'Lonely Heart' Scams
One of the cruelest scams is the Lonely Hearts Scam. With this scam people are fooled into thinking that they have met their 'true love' online. The victim then sends their 'true love' money so they can meet.
Usually organized by Russian mafia gangs, lonely heart scams use online dating sites to con people. They put up fake profiles with pictures of beautiful young women or good-looking young men that they found on the internet. Another way these gangs target people is to acquire email addresses and send out mass emails from a 'lonely heart' saying that they met on a dating site and wait for someone to reply. Often if you look around you can find a picture of the same person with a different name on another website. This type of scam usually targets lonely older men who are willing to suspend their disbelief that some gorgeous young blonde Russian girl has fallen for them. However, older women are targeted too, often by West African criminal gangs.
Once someone starts to write to the 'lonely heart', the 'romance' blossoms and very soon, perhaps after only a few emails, the 'lonely heart' is saying that they are in love and want to come for a visit. The only problem preventing them getting a visa straight away is - money.
Not only are the women in the pictures not women who are looking for marriage, as the victims are led to believe, the letter writers are usually men! In fact there is one town, Yoshkar-Ola, in the Mari El Republic of the FSU (former Soviet Union) where it seems a lot of the residents are making money in this way. In August 2010 a group of 15 scammers from the town were sentenced to probation for a period of 3-6 years. However, this group was just the tip of the iceberg. The judge in the case believed that there were over 100 people involved in this one scam! The town seems to be " the capital of scammers... there are so many scammers (it) is almost a legitimate business."
How They Do It
The 'workers', working on a commission basis from an 'office', set up false profiles on internet dating sites. They find their victims and then enter into correspondence with a lot of people simultaneously using a pre-arranged script. They first ask for money for the visa, and then for other expenses. Once one of their victim forwards money using Western Union or Money Gram, they notify their bosses. After the money is collected, the 'worker' receives their commission. They will then try to get more money out of the victim. However, once someone sends money for a ticket that is usually the last they hear from the 'true love'.
Men Not Women
Usually the 'workers' are young male college students trying to make some money in a town where there are very few jobs. The victims think they are writing to a woman who is only able to send emails from an internet café. The crooks also have a woman who can say all the right things, but only if she contacts the victim as she "...doesn't have a phone". Another indication that it is a scam is that they are very insistent on getting money as soon as possible. So be suspicious and don't send money.
Of course you can meet your true love through the internet but there are also a lot of scammers out there - so protect your heart and take precautions!