We’ve all done foolish things for romance. The exhilaration of discovering a new partner is one of the more exciting feelings in the human experience. However, this flutter of emotions can also drive us to distraction—so much so that reason and logic are often thrown out at its height.
It seems the online scammers of the world have realized this, if phony romance scams are any testament. Such “phomance” scams can sometimes go on for months, as the scammer slowly wins over the victim’s trust. These schemes generally lead to a request for money, under the guise that the scammer plans to visit. Ultimately, the meeting never occurs, the money is gone, and the victim is quite possibly left with nothing but a broken heart.
Fortunately many such scammers aren’t clever enough to achieve this final result, often giving away clear indications that they aren’t who they say they are. But by keeping an eye out for a few telltale signs, it isn’t hard to avoid playing the fool.
I recently received an email from an online dating site, notifying me that another member had sent me an email. At first look I took it for a gimmick intending to draw more members to the site. But it dawned on me that I had been to the site some months ago, created a bare-minimum profile (a requirement to look around), and then largely discarded it.
I was intrigued, not knowing the email’s underlying purpose offhand. Why, out of the multitude of members on the site, had this woman decided to contact me? Did I seem open-minded, having stated that my ideal partner would have “Any” hair/eye/body type? Was I mysterious due to my lack of a picture? Was it that we had “All of the above” in common when it came to the hobbies section? Obviously my skeleton of a personal ad was picked from the site for other purposes.
The email didn’t say much and her profile was not available for viewing. She claimed she didn’t have easy access to the dating site, and she included a Web-based email address where we could communicate further. This should be a red flag for anyone genuinely using an online dating site to meet people. These sites allow you to communicate with other members safely within the confines of the site, protecting your personal details until you’re comfortable enough to share them on your own terms.
I created a temporary Web-based email account of my own (also handy for protecting your anonymity) and sent her an email. I received a rather lengthy response the next morning, along with a picture.
Wow, is this girl gorgeous. I mean, we’re not just talking about the nice-looking cashier at the local supermarket sort of gorgeous, but the “I’ll wire her money just to take care of her sick puppy” gorgeous.
She’s a Russian nurse in her late 20s. In fairly broken English she explains that her Grandmother is Irish, and that she wants to meet an Irish man. This all sounds very plausible at face value, but the only problem is, I’m not Irish. I hate to disappoint her, but I explain this in my next email. Funnily enough, she doesn’t seem to care, or even notice. In fact, she’s still thrilled to meet someone Irish.
Our correspondence is quite one-sided, as the tone of her letters became more and more amorous. (Much quicker than any woman I’ve ever met.) She tells me of her family, her job, her dreams and wishes, but never really answers any questions put to her. Perhaps some of this could be explained away by language or cultural differences, but at one point I sent her a picture of a monkey. I wouldn’t recommend doing this when asked for a self portrait (as it’s the fast-track to creeping out potential mates), but my Russian lady didn’t bat an eye:
I know that the Irish men more concerns a life, to the woman and this main thing more seriously. I as to see through your letters that you treats kindly me and me really to pull to you...
So did she ultimately ask me to send her money? In my last email to her I asked if she could send me a photo of her holding a sign with my name on it. Requesting this, or a photo in a particular setting, is a good way to weed out the real from the fake in these situations. It’s entirely likely that the person in the photos is not involved in the scam at all, and their image has been lifted by the perpetrators.
It’s been a while now, and my Russian beauty seems to have stopped emailing me. Perhaps I spooked her/him/them with my request. Do I feel a sense of loss? Not really. During the time of our brief correspondence I receive three more inquiries about my profile: two more Russians and a German woman. It seems that there’s plenty more phish in the sea.