From the desk of Kristen Justis, Director of Marketing and Customer Relations
DANGERS OF ONLINE DATING FOR ALL GENERATIONS
PART FOUR – THE YOUNG SOLDIER
In previous postings in this series, I have discussed a widower, a divorcé, and a professional who were victims of online dating scams. One would like to believe scammers would have some conscience and stay away for our active duty military or even our veterans. This is not the case. Scammers are not particular when choosing their victims. Lauth Investigations International, Inc. recently handled a fraud investigation for a young military soldier who had been in a long term, live in relationship with a scammer he met online. Many believe these scams occur quickly; however, these individuals are committed and they get themselves in deep in order to complete the scam in its entirety.
Below is a description of a Lauth Investigation’s fraud case which shows military are a prime target for these scammers as they are gone from home often for months at a time. They are not able to be in tune with what is happening at home while they are deployed.
The Young Soldier
Jack is a twenty-two year old Army soldier. He met Gina on line while he was stationed in Kentucky. Gina and Jack began dating and their relationship grew over a period of two years. They are in love and decide to move in together. Jack proposes, they move into an apartment and they are ready to start their life.
In the meantime, Jack has completely isolated himself from his family and friends. His mother, Tara, hadn’t heard from him for over a year. Gina has been added to Jack’s bank account and she has taken control on his finances. In a long term, engaged, relationship, one party taking over the finances is not typically a red flag.
In the summer of 2017, Jack learns he is being deployed to Afghanistan. He attends training in Texas prior to his deployment. While in Texas, Tara broke up with Jack but told him she would watch over his finances and apartment while he was in Texas and through his deployment. Heartbroken and hoping they would get back together once he returned to Kentucky, he agreed to allow her to maintain her control over his finances. Jack even began paying her a monthly rate since she was handling his finances.
After a few weeks of being deployed, Jack finds out, through a neighbor in Kentucky, Tara has moved in another man to Jack’s apartment where he was paying the rent. Once Jack found out, he called Tara and told her he was getting rid of the apartment as he didn’t need it anymore. He advised his parents were coming down to move his items from the apartment.
Jack proceeded to draw up a Power of Attorney for his parents to take over his finances. In the time it took him to get the Power of Attorney, Tara had drained his bank account, shut off his debit card and moved all items from the apartment. By the time his parents arrived at the apartment with a moving truck, the only possessions remaining were some of Jack’s clothes. Tara became a ghost.
Jack’s parents immediately hired Lauth Investigations to attempt to locate Tara in hopes of finding some justice for their son. The experienced private investigators began to uncover the full scope of the fraud which had taken place. The scam on Jack was found to be a well thought out plan.
The private investigators found Tara’s boyfriend who moved into Jack’s apartment was, in fact, her husband. They have pulled this scam on numerous individuals. They meet military personnel online, develop relationships with them (men and women), take over the finances, skim money from the accounts, and disappear with all the money once their true intent surfaces.
Unfortunately for the individuals like Jack, they willingly add the scammers to their bank accounts, thereby making the money common property between the two individuals on the joint account. There is no criminal recourse for this action. The victims may pursue civil action against these thieves; however, the victims generally do not have the money to take this next action.
Lauth Investigations assisted in locating this thieving couple and provided Jack with information to file civil suit against them. Jack reported both individuals to the online dating site they utilized. Hopefully, they will learn their lesson and stop preying on our military.
Private Investigators provide answers for victims and handles cases the police are unable to investigate. Utilizing a private investigation firm is key to uncovering the truth, arming victims with ammunition to proceed as necessary, and hopefully stopping criminals from harming other individuals in the future.
It used to be that only the old and naive were vulnerable to scams on the internet, however, with the creativity of scammers increasing, even the most tech-savvy can fall victim if they’re not careful these days. Everything from pop ups to emails can be potential threats, but gone are the days of obvious attacks. These days scams are a lot more subtle and more believable and so it’s important to be wary of the latest and most popular scams as well as how to avoid them.
The following list is based on statistics from scamwatch.gov.au and is ordered according to how much money they have cost their victims. Here are the 5 most popular scams of 2017 so far:
- Investment Schemes
Investment schemes is a broad heading to describe internet scams where the target is enticed to hand over money with false promises of making a return on their investment. The most popular investment schemes are forex trading, Ponzi schemes, and offshore investment schemes.
Forex trading is a means of buying different currencies and selling them once the exchange rate has increased. Forex trading is very risky because it is usually done by big international banks with large accounts, specially trained staff and advanced technology that can handle the complexities of the trading.. The likelihood that an individual working independently can compete with the resources of these banks is very slim, which is why Forex trading so often leads to failed investments. In addition to the stiff competition, a lot of times the companies online that promise great success in forex trading are actually fraudulent and won’t actually invest your money in anything, resulting in you losing a lot of money.
A Ponzi scheme, also known as a pyramid scheme, is disguised as an opportunity to earn money from an investment when in actuality there really isn’t any investment. What the promoters of these schemes do is they get you to invest money with promises of making a big return, however, you must invite/recruit others into the program in order to get any payoff. Eventually, though, people stop joining the group and the benefits that the first few investors used to receive begin to diminish because the ‘investment checks’ that they were receiving were actually coming from their investments and the money that their recruits added into the scheme. Due to this flawed system, Ponzi schemes always collapse when the money owed to previous investors becomes greater than the money being raised from the new ones.
Offshore investment schemes, are schemess that encourage you to transfer your money to an account in another country in order to avoid or pay fewer taxes. This is a big red flag when investing your money because if you get caught you could end up owing your government in back taxes, penalties, and interest. You should stay clear of any opportunity that lists avoiding tax paying as an advantage.
- Dating and Romance Scams
Not only are our identities and money at risk, but with dating and romance scams lurking around every other web page now our emotions are also at risk as well. Many times people will make false profiles on dating sites in order to scam people out of money.
What the scammers do is play on your emotions by using the information you post on your profile in order to make it appear as if you share the same interests, then they build a relationship with you until they begin to manipulate you and trick you into giving them money.
The FBI has a great video, which explains how dating and romance scams work, which you can view below:
Where is the video?
Another form of romance scams that occur online is ‘Catfishing.’ This kind of scam usually doesn’t involve any loss of money but results in other kinds of loss such as loss of time, distress, and disappointment. A ‘catfish’ is when you’ve been speaking to someone online and they turn out to be a different person from whom they claimed to be online.
A great way spot romance scams are by performing a Google image search of the profile picture that the person is using and see if the picture come up with a different name. This is an obvious red flag that the person you are talking to isn’t who they say they are.
- Up-Front Payment and Advanced Fees Fraud
Up-front payment and advanced fees fraud refers to any scam that requires you to pay a fee up front in order to receive a ‘reward’ later. ScamAlert lists reclaim scams, unexpected prize scams, travel prize scams, and rental scams as common examples of upfront payment and advanced fees fraud.
Reclaim scams happen when a scammer tells you that qualify for a rebate/reimbursement, but in order to receive it you must pay a fee This is the same thing that happens with the unexpected prize scam: You are told that you are a winner of a grand prize but that you need to pay processing fees before you can get it.
The travel prize scam, on the other hand, is when you are presented with a free or discounted trip on one condition, you must first buy ‘travel vouchers’ before you can book your holiday. The rental scam is similar to the travel prize scam, usually you are offered a discounted price on a room with a catch of having to pay a booking fee upfront. Both scams take your money without delivering the promised product or service.
The best way to protect yourself from such scams is to always be cautious of up front fees. If you are ever asked to pay up front under the guise of shipping costs, taxes, administration fees, or postage, then you should immediately become suspicious. If you truly did win something for free then most of the time such fees would have already been covered. There are cases, however when companies offer products for free and only require you to pay for shipping. Just be sure to contact the company using a number that you have found either in the phone book or by performing an online search. Never use the contact details that they provide.
- Buying and Selling Scams
According to ScamWatch, buying and selling scams include classified scams, overpayment scams, online shopping scams, and false billing. A total of 4.4 million dollars has already been lost due to buying and selling scams since the start of the year, with 14.5% of cases occurring on the Internet.
With these kinds of scams, scammers pretend to be an online seller, overpay you on an item you’re selling online, and send fake bills of ‘overdue’ payments. The ones that pose as a seller is simply copying the details of an already existing legitimate ad, including the pictures of the product. In order to lure you in, they will advertise the product at a much lower price than the competitors. Unfortunately, however, they often make up a story about being overseas and needing to use an agent to send you the item once you pay for it. As soon as you send the payment,they will flee with your money, leaving you with a fake receipt of payment via email.
To avoid selling scams it is advised that you only buy from reputable sites online, and if buying from eBay you should always check the reviews of the seller before making a purchase.
How the overpayment scam works is a scammer will send you more money than you’re asking for on something you’re selling online and then ask for a ‘refund,’ claiming that they sent the extra money to cover extra shipping costs or some excuse. The catch to this scam is that you are asked to ‘refund’ the money by sending a wire transfer, using a prepaid card or an online bank transfer and after you send the money their check bounces.
To avoid overpayment scams be sure to wait on the person’s check to clear before you return any money to them.
The final kind of scam in this category is the false billing scam. This occurs when a scammer sends you or your company a bill/invoice for an advertising listing, domain renewal or directory listing. Often times these claims are false and the scammers put emphasis on paying the amount due as quickly as possible. Sometimes they even threaten ‘legal’ action if you don’t pay the invoice in a timely manner. The best thing to do in a situation like this is to check with your employer to confirm that the invoice is actually real, or to speak to a lawyer about the validity of the invoice.
- Inheritance Scams
An inheritance scam begins when you are contacted by someone posing as a lawyer or banker claiming that an unrelated wealthy person with your last name has died leaving a large fortune and no will behind. The fake lawyer/banker will then tell you that you can claim the money left behind because of a legal loophole due to you both having the same last name.
Often times these wealthy persons live in another country and because of this, once again, you will have to pay processing fees in order for the bank to release the funds to you. However, the inheritance scam can be very convincing because the scammers go as far as to provide fake birth certificates and bank statements. Often times, they push the scam further by asking you to provide a copy of your birth certificate as well as your bank account details. (That being said, it is important to never provide a copy of your identification or bank account details to someone you don’t know, especially over email.)
A few things to look out for to spot an inheritance scam is that these cases of receiving money from unknown people who share a last name are never real. Not only that, but there are often spelling/grammatical errors in the documents they send you, they often ask for processing fees in order to receive the money, or they ask for your bank account details. If at anytime you suspect a scam you should always report it to the FTC. According to ScamWatch, there were 199 reports of inheritance scams in June alone .
There are a few scams that didn’t make it to the top 5 because they haven’t resulted in as much monetary loss as the ones listed above, but there are still popular scams out there that are worth mentioning.
The lottery scam comes in the form of an email congratulating you for winning a large sum of money. The only catch is that in order to receive the money you must first send thousands of dollars to pay for the ‘processing fees.’ Often times what happens is that persons become so distracted by the thought of ‘winning’ that much money that they tend to forgot they didn’t enter a raffle or buy a ticket to begin with.
One of the basic rules to bear in mind when looking into opportunities online, is that if something is too good to be true, it probably is.
Make Money Online Scam
There are many false online money making opportunities out there. Always insist on payment for work you do for someone immediately, do not agree to wait for months at a time before receiving payment. That way you will not waste a lot of your time working for someone who is not going to end up paying you.
Disaster Relief Scam
Scammers take advantage of tragic events that leave people devastated. In most cases these people have suffered major loss; this could be the death of loved ones or the loss of property. Scammers know that there are many charities set up to provide disaster relief for these victims. The scammers set up phony charity websites to prey on people who wish to help the victims of these various disasters. At first glance these websites may seem legitimate, but the majority of real charities do not ask for donations online, much less prod you to provide your credit card and/or bank information.
The fact that the charity is online is a big indication that it is not an authentic charity. If you’re really convinced that the website is an actual charity, though, then you can double check by trying to contact them over the phone and speaking to one of their agents or representatives over the phone. As an extra safety measure, when donating anything to charity, it’s always best to visit the office of the organization in person.
There are several scams out there on the Internet. The best way to stay safe is to be careful and be cautious of anything suspicious. If you’d like to learn more about avoiding scams then we suggest you check out this list of 10 things you can do to avoid fraud by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Also, if you’ve spotted a scam or have been scammed be sure to report it to the FTC as you wouldn’t like others to suffer the same fate you have.
We’ve all tried to sell, buy or rent items online through sites such as Craigslist, Ebay, and now, Letgo. Because these sites are so common and used by friends and family, we often get comfortable using them and forget that we are interacting with anonymous strangers. Just this week, I signed up for Letgo and attempted to sell my husband’s motorcycle. We’ve been procrastinating on selling his bike for a few months, so when within 5 minutes of me listing the bike I got a response to purchase it, I was really excited! This excitement; however, almost got me in some trouble.
The Set-Up: Lies Comprise a Buyer Too Good to Be True
The motorcycle was placed on Letgo for $4,500. The buyer, an alleged Sergeant in the Army, started the conversation requesting my personal phone number as he wanted to see more pictures of the vehicle.
In my excitement and not knowing Letgo, I gave my personal number to him, thinking It was . Apparently one of the main rules of Letgo is never take the chat out of their application. I didn’t know this at the time! After I sent him the pictures, he confirmed the price was $4500 and agreed to pay this amount. I questioned when he would like to come and pick up the vehicle. (I was doing the happy dance to have this money coming in and the bike gone!) This is where things got a little weird.
The Red Flags: Multiple Phone Numbers and Asking For Personal Information
The buyer told me he is stationed in North Carolina. (He even sent me a picture of a soldier in Army fatigues standing on base.) He stated he would like to pay via PayPal if I had an account. I got a little nervous (working for a private investigator I’m a little more skeptical of people these days), so I questioned how he planned on picking up the bike. He then texted me from a different number. (Hello, Red Flag!) When I questioned why he changed numbers, he advised the second number was his “secured military line.”
Again, I questioned how he planned on picking up the motorcycle, to which he advised he would send a transport agent to come pick it up once r I get the cash out of PayPal, and then he asked for my PayPal account information again. I told him I didn’t have PayPal and I need cash upon purchase. He stopped responding and I never heard him again. Go figure.
In my sheer excitement of making some extra money and my blinded trust for anyone who wears a United States military uniform, I was a vulnerable target for these kinds of scams. Luckily, my experience working for Lauth Investigations has given me a certain skepticism towards online interactions, a wariness that pushed me to ask more questions and thankfully helped me refrain from giving my Paypal information to this man. It is essential that everyone approaches online interactions with the premise that the person on the other side of the screen has no motivation to be honest with you.
The Paypal Scam: How it Works
I’d like to take a minute and conjecture what this man was attempting to accomplish by contacting me. At Lauth Investigations we have seen cases where fraudsters create a fake e-mail from PayPal they send to “customers” stating the money has been deposited and transferred. The e-mail looks identical to what PayPal sends their customers. This man probably would have sent me a fake confirmation email and then came to pick up the bike before I realized that he never actually paid me. Does anyone check to make sure the e-mail is legitimate? No, which is why I feel the need to write this post. When we get a confirmation that such a large amount of money has been transferred we should always call PayPal directly, from a number on their site not the invoice we receive, to ensure the funds are received and legitimate.
Why, you ask, should we call PayPal directly? Because oftentimes the scammer sets up a fake call center, so when you call the number on the fake e-mail you receive from “PayPal” there are fake Paypal employees waiting to answer your call and confirm the money has been transferred.
Just like anything we do today in this online world, we must enter with extreme caution. Hold your excitement until actual cash is in hand. As much as we trust our military and veterans, do not let the fact that somebody claims to be a member of the military make you let your guard down. . If someone cannot meet you in person, with cash, question their motives and move on to the next buyer.
In my next article, I will focus on another online scam to look for and ways to protect yourself.