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Romance Scam Investigations

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Cybertrace Team

July 10, 2023 · 7 min read

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Are you worried that your perfect-sounding online date keeps making excuses why you can’t ever meet up IRL? Anxious that your besotted elderly parent has fallen for a con artist who is swindling them out of their money? Perhaps you’re concerned for your friend or co-worker whose suitor has proposed to them without having ever met in person? Unfortunately, you are right to be alarmed! While lots of genuine people are looking for love online, there are also plenty of clever romance scammers amongst them. Gaining your trust under a fake identity, these crooks pull your heart strings only to screw you out of your hard-earned money. Luckily, our professional romance scam investigations can identify the offenders behind fake profiles and help you get justice. Contact Cybertrace today to learn about your options to fight back against scammers and crooks. But first, let’s look at how a romance scam works.

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Online-Only Romance

Romance scammers are masters at psychological manipulation who leave you with nothing but a broken heart and an empty wallet. On social media, dating or gaming apps and websites, they use catfishing, or fake/stolen identities, to dazzle you. Once connected, they quickly move communications onto a more anonymous platform such as WhatsApp, Telegram, Google Chat or Skype. Crucially, these online paramours are somehow never able to meet you in person or even video-chat with you. While some come up with random excuses, most of them have a convincing cover story that supposedly inhibits face-to-face contact. For example, they might proclaim to work on an oil rig, in the military or as frequent international business travellers. Whatever the story, they “unfortunately” cannot ever meet you in person or chat via video. All our romance scam investigations confirm this same basic premise.

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The Perfect Match?

Just because they can’t meet you in person, however, doesn’t mean that they won’t worm their way into your heart. Using social media, romance scammers psychologically profile you to find out where you’re particularly vulnerable and become your “perfect match”. They might note that you support certain charities, have a penchant for travel or were betrayed by a previous partner. Whatever the case may be, they suddenly seem to magically mirror your own interests, values, and desire for commitment. By showering you with affection and making you feel special – aka love bombing – they seek to bypass your sceptical mind. Add their stunning pictures and undying declarations of love for you, and it seems like you’ve found the perfect match! Once they have gained your trust, however, prepare for an unexpected “emergency” and requests for money. This is the second common step that our romance scam investigations consistently identify.

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A Sudden Emergency

Suddenly, your online lover finds themselves in an unexpected “emergency”. For example, they might message you to say they are sick, hurt or in jail and need your urgent support. Importantly, this is the crucial bit where the romance scammers’ devious plan swings into action. Having won over your heart, they now appeal to your kindness, worry or generosity to help them out of “trouble”. Often, this happens through an interlocutor, say a “lawyer”, a “friend” or a “superior”, who provides you with banking instructions. After you have sent an initial bank transfer or cryptocurrency payment, there are desperate asks for more. Suddenly, a never-ending stream of additional requests emerges, all of which they of course promise to repay you, and you feel like holding their fate in your hands. Sadly, romance scam investigations reveal that the scammers simply keep going until you run out of money or become suspicious.

Variations on the Theme

While most romance scammers request money to help with non-existent “emergencies”, Cybertrace investigators have noticed two variations on this theme. In one variant of the scam, the fake online lover doesn’t ask for money but instead encourages you to invest. Promoting a cryptocurrency trading platform they allegedly had success with, the fraudsters entice you into a massive investment scam. As discussed in another blog, this type of romance baiting has resulted in victims losing their lifetime or retirement savings. Thankfully, our romance scam investigations can help you uncover this kind of fraud, too.

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A second pernicious variation on the romance scam is one that predominantly targets younger people between 18-29 years. Rather than requesting money or promoting seemingly lucrative crypto investments, scammers ask their online dates for explicit photos and videos. If you respond as asked, the offenders will blackmail you with their public or targeted release to friends or colleagues. Such sexual extortion is both terrifying for victims and simply another way to make money for criminals. If offenders have targeted you in this way, do not pay them any money as it won’t make a difference. Instead, our romance scam investigation can help you catch the crooks in flagrante.

What Damage Do Romance Scams Do?

When considering the negative impact of romance scams, there are of course the cold hard figures. In Australia, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) stated that reported losses from romance scams reached a whopping $210 million in 2022. Furthermore, the Federal Trade Commission confirmed that reported romance scam losses in the United States totalled a staggering $1.3 billion. But beyond the shocking financial havoc they can wreak, our romance scam investigations also reveal devastating emotional damage. By manipulating victims’ hearts and exploiting their desire for love, scammers leave you feeling duped, desperate and even suicidal. And experts believe we haven’t even seen the worst of it yet. With huge advances in AI (artificial intelligence), scammers can soon use thousands of trained chatbots to do the sweet-talking for them. In the face of this avalanche of scams, how can you protect yourself?

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How Can I Protect Myself from Romance Scams?

Luckily, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from romance scams, including heeding clear warning signs. These include someone wanting to immediately move from social media or a dating app to a more anonymous communication platform. In addition, if an online date won’t ever meet in person or video-chat, that’s a big no-no. Furthermore, if they seem too perfect, be cautious: try to find their socials, reverse-search their images, dig around a bit. Finally, if someone that you have never met in person asks you for money, that’s a huge red flag. Don’t do it! But what if you read this too late and the scammers have already got you, or someone close to you? Fortunately, our professional romance scam investigations can help you uncover the crooks.

How Can Romance Scam Investigations Help Me?

Cybertrace’s experienced investigators have developed their expertise by conducting dozens of successful romance scam investigations over the years. As pioneers in cryptocurrency tracing, website forensics and social media investigation, we have a comprehensive technical toolkit at our disposal. As global leaders in cyber fraud investigations, we have identified scam culprits and beneficiaries in Australia and around the world. And even when a romance scam investigation didn’t reveal the identity of an offender, in 99% of cases we have been able to produce valuable intelligence that our clients have taken to the police, their lawyers or to confront the perpetrators directly. So, if the romance scammers have gotten you or your loved ones, don’t despair – get even! Contact Cybertrace today to discuss your options and turn the tables on scammers.

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