Of all types of scammers and con artists out there, probably the worst are those who prey not on people's sense of greed (“Hey, gimme your bank info and I'll share the zillions of dollars I'm smuggling out of a foreign country”), but on people's nobler emotions and instincts.
There are the notorious “Grandma scams,” when scammers contact people and pretend to be a friend or relative who is in deep trouble and needs money to get out of it.
And particularly heartbreaking are the love scams, where con artists pretend a romantic interest in their victims before clearing out their bank accounts.
Last week, a 66-year-old divorcee in San Jose, Calif., who was looking for love on Christian Mingle wound up bilked out of half a million dollars—although, luckily for her, authorities in Turkey were able to recover $200,000 of it. Even that was a longshot, though — authorities put the chances of recovering the remaining $300,000 at less than 1 percent.
The following week, a 50-something widow in Winder, Georgia was taken in by a similar scam (though for many orders of magnitude less money): she met a man on an unnamed “Christian dating site” and he eventually asked her to lend him $8,000 for a new generator. She was luckily too skeptical (or broke) to send him the full amount — but she did wire him $500.
She is unlikely to get any of her money back — and until her next disability check comes in, she'll have difficulty paying her bills in the meantime.
Winder is a small town – a quick online search says its population in 2012 was less than 14,300 people – and yet, when its local news reported the story of a local woman cheated out of $500 through a dating site, the last line of that news story said this: “Winder police said they frequently get reports like this and there often is not much that can be done when money is transferred to a foreign bank account.”
Nothing to be done
Unfortunately, the police are right; there usually isn't anything they can do to recover money in such situations. But if police even in a tiny town like Winder “frequently” get such scam reports, think what that implies about the appalling frequency of such scam attempts overall!
Of course, such scams aren't limited to Christian dating sites, nor even to American ones; on the other side of the Atlantic, the Mirfield Reporter (UK) noted on Jan. 10 that “Honeytrap bride” Sidra Fatima, who used an Asian dating site to bilk British would-be suitors out of £35,000 (roughly $52,500), managed to avoid jailtime for her role in the scam.
Fatima's scam was more elaborate than the other two mentioned here: she actually met her would-be victims in person, pretending to be interested in marriage (even though she was already married, to her scam partner).
We can't offer any advice on how to find true love, let alone how long it takes before you should relax enough to say “I know, love and can trust this person.” Furthermore, other than “Don't mix business with pleasure” we have no idea how romantic couples ought to handle the tricky subject of one making a personal or business loan to the other. However, we will say this: if you've never so much as been in the same room with someone, you do not know them well enough to lend them money.
Following this rule wouldn't necessarily have been enough to save Fatima's victims from being cheated, but it would've helped the widow and the divorcee whose hearts and bank accounts were both stolen by some thieving date-site scammers last week.