Have you been caught out by a romantic Scammer?
How can you spot a romantic scammer? The opening line is “Hello / Hi, How you doing today?”.
With the increase of social media more and more people are being contacted by romantic scammers. Some may not realise this is the case or not want to listen to any alarm bells. r
What is a romance scam?
Quote from Wikipedia: “ A romance scam is a confidence trick involving feigning romantic intentions towards a victim, gaining their affections, and then using that goodwill to commit fraud.”
Main characteristics of a romance scammers account
We want you to understand and recognise the characteristics so that you identify a romance scammer from the very start.
- We have noticed the Instagram account name normally ends in three or more digits.
- They will follow you and when you follow back, they will like every post on your Instagram account.
- Their own Images are uploaded on the same date rather than over a period of months, as you’d expect with a genuine account.
- You will also notice their account followers are of the same sex.
If you suspect you have been contacted by a romantic scammer we recommend you block them.
Helping you spot a romance scammer
The opening line of a potential scammer tends to be “Hello / Hi, How you doing today?”. Mind you, if any scammers read this post, this may change so be vigilant.
Do you think you have been contacted? Did alarms bells ring? Were you in a vulnerable place in your life and did not realise?
The purpose of this article is to bring awareness to men and women who eventually fit the criminal’s criteria. We would like to save you as an individual from emotional and financial loss, be it £50 or £45,000 … and the psychological impact that will follow once you learn the truth.
At the end of this article we have included resources to enable you to run your own checks, and websites for information regarding romance scams and real life identities stolen.
How does a romantic scammer assess you as a victim?
What are the initial questions that a scammer will ask you to assess if you are worthy of fraud?
- Your age
- Marital status
- How long have you been divorced, widowed or elderly to assess vulnerability
- Repeatedly ask if you have a romantic partner
- Women or men looking for love, so will ask if you have registered on a dating site.
- Employment status
They will find your weaknesses
What is the criminal’s scripted plan?
The criminal’s scripted plan is as follows:
- Instagram accounts are often set to private and follow middle aged men or women anywhere.
- Photos will be of attractive men or women to capture the attention of a wide audience and stolen from MySpace, Facebook etc
- Photos may be edited or cropped to avoid recognition on image search software so do not notify the scammer that you’ve found the person they have been personating simply because they will edit the image for the next scam.
- Once you follow them they will send you lots of private messages.
- Months of interaction learning more about you and offering only a snippet of themselves
- Manipulates and abuses the victim’s emotions
- Friends first then romance very quickly
- Need for emergency money
- He’ll appear romantic. Sympathetic, family-orientated.
- Female scammers may pretend to be male
- Male scammers may pretend to be female
- They will ‘like’ every one of your posts on Instagra
Please be aware:
Even if the images are showing parent and child, this does not make this person real. Identities can still be stolen from genuine people and used to make you feel safe. This also applies to text, it is easy to copy write text from a genuine post. We have proof of this.
We do not recommend that you investigate yourself - report and block
This article contains both messages and audio from the scammer that include asking for money, admitting that the identity he is impersonating was stolen. I was asked for photographs of my home, my vehicle of which we believe was to assess my financial worth. This was requested in a very subtle way because we mentioned painting a fence.
First-hand experience of becoming a romance scam ‘mark’ in May 2020
We have first-hand experience of becoming a potential victim of a romantic scammer.
Due to General Data Protection Regulation laws in the UK, we cannot include full names or social name media user names in this post. So we have adapted as follows:
- The Instagram Scammer: M******WIL***2**
- The victim of photo identity fraud: R***
How does the romance scammer draw you in?
His profile image shows a handsome man, portraying a professional such as a doctor, military, successful businessman, working away on an oil rig or model. Other images displayed might be him / her relaxing alone, with children or with friends.
The initial conversation will be ordinary chat. We chatted politely and thought no more about it at first.
The criminal’s first step had been successful. We were unaware we were being drawn into a web.
At this point the MGB team member believed it was a conversation with a flirty sexy man, and nothing more. The scammer continued reeling in his ‘mark’ …. we were unaware..
After this short conversation we realised that this was a romance scammer, and decided to involve ourselves to learn how scamming works and therefore gain an insight to help others protect themselves before it is too late.
Please, don’t take the risk. We completed this to help you. Anything undertaken in keeping in touch with the scammer was our decision and we do not recommend you do the same.
Being lured into a relationship is known as ‘catfishing’
Quote from Wikipedia: “Catfishing is defined as luring someone into a relationship by means of a fictional online persona. It is a deceptive activity where a person creates a sock-puppet presence or fake identity, usually targeting a specific victim for abuse or fraud. Catfishing is often employed for romantic scams on dating websites.”
BBC You Tube video about ‘catfishing.’
What initial impressions can you gain when contacted?
When you are in the initial stages of friendship the following may apply.
- Instagram message seemed friendly at first
- He seemed well-educated
- Vocabulary seemed consistent with the United States. (Eg ‘vacation’ and ‘pretty lady’
- Grammar appeared acceptable at first but deteriorated over time which we assume was because he was taken off script
Have you ever watched the American MTV Show ‘Catfish”? If you have not then this is a must watch. They have a TV show where people contact them to investigate into potential impersonators and it is shocking to realise then length that people go to in order to hide their real identity. This is not just romantic scammers online via Instagram this also relates to dating sites. So if you are thinking of joining a dating site it may be worth you watching this program.
Why does a scammer want to chat on WhatsApp or Google hangouts?
The scammer will ask to move the conversation away from Instagram. These will be WhatsApp and Google Hangouts.
The reason for moving the conversation from Instagram is because there is always a potential threat of having their account blocked and removed from Instagram.
Remember – you are not the only one he is ‘chatting’ romantically to.
What happens when the ‘mark’ agrees to chat on WhatsApp
MGB agreed to chat on WhatsApp and provided him with a mobile (cell) number BUT fully aware that we could block him on Iphone, WhatsApp and any other application if needed.
The mobile number provided to the scammer was only given due to research purposes.
Remember – Your mobile number can be location tracked by a scammer
Regarding the mobile number we used, we were fully aware our location could be traced by the scammer. So we at MGB decided to ‘turn the tables’. We used Infotracer.com to find where his telephone number was registered.
This information was obtained via infotracer.com for free.
- Oklahoma USA area code 580
- Tonkawa town
- The scammers number ends in 580 – *** – **35
- Landline phone used for point of contact
- Landline registered with Bandwidith.com
Looking at the above information it seems legitimate. But, think about it, the fraud element and deceit goes far deeper. Don’t forget, their main purpose is your money.
- He said he was an American Doctor
- Lived in the West
- Would need a telephone number that appeared American format
What are romance scammers marks known as?
In one particular country romance scammer marks are known as ‘advance fee 419 scam’. It is a horrible feeling that a member of MGB was tagged as this. Make sure this is not you.
Our responses to questions via WhatsApp
This is MGB’s response:
- Middle aged (this placed age between 45 to 65).
- Divorced 3 years
- Yes, single.
- MGB had to constantly reassurance the scammer there wasn’t another romantic involvement and as to why still single.
- MGB made it clear financial information would not be divulged.
How you will be lured with the promised love
Once the romantic scammer has accessed your weakness they will move onto the second stage. The second stage happens very quickly within 48 hours, with messages about love.
- Psychological luring you with virtual ‘gifts.’ He sent MGB gif images at night of the stars and in the morning roses.
At this stage MGB have changed to the status of the romantic scammer to a criminal scammer. MGB considered it was possibly a criminal network and not just a chancer.
Potentially more than one person working within this criminal network.
Third stage is luring you into his confidence
Once the criminal has identified you as a possibility for financial fraud and identified your weakness they will move onto the third stage. This stage will involve playing on your emotions.
What the criminal will tell you about himself
The criminals will attempt to give you peace of mind with their excelling in their profession. You will feel safe because he is from the West and it is common place for professionals to work abroad. They will lower your guard and pull on your heart strings by being a widow.
- His profession (in this case, a Orthopedic Doctor employed in India for 3 years)
- He is unhappy because he is away from home.
- He will originate from western countries.
- Normally grieving widow, to target your emotions.
Fourth stage of raising your hopes of meeting the man of your dreams
At this stage he felt confident enough to reach out. To the point of wanting to be close, meeting when he was on vacation.
Apply common sense and see the inconsistencies in grammar
Grammar faults are a key sign that all is not as it seems. We have errors such as the structure of a sentence, lack of knowledge about his profession with choice of words, and descriptions used inappropriately.
We appreciate that as a professional you will write in a more casual manner and predictive text has a life of its own. There will be major key indicators you are not in touch with who you think.
Change of path if he feels he is losing his ‘mark.’
In our case he was a grieving widower. When we mentioned that he may still need time to overcome the bereavement he suddenly was not the grieving widower he portrayed.
We decided to carry along with this charade and thought best to sound understanding.
For the record, we already knew the real name behind the Instagram images, the location of his telephone number and very soon we would know he wasn’t in India either.
Perhaps needing to feel he had not lost his mark, he diverted the conversation and took it to another level.
On the 11th May 2020, M******WIL***2** unexpectedly called. Unfortunately it was windy and we couldn’t pick up an accent. We heard an unusual accent, and the team member speaking to a possible criminal admits to having shaking hands. The call lasted a minute and ended with him saying he’ll call again.
It was time to find out the complete truth – and put an end to the communication between us. A friend of mine came up with a brilliant idea. A selfie taken in the present time.
In all honesty, if anyone was genuine they wouldn’t mind supplying a selfie with something you requested them to hold, to prove the image was taken in the present. When the excuses are given as to why they cannot, it is possible they have something to hide.
Then came the unbelievable and unrealistic excuses why he could not send a selfie.
But actually , M*******WIL***2** did send me a selfie. However, it took him approximately 35 minutes but his excuse was having to go to the ‘villagers’ near his ‘camp’ to ‘assist’ him with a ‘cell phone’ because his ‘got spoiled during an emergency surgery.’ To be honest we felt quite surprised that considering he is in a village, in the middle of nowhere they had internet access or mobile signal!
For privacy reasons we cannot include the two selfies of this man. We can tell you he sat in an immaculate office with contemporary minimalist design and white walls. It certainly appeared a very clean and modern camp.
Image showed a very thoughtful man looking at something … possibly a computer screen. The second image showed him waving (and appeared to be speaking) at the device he was accessing.
We then conducted our own search on the account on R*** account. It took us 20 minutes to find out where he had stolen the photograph.
The selfie the scammer sent was a screenshot from a video.
We received a video and photograph of him with a camel apparently being welcomed by the local people in India. However, they spoke Arabic and dressed in Morrocan fashion. These were confirmed as Morocco from R*** account.
How to reverse image scan photos you receive
There are ways to complete a search with public images as long as the scammer has not manipulated them. Google Image search finds more results. There is also a program called Tineye. Both are free. R*** image was located in a magazine article. This gave the name of the real doctor. And that his image had been used illegally on a dating app called TWOO.
Confronting the imposter
By this time we needed to get to the point and confront the imposter.
My scammer stopped messaging. But the next morning, he played another psychological move – another gif image and this time a yellow rose. We pushed for more information.
M******WIL***2** then admitted he was using a faking his identity, and our contact was about wanting money. As ‘love’ was unsuccessful, the scammer played the friends card.
So, to be clear, a scammer begins with love. When sensing his mark is slipping away, he moves onto meaningful friendship with a hint of becoming more if possible. And when realising these aren’t working, he plays the trump card – suicide. Clearly desperate, although I’m unsure why, on the 13th May he made two video calls . I did not answer. I think seeing the face of my scammer would be too much for me.
Transcript of 1st audio message from romantic scammer
“Hi Lesley, hi there um, it’s Michael, um, the one you’re talking to. The one whose says Dr R*** (laughs). It’s really funny doing this you know, it’s really funny doing this but I don’t want to say (Unable to understand what he said here.)”
Transcript of 2nd audio message from romantic scammer
“I’ll be happy if I can see your vehicle.”
If you listen carefully to the audio you can hear other people talking in the background. This leads us to believe he may be part of a criminal network, but this cannot be confirmed.
Audio 2 is currently being bleeped to remove names, this will be loaded to Facebook shortly.
Following the above we have blocked him. Then he video called twice at 10.59 am that day, which was our last contact from the romantic scammer.
Action taken by Mum Goes Barmie
Our motto is Trying What We Promote. We are promoting awareness and becoming alert to the dark side of life because it does exist and the most innocent person can become unintentionally a victim.
Instagram profile photos
- Instagram you can report impersonating a public figure or celebrity
- You cannot report the impersonation of an normal person
- The normal person has to report their own account with identification
- You are able to block and account
- Profile photos are not verified with the app system of taking a selfie to match your profile image. The dating app Bumble has this system.
- Instagram is apparently known as the No.1 criminal playground
M******WIL***2** Instagram account
We contacted his female followers to inform them that he was a romance scammer. We also sent a screenshot to the R*** informing him that his identity had been stolen and used to extort money from women.
General information that you may find useful if you have had contact with a scammer, or your identity stolen.
- Read CNBC – How I stopped someone impersonating me on instagram
- Scamwatch – Information about how romance scams work and what you should be aware of
- Scamwarners – Information about what you need to keep an eye on
- Romance Scam
- Infotracer – Allows you to check a telephone or mobile number
- Verispy – Database where you can find history including any arrests or warrants
- The Little Book of Big Scams
- Scamdigger /Tineye / Google – Reverse search on a image.
- Ourwatch – Details on romance scammers, also contact numbers if you are a victim
- Action Fraud – Victim support but also explains how money can be exhorted from you
- Action Fraud Police -For reporting any scams but for non urgent cases only