American Romance Scams
by Soraya Grant
Most romance scams are carried out by organized gangs of criminals located in Nigeria, Ghana, or other west African nations. Countries of the former Soviet Union are also common locations for rings of foreign scammers. Some who study or fight against romance scams believe that these are the only types of romance scams that exist, but reality shows such as "Catfish" and the "Tall Hot Blonde" case reveal that many romance scams are carried out by Americans.
Most of the details of an American romance scam are identical to those of a foreign romance scam. The scammer will start with a base character, then use details you reveal on an online dating profile, social networking page, forum, or chat room to tailor that character to you. They will claim to fall in love with you very quickly and without ever meeting you offline. Once they believe they have you hooked, they will string you along, pretending to be in a relationship with you, but generating excuses when you ask them to meet you in person. You may notice that the details of their life seems inconsistent with their online and phone behavior. For example, they may claim they are a police officer on night shift, yet never be too tired to chat during the day when a real officer on nights would be asleep, or talk about having a teenage son but act confused or vague when you mention coping with your own teen's parent-teacher meetings, fads, or daily schedule. Repeated lines are also common, as the scammer may be talking to several people at once while pretending to only talk to one person. Stolen photos and/or invented descriptions are commonly used. It is also not uncommon for more than one person to be involved in the scam. The American scammer may have some friends or relatives who were in on the scam from the start, or they may talk someone else in to pretending to be them on the phone to cover up the fact that their gender, accent, or age is different from the character they are playing in order to run their scam.
Like the Nigerian scammers, American scammers will invent health problems, travel difficulties, family problems, and financial difficulties as reasons to avoid meeting and/or persuade you to send them gifts or money or do favors for them.. As with the Nigerian scam, if you accept and reship packages of illegal materials, take phone calls or answer emails that turn out to be related to drug deals, or deposit money in an account for someone who is engaged in illegal activity, you may still be charged and convicted of a crime. It is also impossible to get back any money you sent to someone in America because they talked you into giving it to them. Attempting to confront an American romance scammer is just as dangerous as attempting to confront a foreign romance scammer.
Despite these similarities, there are a few details of an American romance scam that may be different from one based overseas.
More Real Details May Be Used
The only detail of a Nigerian scam that isn't invented is the point when the victim is told their "love" is in Nigeria or Ghana. American scammers may mix in some more small pieces of reality. They might use their real name, details from online articles that mention them, such as a former spouse's obituary or a child's engagement announcement, or reveal their real workplace. This does not mean the person you talk to or the relationship is real. It just means it's easier for the scammers that way. It saves them the trouble of making up a story about why they can't take a personal check made out to their name when they take your money. American scammers may also not be as experienced as Nigerian scammers, and it could be easier for them to play characters based on themselves. Using a real name, and some real details from their life is also a manipulation tactic. They plant these details knowing you will research them online, see that what they are telling you "checks out," and trust them. Anyone who discovers they have been scammed by an American using his or her real name must remember not to mention the scammer's full real name anywhere online or if quoted as a source for an article about romance scams. Nobody is trying to coddle or protect the scammer.. This is done to make sure the scammer cannot sue the web site, victim, or publication for slander or libel.
The "Poor Grammar" Red Flag Does Not Apply
This is one red flag that is unique to the Nigerian or other foreign scams. The person you are actually talking to may speak very little English and will often cut and paste dialogue from different web pages or muddle through the conversation with incorrect English, using the excuse that they can't type well or have a sticky keyboard to explain it away if challenged. American scammers ' dialogue and notes may be as flawlessly written as those from the real people you talk to online. The absence of muddled English, often called "scammer grammar" does not mean you are not being scammed. It merely means you are being scammed by someone who speaks fluent English.
Requests for Money Are Often More Subtle
American scammers don't have the "I'm trapped in Ghana" story with all the made up taxes, fees, currency issues, and other completely invented reasons they need you to send your money right now. Their stories often take place entirely in America, and they know their victims will be aware of other ways to deal with the situation they describe. For example, if a scammer tells his victim he just lost his job, traveled to a strange city to interview for a new one, learned the job was a hoax, and is now stranded all weekend without the hotel room and food money the company promised, the victim will know he could go to a soup kitchen, food bank, church, or other local service organization for help. Some American scammers do boldly ask for money, but others drop increasingly strong hints until the victim offers them the money. One member of "Scams of the Heart" had an American scammer who planned an elaborate first date that would require him to travel and then began regaling her with tales of medical problems for him and his family, complained of being in a low paying job, and talked at length about struggling and being under stress until the victim offered to send money for his travel and for some of his bills to enable them to be together. The scam was nothing more than a subtle, Americanized twist on the classic Nigerian "I can't get to you without your money" scam.
The Scam Might Not be a Money Scam
Some American scams are copycat Nigerian scams, but other American scammers' goals are not financial. Many American scammers act out of a desire for revenge. They may be angry over some experiences from their past and get a kick out of messing with people the way people have messed with them. A man who has been rejected by a lot of women might create a male character, scam women, and feel he has gotten back at the female population in general when he emotionally manipulates and deceives a woman online. Some Americans set out to scam people they know as a form of punishment for something the person has done to them. This does not make the situation any less of a scam. It just removes the "asks or hints for money" warning sign.
The Victim May Not be as Readily Believed
Scams of the Heart welcomes and cares for victims of all types of romance scams. If somebody pretended to be a completely fake person or invented a fake version of him or herself, used that character to manipulate you into thinking you had a boyfriend or girlfriend, and then used you to unknowingly perform illegal activity, conned you into sending them money, or humiliated you for revenge, you will find hope here. This is not true of all groups of people, whether they meet online or offline. Some people might brush your scammer off as an ordinary everyday jerk and chime in with their own "bad relationship" or "crush who turned out to be a loser" story. In some cases the person means no harm. They honestly don't understand that a scammer, no matter where they live, is different than a bad date or bad relationship or marriage. Direct them to this web site to learn more about scamming, and answer their questions as honestly as you can. In other instances, the person you are trying to tell the story to is flat out being a jerk. Avoid fighting with these people. If you have just discovered you've been scammed, you do not need any more stress. It is far better to just bow out of the group or conversation and find genuine support. (If you're reading this, you found it).
It May be Harder for the Victim to Accept that It's a Scam
The more reality the scammer mixes in with their fiction, the more it can seem like you were in a real relationship with an actual human being. It may be a struggle to fully accept it that you never did have a girlfriend named "Jane Doe38" when you're looking at the web page of a real business that does indeed list a "Jane Doe38" as manager. It is probably hard not to look back and wonder how her brother is doing when you read a graduation announcement for a real kid in their local paper online, even if you have come to realize that kid never had the health problems his sister detailed in order to get your money. Whenever you are tempted to think a selection of real details makes a situation real, think of historical fiction. TC Boyle is particularly skilled at taking real historical figures or events and using them in his novels. Both Harvey Kellog and Alfred Kinsey have appeared as characters in his work. However, neither man was ever in any of the exact situations Boyle describes, they never said the words he uses as their dialogue, and most of the other people they interact with were invented by the author. Boyle's work is still fiction. The same holds true for your scam. Mixing a few real details into a scam is like sprinkling bakery sprinkles on a ceramic cupcake. It may have a few pieces of a real dessert, but it is still not a real dessert.