Skip to content ↓ | Skip to navigation ↓

In part one of this article, we reviewed how the Nigerian Prince scam is no longer the primary email scam in use, being replaced by more clever and devious methods. The article also examined some of the emotional and personal aspects of the second most popular Internet scam, known as the “urgent wire-transfer” scam, as reported by the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.

This article examines the top online scam and the sad reality of why it’s so personal, emotional, and worst of all, so effective.

The most reported scam to the Internet Crime Complaint Center is the “Romance Scam.” This particular scam does not involve unscrupulous behavior; in fact, the target demographic of the romance scam may surprise you – it targets single folks over 50 years old.

These romance scammers play on the knowledge that a person over 50 years old is probably financially well-established. The patience with which these scammers operate has resulted in many victims depleting their life savings without realizing the damage until after the money is gone.

The criminals who work these scams will string a victim along over a period of months to slowly rob the victim. In one case outlined by one FBI agent, the victim lost over $200,000.

The mechanics of the scam

The criminals set up remarkably convincing “imposter profiles” on social media and dating services. They then begin to work their targets very slowly, requesting small amounts of money. The imposter profile is not a new phenomenon; it has matured and shifted its focus. This type of “social engineering” is the original method of all confidence games: gain the victim’s trust, then deliver the sting.

In a recent report in a popular retirement magazine, a romance scammer told how he would work more than one target at a time. The payout to one criminal could be double or triple, depending on how many victims he convinces.

The saddest part of the scam is that the criminals also play on the victim’s loneliness. A recently divorced or widowed person is a prime target for the well-crafted and patient criminal.

Worst of all, the slow and patient nature of this crime allows plenty of time for the stolen money to be irretrievably transferred away from a recoverable trail. The FBI agents are tasked with having to explain to the victims that the money is simply gone – forever.

Loss of love and economic stability; a dual blow to an already vulnerable target

If you are an older citizen, or you have a parent who is in a newly single situation, try the following any time you meet a new person through social media:

  • When you first get involved with an unknown person through social media, run a quick search in your favorite search engine and see what turns up (of course, if the person has a very common name, this could create a large set of results).
  • Most important, use the image search feature in Google and upload the photo of the person and see if it is an imposter (many imposters borrow images from the internet).
  • For a small fee, you can check the background of the person to see if the information about the person matches what they are saying, such as location, profession and hobbies.

Above all: lead with the head, not with the heart.

Stay safe, friends.


Bob CovelloAbout the Author: Bob Covello (@BobCovello) is a 20-year technology veteran and InfoSec analyst with a passion for security topics. He is also a volunteer for various organizations focused on advocating for and advising others about staying safe and secure online.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this guest author article are solely those of the contributor, and do not necessarily reflect those of Tripwire, Inc.

Title image courtesy of ShutterStock