Love is blind: single women are being conned by 'United Nations surgeons' and men by 'beautiful Instagram models'
Before Valentine's Day last year, Netflix released a documentary called The Tinder Swindler. Following a global uproar, dating platforms removed the profile of the film's scammer, Simon Leviev. But is online dating safer a year later? Probably not. Because for a lonely person, the desire to have a relationship and find love is often stronger than the ability to keep a cool head, and there are plenty of people who may want to take advantage of this.
Romance scammers on dating platforms and social networks are usually looking for not just single girls, but also mature women, though men too are sometimes caught up in their schemes.
Marijus Plančiūnas, Head of Information Systems at Paysera, says that women are being conned by people in supposedly prestigious professions, while men are being lured by pictures of beautiful women, even though in both cases it might be the same person on the other side of the screen.
“The stereotypical fraudster is ‘a doctor from the West’ or ‘a soldier’ working in a humanitarian mission in a Third World country. Working under extreme conditions is often a cover for fraudsters to justify the reason why they cannot make a video call and why they ask for money to be transferred to someone with a non-Western name. For example, last week a man transferred 100 EUR to a 'paediatrician in Syria' who needed money to 'relocate'. Fortunately, we were able to get the money back," says M. Plančiūnas.
Romantic scammers usually spend a lot of time talking to the person who is looking for love, and only after gaining their affection and trust do they eventually start asking for money, making up all sorts of stories.
“After weeks or months of interaction, suddenly something happens to the foreign 'doctor' or 'businessman' and they ask to send money for treatment or relocation. There have been cases where a scammer claimed to have sent a gift that was supposedly held up in customs, and therefore a customs duty now needs to be paid to a specified account. The fake stories can go on forever until months or years later the person realises that they have been scammed,” says M. Plančiūnas.
Scams can trick you into debt and encourage criminal behaviour
In some cases, victims fall under the spell of romantic scammers and start taking out loans, sending intimate photos of themselves, or, without realising it, becoming a 'money mule' by opening an account at the scammer's request and handing over control of the account to the scammer.
“Romance fraud is becoming more popular as social networks, dating sites, and messaging platforms have closed the distance between scammers and those looking for love online.
Meanwhile, transfers in euros can be carried out in a matter of seconds," says Plančiūnas. "Perpetrators of these crimes tend to manipulate people's feelings. Even when victims realise they have been conned, some individuals do not report it. It is difficult emotionally and mentally because they feel ashamed and afraid to talk about it. So if you have a loved one who is involved in an online relationship with a stranger, don't be afraid to ask if they've already met in person, warn them about romantic scammers, and the possible risks involved”.
Financial institutions suspend suspicious monetary transactions as a preventive measure, based on the information provided in Know your customer (KYC) questionnaires and by analysing the customer's past financial behaviour. Therefore, it is important that these questionnaires are updated in a timely manner and contain correct and relevant information in order to enhance customer security.
How to recognise a romantic scammer?
- Most often claims to be working in prestigious professions: doctor, businessman, military officer.
- Their photos online seem flawless.
- They work outside Europe, most commonly in humanitarian crisis areas.
- They come up with many reasons not to have a phone call and constantly postpone meetings in person.
- They ask to borrow money because something suddenly happened (e.g. they were helping children in Syria and the bank blocked their card).
- They send you a gift, but when it is not delivered, they ask you to pay customs duty.
- They ask for intimate photos (sometimes) or intimate videos.
- They ask to open an account and hand over control of it (e.g. because their account has been blocked unexpectedly by the bank).
What to do if you fall victim to a romance scam?
- Immediately inform your financial institution and the police about the scam.
- Cooperate. Financial institutions cannot disclose any information about you to your relatives or the media, so no one will find out what you have told them.
- If you are feeling anxious or distressed about the situation, we always recommend that you seek counselling.
Paysera is a fintech company that provides fast, convenient, and affordable financial and related services globally. We offer products ranging from a payment gateway for e-shops to money transfers, currency conversion, payment cards, an event ticketing platform, a parcel locker network (to be launched in 2021), and a top-notch finance management app.
Beginning our journey in 2004 in Vilnius, Lithuania, we are the first licensed e-money institution (EMI) in Lithuania, with 300 people working in 15 different cities worldwide. With over one million app installs and growing, we aim to push the boundaries and become an industry-leading super app that provides financial and lifestyle services across the globe.