Online Romance Scams

Online crimes of all kind have increased in recent years and are expected to increase significantly in the future too. The use of the Internet for fraud and scams in particular has increased in recent years. One especially problematic feature of online crime is that crimes and criminals alike can cross national boundaries without any problem. An online criminal can be an individual working alone or they can be part of an organised crime syndicate. They are experts in covering their tracks online, which can make the crime difficult to solve.

Romance scams and dating scams are crimes in which anyone can easily become a target. The perpetrators are usually very skilful in both psychological manipulation and in using online technology. They are unscrupulous in their exploitation of the natural human need for companionship and a loved one. In the early stages of a romance scam, it can be very difficult to tell whether the initiated contact is genuine or whether it is indeed a scam being perpetrated by a professional criminal.

Typical features of romance scams

  • The victim is usually contacted through social media.
  • Soon after the initial contact, the scammer says they want to share a future in Finland, a country they seem to know already quite well. Plans to visit Finland, however, often come to nothing because of unfortunate circumstances.
  • There is almost always some reason that video calls with the scammer are not possible.
  • Often the scammer has come into an inheritance or a large sum of money for some other reason.
  • One common aspect of these scams is that the scammer wants to send a large sum of money to the dating partner, but the partner first has to send money to the scammer so that the transfer can be completed.
  • Often the scammer wants the money to be sent to some other person’s bank, not to the scammer directly. Requests for money can also involve some emergency, such as hospital expenses, the payment of wages in a company they own, customs tariffs, unemployment, divorce, or the death of a close person.
  • Requests for money can be repeated many times, and the scammer may show receipts or other official documents in support of the cause. The scammer may also have other people who will prove the authenticity of the situation. It is not unheard of that the victim is contacted by a bank clerk, customs official or doctor acting on behalf of the scammer. Emails can come from all sorts of addresses, although the most commonly used address format is firstname.lastname@companyname.com.
  • The scammer will also blame the victim if they are unable or unwilling to make the required money transfer.
  • The scammer will often offer proof of their reliability by, for instance, sending pictures of themselves in which they appear with animals or children or at some workplace that inspires trust. The scammer may also provide links to the website of their company. The scammer usually says they are well off, have a good job and are in good physical condition.
  • The scammer is very good at refuting any doubts one may have about them.

Do you think you may have been a victim of a romance scam?

Have you been scammed or do you suspect you may have been the victim of a romance scam?

  • Do not send any more money to anyone,
  • get in touch with your bank,
  • report the scammer to the police, and
  • discuss your situation with Victim Support Finland. Services | Contact information

Love scam, dating scam, romance scam

This story shows the typical way a romance scam or a romance scam unfolds.

Maija, 55, was divorced several years ago. One night when she logged on to Facebook, there was a message from Neal from America. He introduced himself and hoped she would reply to him. They started to engage in regular contact using email, WhatsApp and telephone. A couple of months after the first message, Neal called Maija and said he was at a construction site in Britain. There was some problem with the company’s bank account and they urgently needed to pay their employees. Maija promised to lend the money; after all, the company and its CEO, Neal, were both quite stable financially.

To be sure, Neal sent Maija a scan of a bank draft showing that the company had over 400,000 dollars in its checking account. The first few instances, Maija lent him 2,000 euros at a time, but due to new problems and government fees, the requests for money became more frequent and the sums became bigger. The online banking system worked smoothly, and soon 50,000 euros had been transferred to private individuals in Italy and Great Britain.

Maija’s bank noted the transfers, and their fraud unit took a closer look at her case. The bank contacted Maija, and she emailed them a picture of Neal’s passport and other documents. The bank soon found the company’s professional-looking website with presentations of their key personnel. However, image searches and closer investigation revealed some oddities, such as Neal’s photograph being used as the profile photo of another person.

The same format had been used to create websites for several other companies as well. They had not even bothered to modify the text on the pages.

The scam came as a surprise to Maija. She was soon convinced of the matter and stopped sending money to the scammer. Although the financial damages were large, she had not lost all her assets or taken a loan from the bank or friends.

The next day the bank discovered that another of their customers had paid 2,500 euros to the same bank account in Italy. This time they managed to intervene and the money was returned to the customer’s account. When the bank called the customer, they were surprised and grateful that the bank had been able to prevent the scam before any money had been sent.

Did you know that

  • 90 percent of romance scam victims are women. Nearly all victims are 45–74 years of age.
  • About half of all victims have initially been contacted on Facebook.
  • The others have been contacted through dating sites and chatrooms.
  • Nearly all victims live alone.
  • The first request for money nearly always follows a few months of emailing and messaging.