You may well think you'd never fall for a romance scam, that they're cheesy, inauthentic and very obviously after your cash. But security experts have warned that there's been an increase in all sorts of online fraud during the coronavirus pandemic.
One day she mentioned that she had met a man online who was in the military. She thought it was a neat coincidence, because my partner is also in the armed forces. But the more she told me, the louder the alarm bells rang. Despite being deployed on a "top secret mission" in a highly dangerous part of the world, "Alexander" managed to message Beth all the time. He was handsome, charming and affectionate.
Detecting online romance scams
When she showed me a photo, my heart sank. Alexander's uniform and rank didn't match the role he said he had or the unit he said he was in. There was no reason for him to be in the place where he claimed to be.
Telling Beth was hard. If it hadn't been for the coincidence of our t military connection, Beth probably wouldn't have mentioned him to me or anyone else - he had already spun a web of secrecy around his job.
Can you spot the s of a military dating scammer?
In fact, telling someone else is probably your best chance of not getting sucked in. Alexander contacted Beth on a dating platform, but he very quickly asked her to switch to a messaging app. Cyber-security expert Prof Alan Woodward says scammers much prefer to operate within Corona military dating private environment, away from the chance of being seen by others - whether that's a direct messaging platform or a locked social media.
I noticed myself that, after making my own Instagram private, I was deluged with follow requests and private messages, all apparently from men, many of them claiming to have military positions. The military represents "authority, trust, romance" for many people, says New York Times reporter Jack Nicas, who made a documentary about romance scammers and their victims.
I wondered how the real people in the photos the scammers were using would feel if they knew, and I then got a small taste of it myself when someone set up a fake Instagram using my pictures, and started messaging people - mainly men I believe - saying it was my "secret" space.
I only found out when people started messaging me to ask what was going on. It was sickening, alarming and infuriating. I'll probably never know exactly what the "fake me" said and to whom.
It was all in the form of private messages from an bearing my name and my face. Instagram deleted it when I complained, but declined to tell me whereabouts in the world it had been registered. Perhaps it was even Alexander, finding me via Beth's followers. The platform said impersonating a person or organisation is against its guidelines, and that such s are deleted once it is made aware of them. A quick search reveals that there are plenty out there though.
For scammers it's worth the risk, as the pay-out can be huge. There are people who work to try to help romance scam victims, and they hear plenty of horror stories. She was later killed by her husband. The money, particularly if sent by wire transfer, is generally gone forever. Mr Nicas tracked Ms Holland's scammer down to Nigeria - where romance scammers are rife.
There young men work sometimes in groups, sometimes individually, and pretend to be both men and women online. He interviewed a man called Akinola Bolaji, a year-old Nigerian who said he had once been a "Yahoo Boy", as romance scammers are colloquially known. Five will comply. Out of the five, three may not have money. Two will have. Out of two, one may not be able to spend money. But one will surely send. He confessed to feeling guilty about the practice.
Mr Bolaji claims to have stopped romance scamming because he is now in a genuine relationship Corona military dating a lady in the US state of Georgia. We only have his word for it.
In the few weeks that Alexander was messaging my friend Beth, he did not ask for any cash. That is not surprising, says Mr Nicas.
Military romance scams: common questions
Beth is adamant that she would not have sent any - but scammers are super-persuasive, says Ms Forte. I think we're all vulnerable to it in the right situation. US 'scam hostage' freed after year in Nigeria hotel. Loneliness and lockdown exploited in romance scams. It happened to my friend Beth.
He was almost certainly not the man in the photo.
US 'scam hostage' freed after year in Nigeria hotel Loneliness and lockdown exploited in romance scams. Faking it.
Horror stories. Mr Bolaji said finding victims was a s game. The long game. Where to go for help. Related Topics. More on this story. Published 13 July Published 11 February Published 15 May