Many people once believed that all scams came from Nigeria or a country in that region or from the former U.S.S.R. The television show "Catfish" features scams run entirely by Americans. Reality is right down the middle; most internet romance scams do originate in countries with large scammer rings, but there are plenty of Americans, and citizens of other nations, who are perfectly willing and able to scam people in their own, or a nearby country. All scams are basically the same: someone, either individually or in a group, pretends to be a different person online with the goal of tricking those they meet into believing they are in a romantic relationship with them for the scammer's own purposes. Most of the time the real goal is money, but scammers also work to trick people into doing illegal errands for them and for revenge. But while the same thing happens to the victims, the red flags may look slightly different for each type of scam.
#1: The online crush or friend says "I love you," says they feel a connection, or wants to be your boyfriend/girlfriend/partner/fiancee after only knowing you for a few days, weeks, or a month or two online and over the phone.
When this happens, you can be almost a hundred per cent sure you are talking to a scammer. It looks virtually identical across all types of scams; someone you only know well enough to call a casual friend is telling you they are in love with you and want to be with you. The first time it happens to you, it feels like a miracle, or at least immensely flattering. Sadly, everyone who has ever been scammed has heard some version of it. It is nothing more than a line from the standard scammer script.
#2: Your online love mentions an upcoming or current trip to Nigeria, Ghana, Malaysia, or a country in the former U.S.S.R.
This is the one red flag that is completely unique to Nigerian scammers. The minute someone online mentions some type of travel to Nigeria or any other country known to have large organized scam rings, you can be sure you are being targeted for the Nigerian scam. It may seem strange that they would even admit to really being in Nigeria, but remember, Nigerian scams operate to make money, and Nigeria (or the country they talk about) is where they want you to send the money. That said, American, or other "domestic" scammers DO have a version of this. A scammer from your own country who is after money may give you his or her real name, and a few real details they know you could easily look up online under that name. Like the Nigerian scammer, this type of scammer wants to make it as easy as he or she can to get your money, and in the U.S., having you send them a personal check made out to the name on their account would be the easiest way to do that. Scammers from your own country who are just out for revenge may not display this red flag simply because they are not trying to get you to send them anything.
#3: The person drops hints that they could really use some money or is in need of an expensive item they can't afford, or asks you outright to send them money or gifts.
Nigerian scammers typically do this in the form of an elaborate story unfolding around difficulty getting home from a business trip to Nigeria, Ghana, etc. Scammers are always willing to tailor their stories to each victim, but claiming that the employer they came to Nigeria to work for is withholding their pay, or that there is some type of banking mixup is common. They will then ask you or hint they would like you to send them the money for a hotel for a few days, some food, and a ticket home to you. Another common storyline revolves around children, family, and health. In these scenarios, the scammer might hint or ask for money for medical bills, school expenses for their child, help in caring for an ill parent or grandparent, and money for food or other basic expenses for their house. The more money or gifts you send, the more tragedies befall the person, each with your money or purchase being the one thing that will save them. American money scammers may also weave elaborate tales, but they tend to be a bit more subtle in their hints. They will often complain about being broke or needing things right after talking about how much they love you, want to be with you, or can't wait to see you, or bring up the subject of their financial problems in the middle of talking about your first offline meeting. Regardless of the details of the story, at its core, the person will be telling you that they want to meet up with you and be with you offline, but some type of issue that could be solved by an expensive gift or some money is standing in the way. This is done to make the victim feel they owe it to the person and to their own future happiness to send the online love the things they need, including money. Note: This is the ONE red flag that will be absent if you are being scammed by someone in your own country for revenge. Their goal is not to get anything from you, but to cause emotional pain, so they will not ask or hint for things. They will, however, borrow a page from the Nigerian scam "playbook" and invent a series of tragedies to avoid meeting you offline.
#4: The person appears to have language difficulties. You pass it off as bad typing or social awkwardness, but you can't help noticing it.
Nigerian scammers often barely speak English. You will notice very poor grammar and grasp of the language, such as "i love yoos" or "i wish for us to be as one together" or "I want relationship but with someone like you because you are nice person." This is often interspersed with long, perfectly typed paragraphs that vary in tone. The well written words will have been copied and pasted from other web sites. Repeated lines are common. American and other domestic scammers will have no trouble speaking English, but they will rely on repeated lines and phrases. This is done to buy them time while they think of the next thing to say to reel their victims in. If the American scammer is after money or a general sense of revenge on people, they will be targeting multiple victims at once and may also need to pause with one target to focus on another.
#5: Your online partner does not appear to be living the life he or she describes.
This red flag often appears in a variety of forms, among all types of scammers. Nigerian/Ghanan scammers may make more glaring errors than American scammers. They might seem confused when you mention a famous landmark or not realize the President was on television last night the morning after a state of the union address, despite claiming to be from the United States and interested in politics. Nigerian scammers always use stolen photos, and they sometimes make errors in their selections. They might send you a photo they claim is "me and my sister on our trip to New York last year" that seems real until you notice the Canadian flag on the pole in the background.
American scammers will typically know better than to make these types of mistakes, but they will often give other clues that they are living a different life than the one they describe, such as claiming they are at work in a law office every evening, but always knowing the details of what was on television and seeming very well rested for a person who was working so late or claiming to be a psychologist but having no insight into mental health questions beyond what you could have gotten yourself by reading articles online. Scammers of all types often use fake versions of their real children, or completely invented children, as an excuse to seek money, and as a way to manipulate their targets' emotions further. You might notice that children they claim to be raising alone never or almost never interrupt the chat or phone call, or that a child who is supposedly too sick to get out of bed much is running around in the background all the time.
#6: The person reminds you a lot of yourself and/ or of someone you have mentioned in emails, chat, or on your web site profile.
Regardless of where they operate from or what their true goal is, scammers are going to try to brainwash you into believing you have found your ideal match. This one can be difficult to see, because we always look for people who are a good match for us as both partners and friends. Most of us wouldn't keep up a friendship with someone we couldn't relate to in any way. But it becomes a red flag when the match is a little too perfect, or when it appears to be based entirely on details they could easily gleen from the web site where you met and your pages they can see. You talk about having an innocent crush on a married friend who is the opposite political party from you and loves Italian food and knowing another attractive man or woman who is from Seattle and used to be in a band, and your new online friend wants to engage in friendly banter about politics, says your first date is going to be at the Olive Garden, and wants to have long discussions about 90's grunge rock. You met them on Facebook and when they describe their ideal home and it sounds exactly like the one you have on your connected Pinterest page. You talk about wishing you had a large amount of money because you love travel and designer clothing, and they have a sister who works at Barney's and know how to get the best deals on luxury hotels. This will play out in a similar manner across the different types of scams. Any time you find yourself amazed at a similarity or charmed by a detail, step back and ask yourself "Is this something they could have learned I like from our chats, our emails, my profile, my Facebook or Pinterest page, or my dialogue in the main room of a chatroom?" If your answer is "yes" or "probably" then it is a red flag.
#7: Your online boyfriend or girlfriend seems to want to isolate you and/or keep you occupied.
Isolating a partner and keeping the person entirely focused on doing what the other person wants is a form of emotional abuse. Even if none of the other red flags are present, if you have begun dating someone, online or off, who demands that you spend all your time doing their chores or errands, tells you who you can and cannot be friends with or talk to (or throws a fit/pretends to be distraught in order to control your behavior), and monitors and spies on you, you have met an abuser and need to get away from this person as quickly as possible. If you see other red flags along with this one, then you are dealing with a scammer who is trying to isolate you and keep you occupied as a way to prevent the scam from being discovered and test your compliance to future demands. This is another red flag that will look pretty much the same across the different types of scams. The scammer does this to keep your mind focused on them and occupied so that you do not discuss the red flags with others or have time to sit and think about the situation and notice the red flags for yourself. Whether the scammer is from a Nigerian or other foreign scam ring, an American or resident of your country who decided to copycat the Nigerian scam, or an American scammer out for revenge, they do not want to be discovered as a scammer. They do want to make sure you will believe what they say and do as they wish. Scammers may persuade you to research jobs in their real or invented hometown, get you involved in reading or researching something for the two of you to discuss, lead you to plan a wedding, choose and design a home for the "two of you" to live in, or look into educational programs online so you can have a new career.