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According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), online romance or confidence scams are a fast-growing type of Internet crime.
More than 14,500 Americans fell victim to this kind of scam in 2016, up from fewer than 6,000 in 2014.
The victims are often happy to pay because they think helping out their love interest will make it easier for them to finally meet in person.
Instead, the scammer continues to string the victim along with more requests for money, sometimes keeping up the fraud for years.
Some of them are career criminals, but many are college students with low incomes looking for extra cash.
In Nigeria, many of these fraudsters – known as “Yahoo boys” after the Internet portal Yahoo – have grown very rich, buying multiple houses, fancy cars, and expensive jewelry with the proceeds of their crimes.
Sometimes, they use fake names and stock photos; in other cases, they steal real people’s names, images, and personal information.
He needed money in a hurry or he’d be thrown out of the country just a few months shy of earning his degree.
Candace wired him the small sum without hesitation – but when he contacted her a few weeks later saying he needed a much bigger sum to pay legal bills, she realized she was being scammed.
Some of the most successful scammers have extracted tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars from a single victim. Barb Sluppik, who runs the watchdog site Romance Scams.org, says in an interview with Consumer Reports that she’s worked with “men and women of all ages – doctors and lawyers, CEOs of companies, people from the entertainment industry – who you’d never think in a million years would fall for these scams but do.” Even celebrities aren’t immune, as the world learned in 2012 when Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o discovered he’d spent two years in an online relationship with a woman who never existed.
However, some people are more likely to be targeted than others. Jones, had not only his image but his entire identity stolen by scammers.