Scammers use dating websites for financial gain.

Scammers use dating websites for financial gain. Image Source: Flickr user Don Hankins.

Sometimes love hurts so much that the only people who can help are the police—unlikely confidants for the brokenhearted. But when someone claims to love you only to steal hundreds or thousands of dollars, that’s both a heartache and a prosecutable crime. Both women and men are targets of local or international fraudsters who they meet through social media or online dating sites.

Love is blind. Most of the people who report this type of crime have never met the person, usually corresponding over the Internet or the telephone. In a “catfish” scenario, the scam artist creates a sock puppet or fake profile on social media. When this individual starts scamming money or goods out of another person, that is when the police get involved. Unfortunately, many of these scams go unreported because the victim is too embarrassed to admit they were conned. Once the activity is reported, however, law enforcement must approach the victim with sensitivity while working to get the truth out of the deceptive scammer.

Roses are Red, Violets are Blue, Sugar is Sweet—I’m Lying to You

According to Donna Gregory of the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), in the second half of 2014 alone, victims of romance scams suffered over $82 million in losses.  Eighty-two percent of those who lost their money in this type of scam were women. Despite education on how to avoid such scams, it’s still a frequent crime that affects people from all walks of life. A scammer just needs to find a lonely, vulnerable person willing to seek love online. Unfortunately, we don’t know how many attempted or actual frauds go unreported due to the victim’s shame. If a woman sends explicit photos to her scammer, this could keep her from going to the police, as could sexy emails or other personal details she doesn’t want exposed.

The people behind these scams have perfected the art of lying to the point where they can convince even smart people that they are sincerely enamored and their need for money is secondary—their mother has a terminal illness and they are going to lose their home, the very home they will share with you one day.  As such, it’s not surprising that a romantic scammer will probably try to charm his way out of the police interview room, too. He might even be a sociopath or have studied techniques like mimicry to draw in victims. Either way, chances are, he is going to lie.

CVSA Examiners use a technique called Defense Barrier Removal to engage with suspects and break down their defenses. The perpetrator will likely try to play the scam off a misunderstanding rather than a crime— “We had a real relationship. She gave me the money as a gift, and now she is bitter because I broke up with her.” CVSA Examiners know these tricks and can counter them by avoiding confrontation and engaging the suspect with small talk. They will then help them open up by showing empathy and minimizing their situation, introducing the idea that perhaps they made a mistake or got carried away, but it isn’t the end of the world. These techniques are effective with all suspects, but they work particularly well with romance scammers who enjoy talking and having their ego boosted.

Once you get the scammer talking, you need to verify whether they’re telling the truth. The CVSA— which measures stress in the human voice—is the ideal truth verification method to do this. Because the CVSA can analyze audio and video recordings or live telephone conversations, it’s even possible to conduct a CVSA examination on a dating scam perpetrator if the victim only has contact remotely. The scammer could be calling from anywhere in the world, but the CVSA can still read those stressors in the human voice to determine if they are lying.

Charting the culprit’s answers with the CVSA not only shows they are being deceptive—it’s also a wake-up call for the victim who may still believe this person loves them. This is one of the few crimes where the victim has motivation to trust the suspect. They may be devastated when they realize they’ve been conned, but ultimately, the victim will thank law enforcement when they are faced with real evidence of the red flags they ignored.

Shutting Down Heartbreak Hotels Around the Globe

Local police are usually the ones who get involved in these cases, but the reach of love scammers is international. Federal agencies such as the FBI, U.S. Postal inspectors, the Department of Justice U.S. Department, and others have had success working with international police and government agencies in bringing down romantic fraudsters. Recently, they busted a charmer who scammed victims out of over $1.7 million U.S dollars. Many of these scams originate in Internet cafes in Nigeria and other African countries, and any person’s identity can be stolen for use as a fake dating profile.

Even the U.S. Military has a stake in the love scam scenario. The Army Criminal Investigation Command (CID) receives hundreds of requests from individuals who receive messages from people claiming to be U.S. Military personnel stationed overseas. They use stolen photographs and identities of real soldiers on social media because who doesn’t like a handsome man in uniform?

Inmates even run dating scams from prison using prisoner pen pal websites. While some people on these sites are truly lonely inmates who have been abandoned by their families or are looking to turn their lives around, others are just plying their trade from behind prison walls. In states like California—which has over thirty CVSA systems in their prisons—Correctional Officers who catch these people can use the CVSA to investigate their criminal acts.  

People fall for these scams because they’re lonely and desperate for love, and helping them see the reality of their “true love” is both a legal and emotional journey. When you can prove a person is a liar and achieve justice or restitution, the victim can rebuild his or her life and maybe find the real version of love one day. That’s a heartwarming thought for even the most jaded officer.

Please reach out to us at NITV Federal Services to learn more about our CVSA systems and training programs.