How to Spot an Internet Scam

Numerous, ever-evolving online scams are a contemporary plague. Luckily there’s also plenty of advice on how best to avoid falling victim to phishing, identity theft, fake blackmail, fake lottery wins, guaranteed bank loans, travel scams…

One of the most common scams these days is the “Romance scam”, due largely to the breakdown of the stigma once associated with internet dating. I read recently that fifteen percent of all Australians are on Tinder (one in five of all Australian adults). The emergence of dating sites boasting memberships in the tens (or hundreds) of millions has seen a corresponding influx of countless small-time opportunistic scumbags – the lowest form of cyber criminal.

Luckily, most of these idiots are just that – transparent as glass and subtle as wrecking balls, seemingly working from from the same tired scammer’s playbook written about five minutes after the invention of the internet. The sheer number of people attempting this scam suggests however that it remains profitable, and I know people personally who have admitted falling victim.

Oh, that reminds me! I have a stunning new American girlfriend, and she is coming to my country to marry me! I met her online last night and she loves me.

My new American girlfriend, "Kathy"
My new American girlfriend, “Kathy”

Okay, so… scammer alert number one. If supermodels/movie-star hunks fail to fall at your feet in the real world, it is perhaps wise to ask yourself why the online world should be any different. It isn’t. If a criminally attractive person says hi, falls in love with you almost immediately (for no particular reason), then promises to come to you… there is a 100% chance that this person is a scammer. Sorry, that’s just how it is.

Many young women like this are looking for balding middle-aged guys on the other side of the world... luckily for me.
Increasing numbers of young women like “Kathy” here are going online seeking balding middle-aged guys on the other side of the world. They have reached out to me a few times.

Like most, this scam is simple. Basically, a very attractive person has suddenly fallen for you for some reason… and s/he wants to come to be with you. At the last minute there will be a couple of minor issues at their end, and your new lover/fiance will need just a bit of financial help to cover the cost of their plane ticket.

Don’t ever, for any reason, indulge anyone on a social network/dating site who mentions money. It is a scam. Of course, if you require further proof, check their profile.

If your love interest’s dating profile was created in the last few days and contains only one photo, this is (usually) a scammer. If the photo resembles a professional photo shoot of a professional model, this is a scammer.

Be especially wary of anyone claiming to be on a peacekeeping mission in the Middle East or North Africa. For women, be wary of profiles of men in military uniform. This is a scammer.

Be wary of anyone who contacts you and almost immediately suggests switching to a different platform, such as Whatsapp or Google Hangouts, so you can have a “better” chat. This is a scammer.

Don’t click on any links to other sites, but feel free to have a conversation (remember, they are only after your money, but can only get it if you allow them). If they claim to be from USA or England, but make simple grammatical errors, this is a scammer (many people have difficulty with spelling, but nobody mistakes the basic grammar of their native language. It simply doesn’t happen).

Take two minutes to Google search their (fake) location, and ask them a few questions about it. The scammer will usually be completely clueless, having done precisely zero research on where they are pretending to be.

Just for fun, say something absurd. The scammer will almost never notice.

Internet scams

Try conducting a reverse image search. This can provide information on peoples’ (photographs) true identities or where a photo was originally published. This is quite easy and there are many websites explaining how. A one-minute reverse image search revealed that “Kathy” is actually the famous Mexican sports reporter Jimena Sanchez, sometimes referred to as the Mexican Kim Kardashian.

Conversations with online scammers

More precisely, my sexy new girlfriend is statistically likely to be from West Africa or Eastern Europe, and male, pretending to be an American woman, using stolen photos of famous Mexican sports reporter Jimena Sanchez.

This is of course just one of many equally simple (and usually appallingly executed) scams. I have chatted with several people attempting the Fake Escort, the Fake Gold Merchant and the infamous Nigerian 419 (the old email scam where somebody has millions of dollars, and for some unexplained reason only you can help retrieve it – for a small administrative fee).

Don’t be discouraged though. It’s quite easy to avoid falling victim to these and other online scams, and perpetrators of more sophisticated cyber crime. Create a separate email account specifically for your networking/dating account(s). Maintain a strong password. Keep your updates updated, never open email attachments from unknown origin, and, most importantly…

If an online stranger makes an offer that seems to good to be true… it is.

Happy surfing!

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