“When someone is using a computer to hide behind, the hardest thing to find out is who they are.We can find out where in the world their computer is being used.“And once a victim becomes a victim, in that they send money, they will often be placed on what’s called a ‘sucker list,’ ” she said.“Their names and identities are shared with other criminals, and they may be targeted in the future.”To stay safe online, be careful what you post, because scammers can use that information against you.She even holds out hope that one day Charlie will repay her, as he promised to do so many times. there can’t be a man in this world that could be this horrible to have purposefully done what he’s done to me.” The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do.Otherwise, there is no doubt that he is a heartless criminal who robbed her and broke her heart—and who is almost certainly continuing to victimize other women in the same way.“I can’t even imagine a man, a person, that could be this bad,” she said. They spend hours honing their skills and sometimes keep journals on their victims to better understand how to manipulate and exploit them.“Behind the veil of romance, it’s a criminal enterprise like any other,” said Special Agent Christine Beining.Victims—predominantly older widowed or divorced women targeted by criminal groups usually from Nigeria—are, for the most part, computer literate and educated. And con artists know exactly how to exploit that vulnerability because potential victims freely post details about their lives and personalities on dating and social media sites.Trolling for victims online “is like throwing a fishing line,” said Special Agent Christine Beining, a veteran financial fraud investigator in the FBI’s Houston Division who has seen a substantial increase in the number of romance scam cases.
A part of her still wants to believe that Charlie is real and that their relationship was real—that the e-mail exchanges about church and the phone calls when they sang together and prayed together meant as much to him as they did to her.It is important for online users to be on the look-out for online dating and romance scams.It can happen like this: “Maria” signed up for an online dating service and was contacted by “Andrew,” who claimed to be an American overseas on business in Australia.Always use reputable websites, but assume that con artists are trolling even the most reputable dating and social media sites.