice you to meet in person, but of course, you need to buy the tickets. They then cash in the tickets and take the money. Some victims have even been conned a second or their time by claims that the tickets were stolen or had to be cashed in for an emergency. The con artist will keep draining the victim as long as possible. The groundwork for travel cons involves you sending them money to buy tickets (or sending the actual tickets) with a plan to meet somewhere else. Obviously, the con won’t work if you travel to where they live (for one thing, they probably don’t really live there), because there would be no need to send them money for a ticket. There will be some reason they can’t meet you on their turf; they will agree to meet you somewhere else, but will not be able to afford the tickets for the trip.
Conning through business investments or purchases: Maybe their family business is in trouble – the elderly parent didn’t pay taxes right before they died and your new love will lose the business. Or they’ve got a great business that will take their entire family out of poverty, if only they have (pick a dollar amount) for licenses, government approval, plumbing in the building or some other expense.
Scamming money for debts or repairs: Con artists can introduce sad stories about debts they need to pay before they can marry someone, or car repairs they need in order to visit you or keep their job. They will claim they can’t leave the country until the debt is paid, or that they can’t leave their sickly relative without paying for health equipment they need.