Online Mr. Right or Romance Scammer?

8 June 2015

Online dating fraud, also known as romance scamming, is on the rise as more people turn to the internet to find love. By taking on false identities and targeting vulnerable people, scammers are able to obtain personal information and cheat their victims out of thousands of dollars.

Recently, nine people have been charged with more than 40 counts of various crimes for their involvement in an “organized crime network” that preyed on women using dating websites. Allegedly, the group was able to steal more than $1.5 million from seven different women.

The investigation began in early 2014 when a woman reported being victimized to the York Regional Police. Over the course of the investigation, the police found that the criminals had been using two main aliases, “Benjamin D. Baker” and “Ryan Hull”, on several different dating websites. They identified six more women who had been scammed after getting involved with these users, along with many more who had been approached by them but didn’t fall for the scam.

According to the police, the foundation of these scams is the emotional connection the scammers establish with their victims. Romance scammers typically move the relationship along “very quickly to an emotional point where the victim is so invested in the relationship that they feel compelled to help when the suspect begins to ask for money,” according to the police.

The nine accused in the scheme are George Dokwugbo, 42, Akinola Adebayo, 41, Raford Ettienne, 40, Juliana Nabutuwa, 24, Curtis Laing, 53, Obi Okolichi, 44, Daphne Jalloh, 34, Ibrahim Bangura, 53, of Toronto and Richard Charite, 57, of Mississauga. They have been charged with more than 40 charges altogether, including fraud of over $5,000, laundering the proceeds of crime, and conspiracy.

Meanwhile, a new app has been created to try to put an end to these types of scams. PhotoVerified.com, created by police officer John Maitland, aims to create a culture of honesty on social media sites. The app is designed to confirm that a user’s social media profile accurately reflects who they are by providing proof that their photos have been authenticated. Users submit photos and verify that they are the person in them by interacting with employees of the site. The goal is to provide a way for people who fear they might be the target of a romance scam, or another form of online fraud, to request that the person they’re interacting with prove who they are.

“There’s just so much out there…↑ that a predator can steal from. I can get a whole album full of photos, copy them, paste them into the new profile I am going to make,” Maitland told Global News Canada. “We [verify photos] by interacting with the person, so there is no way for a person to manipulate [the photo] or try and mess with it. You have to be a participant in the process.”

To help yourself avoid the potential effects of a romance scam, such as identity theft, sign up for a credit monitoring service that can alert you to certain activity on your file that might indicate fraud.

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