by Soraya Grant
Read the following short story, imagining yourself as the main character. Next, read each of the ten plot twists in bold font and ask yourself if it is a red flag or even a subtle warning sign that the person you are talking to is a scammer.
The story: You have decided to meet people online. You set up a profile on a few social networking sites, and join a chat room that seems to be mature but reasonably clean and free of fights. For the first couple months, you really enjoy your new online communities. You have a few people of the same gender you chat with regularly, and a couple opposite sex people are attractive to you, but of course they are just crushes for now.
One evening, after a particularly trying day, you meet "Chatone A" in the chat room. "A" sends you photos of a very attractive man/woman and says you are good looking too. The two of you get to know each other over the next couple of months, and exchange social networking site information in order to friend/follow each other. As you and "A" communicate, your new friend:
1. Talks about financial difficulties and asks for or hints for money:
Yes. There is no financial difficulty that can most efficiently be solved by having someone you know online send you money. Anyone who does this is attempting to set you up for a scam.
2. Tells you they have more than a crush on you. They've fallen in love:
Yes. It is possible to form some pretty strong friendships online, but it is not possible to know someone well enough to be sure you love them. Anyone who does this is attempting to scam you.
3. Always wants to talk about music, bands, and singers:
No. This is not a warning sign of a scam. It is a perfectly ordinary topic of conversation between friends.
4. Brags about their extensive collection of comic books:
Are you talking to a scammer?
No. Bragging is not pleasant, but it doesn't indicate a scammer. Some people are simply full of themselves. Others get nervous talking to new people and start chattering in a way that can come across as bragging.
5. Wants to engage in "sexting" or "cybersex:"
Maybe. Many scammers do try to get their victims to believe they are engaging in cybersex with an online love or crush. The scammer does this to make the victim believe the relationship is intimate, and because they think they can threaten to make it public and scare the victim into giving them more money later. On the other hand, a lot of completely real, genuine people go online for cyber "hookups." Proceed with caution, and never do anything sexual you do not want to do, with anyone.
6. Mentions an upcoming trip to Nigeria:
Yes. Any mention of Nigeria, Ghana, or any other nation known to have a high concentration of rings of scammers is a sure sign of a romance scam.
7. Expects you to change your daily schedule, cancel plans with offline friends, give up chats with online friends you've known longer, and miss out on work, hobbies, or necessary activities like errands and chores, to chat with them:
Probably. This isn't a guarantee that you are talking to a scammer, but scammers do work to disrupt their victims' eating and sleeping patterns and other daily routines. This is a common mind control tactic. It would be a good idea to back off from this person anyway. Even if they turn out to be genuine, attempting to control your life is a sign of an abusive individual.
8. Tells you they are a single parent of a twelve year old and a seven year old, but only has to leave your chat for an "emergency" once, and never has to ask you to hold on while they help with homework, prepare meals, enforce household rules, check on somebody playing upstairs or outside, or address a kid who is interrupting the chat. Chatone A also seems oddly unfamiliar with parenting issues you bring up:
Yes. A person who describes one life to you but appears to be leading a very different life is displaying a strong red flag of a scammer. Your new friend probably does not even have children, and if they do, they are probably not raising them alone. You can expect these children to feature in an upcoming story about health problems, money problems, or other "favors" your friend will ask you to solve.
9. Repeatedly says "I am the type of person who will never hurt you. You can trust me with anything:"
Yes. Repeated lines in a chat are a solid red flag. You may be talking to a Nigerian or other foreign scammer who does not really speak English and is cutting and pasting their dialogue from other web sites or other peoples' profiles. Both foreign and American scammers also use repeated lines to buy time when too many victims log on at once and they are having trouble keeping up.
10. Tells you all your opposite sex friends just want to sleep with you and are jealous of you and Chatone A, cuts down all your same sex friends, and tells you your family would never understand how special your relationship is:
Probably. Scammers use social isolation because it is a very easy mind control tactic. Once their voice is the only one you hear, they have no trouble getting you to believe everything they say. Completely genuine people who abuse their spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, and friends emotionally also use isolation. If someone is doing this to you, cut off all ties with them. Even if they turn out to be genuine, this is someone you do not want to be close to.