by Soraya Grant
The "red flags" of a scammer are featured on almost every web site and television show devoted to stopping online romance scammers. We should all know them by now, and once a target fully accepts the fact that they were scammed, they are easy to pinpoint. Looking back, many scam victims realize they did indeed see these seven common red flags, but made numerous excuses for the person they thought they were talking to.
Red Flag 1: The person tells you he or she loves you within days, weeks, or a couple months of meeting you online.
Excuse: "When you know you've found the one, you just know."
Breaking Through: If you only know someone online, you don't know them well enough to know you love them and you certainly don't know anyone you only met a few weeks or months ago well enough to make that determination. Even if it could happen, keeping a relationship strictly online, pressuring for a commitment, and acting hurt if the object of affection resists is not the way anyone would treat a person they genuinely loved. If this were a real person truly interested in you, they would want to meet you in a safe, respectful, public offline environment to learn all those little things that you can't learn online. They would be willing to see if a relationship might develop naturally. Tell the person you absolutely will not make a commitment to anyone you haven't met offline several times. Anyone who keeps pouring on the love talk, acts insulted or hurt, or vanishes suddenly is a scammer.
Excuse 2: "Well maybe this person just has a crush on me and is a bit socially awkward."
Breaking Through: While it is possible to develop a crush on someone you only know online, telling that person you love them and want to build a life with them is simply not adult behavior. No real adult, no matter how socially awkward, would respond to a crush from an online community by making declarations of love and devotion. Anyone who tells you they are in love with you, devoted to you, etc is trying to manipulate you, not flirt with you. Tell the person you are flattered they have a crush on you, then add that you absolutely will not make any type of declaration of devotion or promises of love to anyone you do not know well and haven't spent time with offline. If the person keeps insisting its love, acts like you've hurt their feelings, makes excuses why they can't meet, or disappears, it is a scammer.
Red Flag 2: The boyfriend or girlfriend has some connection to Nigeria, Ghana, or other country with a high concentration of scammers
Excuse: "The whole nation or region can't be nothing but scammers. Maybe my boyfriend or girlfriend really does need to travel to this region for work."
Breaking Through: It has become common knowledge that any mention of one of these nations is a definite sign of a romance scam. The person just wants you to be willing to send money to that country. Call the office of a professional in your community or nearest city who works in the same field as your online love. Ask them how many times they, or the people in their corporation, have been to Nigeria, Ghana, etc to perform the type of work your online love describes. For example, if your boyfriend claims he is a construction worker traveling to Ghana to help build a certain type of building there, call some construction companies and ask how common this type of work is. You will find these types of projects don't exist. Don't be swayed if the person has sent you photos or web pages devoted to the alleged project. Do a little more online and phone research. You will find that these photos or web sites actually belong to a completely different company or organization.
Note: This only applies to the Nigerian scam. It is possible that you are being scammed by an American scammer. In this case, Nigeria or Ghana will not be mentioned, and all their professional and location details will "check out." This does not mean you don't have a scammer. It just means you don't have a Nigerian scammer. Everything else in this article still applies to you.
Red Flag 3: The person's life does not seem to match up with the life they describe.
Excuse: "Well, people are complex. Everything about a person doesn't fit into a neat character description. We like different things, get in moods, delve into topics, and deal with situations that come up."
Breaking Through: Yes, it is possible for a guy with high class tastes to also enjoy a raunchy comedy movie from time to time, and a very busy executive may have gotten a few days off, but if the person's overall pattern of living does not mesh with the situation they describe, you are talking to a scammer. It is not possible for a person to have children who never interrupt the conversation or need to be bathed, fed, or otherwise cared for. People are not highly confident one minute and suffering from low self esteem the next. They are not wealthy today and of modest financial means the following evening. Get a journal. You can use a new document on your computer if you cannot afford to buy a notebook or don't want one lying around. Write down all of these gut feelings and twinges. You don't have to tell anyone about them, and please do not tell the online romance. Just keep them for yourself, and read them over at the end of each day. You will begin to see a strange pattern. This is a picture of a scammer forming.
Red Flag 4: Your online boyfriend or girlfriend asks you for money or drops strong hints that he or she is broke or struggling financially. Health, travel, or family problems are the cause.
Excuse: "What's the big deal? Couples discuss finances. They also help each other out. Even good friends do that."
Breaking Through: Asking your boyfriend or girlfriend or any other individual for money...or hinting and waiting for an offer... is the least effective ways to deal with a crisis or need. A million things could go wrong. Somebody who really was in trouble in a foreign country would contact their nation's embassy or ask you to make the call. They wouldn't ask you to send cash. A person who really did need a laptop or cell phone for their child and could not afford it could speak to a company that offered a lifeline phone or an organization that donated computers to needy children. An American in financial distress can apply for several programs, both through the government and through non-profit organizations that would be much more likely to be able to meet his or her needs than a gift from a boyfriend or girlfriend. Tell the person that you never send any money to anyone in any circumstance, and offer to find and send them the necessary paperwork or contact information for an outside source to meet their stated need instead. For example, if your girlfriend repeatedly tells you she can't feed her small child, offer to find the WIC office in her area and send her the contact email and number. Anyone who comes up with excuses why they can't use the resource and insists that only your money will save them is a scammer.
Red Flag 5: Your online boyfriend or girlfriend sends you small gifts such as flowers, candy or chocolate covered fruit, gift cards to your favorite store, teddy bears, or small pieces of jewelry.
Excuse: "See? He isn't asking me for money. He's spending money on me. That proves he's real."
Breaking Through: That is precisely what this person or group of people want you to think. Getting little tangible items from the person makes them seem more real. These gifts also serve as a way for scammers to verify your address with the goal of asking you to receive and reship packages for them that will turn out to be full of illegal materials. Your presents were also paid for by money stolen from other victims. Refuse to accept anything sent to you from anyone you do not know well and know offline.
Red Flag 6: The person is sometimes coherent, even eloquent and sometimes appears to have difficulty following the conversation. They say "back" when they haven't told you they were leaving the computer, can't remember things the two of you discussed yesterday, or use repeated lines.
Excuse: "He is under a lot of stress. I am also not the only person in his life. He is probably talking to his mother or cousin or platonic friends via IM as well."
Breaking Through: No matter how stressed we are, we can still speak our first language. Difficulty with a language the person has stated was their native language or a language they are fluent in is a sure sign of a Nigerian or Ghanian scammer. Scammers from Nigeria and from the US or wherever your native country is will use repeated lines to buy time when too many victims are online at once and they need to pretend each person is the only one they are talking to. Saying "back" when they haven't left your chat, not knowing what the two of you were just talking about, or missing large chunks of your dialogue are not signs of stress. These are signs that the person is struggling to keep up with all the victims he or she is juggling, or that someone else has taken a turn at the keyboard. Real people will admit they are doing a lot of things online or talking to other people and they will tell you if a friend of theirs wants to use their account to say "hello." Ask the person flat out what they are doing and who else they are talking to. If they "hem and haw," act angry or insulted, blame computer problems, or suddenly have to go, they are talking to people they do not want you to know about.
Red Flag 7: They want you to keep the relationship completely secret, swear you won't tell anyone they asked you for favors or money, and/or want you to spend all of your time communicating with them and them alone.
Excuse: "It's romantic. My boyfriend or girlfriend is just a very private person. We love spending time together."
Breaking Through: Excessive secrecy, especially about money or favors, demanding you spend all your time talking to them, and behaving with extreme amounts of jealousy are nothing more than isolation and control tactics. The person you are talking to doesn't want you around because they love you, or even like you. They don't care about you at all. They just don't want anyone else around you to point out any of these red flags or talk you out of sending money or accepting and reshipping packages for them. Refuse to keep anything beyond personal confidences that you would keep for any friend secret. Always tell somebody about any online relationships you enter into. If you are socially isolated and have no close friends or family members, tell a therapist or social worker. Never obey someone who forbids you to communicate with your family, or tells you who you can and cannot be friends with or talk to, online or off. Even if this were coming from a real person, these are emotionally abusive behaviors and should never be tolerated from anyone.