Dating sites, the primary place for online scammers
Debby Montgomery Johnson did not dare to tell that she had been scammed for more than a million dollars by the man with whom she thought, even at a distance, to build a love story, it was a taboo subject. A shame.
“It should never have happened to me”, tells AFP this American, former military, from her home in Florida, like many other victims of scams led by a false partner met online.
The pandemic with the successive confinements has developed scams to the romance, stemming from the applications of dating.
547 million dollars were plundered in 2021 in this type of business, estimated the U.S. Competition Authority (FTC). That is an increase of nearly 80% in one year, it is an enormous amount.
Over the last 5 years, it is more than 1.3 billion dollars have been declared in the United States, which makes it the largest category of scams identified by the U.S. agency.
But most cases are not reported, people are afraid to be considered as “headless scammers” says the FTC.
And then, “isolation, loneliness and the use of the Internet as the almost unique way of communicating” during the pandemic has played a determining role in swindling these lonely souls, says Tim McGuinness, founder of the dedicated association Scars.
One man told Silent Victim No More that health restrictions gave his pen pal a ready-made reason to stand her up.
“COVID benefited the scammers,” said the man, who paid about $400,000.
Attention around this type of fraud is growing, however, including through self-help groups or recently with the documentary “The Tinder Scammer” on Netflix.
Photo: Debby Montgomery Johnson
As soon as Debby Montgomery Johnson, in her sixties, realized she had lost more than a million dollars, she decided to tell the story of how she had been duped by the man she had felt very close to for two years.
She wrote a book and joined the team of the association Scars, in contact with some seven million victims since 2015.
“I was looking for a confidant,” she explains, having plunged into dating sites after the death of her husband.
It wasn’t like her to give money away as she did, she continues, but “he really resonated with me.”
“This is manipulation at an expert level,” says Tim McGuinness of Scars, himself a victim.
The exchanges “play out like a normal conversation, but they’ll use very specific manipulation techniques to initiate a hold.”
The logistical base of these love scammers is based in West Africa and they change into false identities that live and work abroad, sometimes military, thus opening the way for alibis later on.
As soon as the long-distance flirtation begins, the request for money transfers for air tickets, visas, medical expenses or other emergencies arrives, always with the promise of reimbursement once the money is collected.
Little risk, much benefit: with such advantages, scammers repeat this scenario not only on dating apps, but also through Instagram, or even online games.
“Online scammers are present on any space where you can start a conversation with someone,” Tim McGuinness believes.
Youth are not spared: according to the FTC, the number of Americans between the ages of 18 and 29 affected increased more than tenfold between 2017 and 2021.
Moreover the success of cryptocurrencies, such as bitcoin, also facilitates these deceptions by the opacity of the cash transfers they allow.
According to Tim McGuinness, younger people are being duped “more often and for smaller amounts,” while older people are losing larger sums, but less often.