Joyce, of Brooklyn, N.Y., met who she thought was the “perfect man” on Match.com. From New York, like her, he had a wonderful profile and “model” good looks. Though they had never met in person, romance quickly blossomed.
“He told me he is a sergeant in the army and is in Iraq,” Joyce told ConsumerAffairs.com. “This went on for a month; the romancing, the love letters and texts and instant messages. Then, he couldn't come home as planned since he was going to Afghanistan.”
But the man told Joyce he had a very special gift for her that would arrive by U.S. Army courier. He sent Joyce the contact information for the courier, with instructions to email him when he arrived in the States.
But the courier called Joyce first. He was stuck at at airport in Ghana and could not leave the country without a special stamp that cost $3,000. Could Joyce send the money?
Her heart broken, Joyce hung up the phone, realizing immediately that there was no man in love with her, only a scammer trying to steal $3,000.
Joyce was lucky
Despite the heartache, Joyce is lucky she saw the scam for what it was before she had sent thousands of dollars to a stranger. Others aren't so fortunate.
A British study, led by researchers at the University of Leicester, reveals that over 200,000 people living in Britain may have fallen victim to online romance scams – far more than had been previously estimated. The study is believed to be the first formal academic analysis to measure the scale of this growing problem.
In the online romance scam criminals set up fake identities using stolen photographs - often of models or army officers - and pretend to develop a romantic relationship with their victim. This is often done using online dating sites and social networking sites.
At some point during the relationship they pretend to be in urgent need of money and ask for help. Many victims have been persuaded to part with large sums of money before their suspicions are aroused.
Researchers found that 52 percent of people surveyed online had heard of the online romance scam when it was explained to them, and that one in every 50 online adults know someone personally who had fallen victim to it.
"Our data suggests that the numbers of British victims of this relatively new crime is much higher than reported incidents would suggest,” said Monica Whitty, co-author of the study. “It also confirms law enforcement suspicions that this is an under-reported crime, and thus more serious than first thought.”
The British study would also suggest that there are hundreds of thousand of U.S. victims as well. Law enforcement officials caution anyone using an online dating site to be very careful in dealing with people you know only through written communication.
Keep in mind that scammers will spend weeks – even months – setting up their victims until they feel the time is right to ask for money.