In the past, romance scammers would have to join dating sites in order to manipulate unsuspecting victims. Part of the manipulation would usually include a fake Facebook page. Such pages would have sparse information but would include a fake photo and information which would roughly match that found in their dating profiles. Often, they would set up a fake Facebook page for a business they say they run. For good measure, some scammers even have a fake LinkedIn page. Scammers realize that their victims would attempt to authenticate them and these pages served that purpose.
But now, scammers can forget about joining a dating site altogether. They can do all of their business on Facebook. Not only that, Facebook will help them find victims who match their criteria. If Facebook allows people to choose what type of victim, er.. I mean partner, they are looking for, certain red flags may appear. Remember that scammers are predators. Like all predators, they are looking to exploit what they feel are weaknesses.
Keep in mind that women are targeted more often than men. Although it could be that men are more reluctant to report being scammed.
But regardless of gender, there are certain attributes that scammers target. Here is a list of those features that romance scammers consider as exploitable weaknesses. (I put the numbers to show the relative attractiveness of these features to scammers.)
Over 40-years-old (+1, and an additional +1 for every five years thereafter)
Handicapped or having a medical condition (+2)
Having children (+1) Having young children <5-years-old (+2)
Being religious (+1)
Being from a racial or ethnic minority (+1)
Average or below in physical attractiveness (+1)
Looking for marriage/soulmate/life partner (+1)
Being a nonnative English speaker (+1)
Facebook should be advised that the more of these characteristics that a romance seeker highlights, the more likely they are to be scammers. Of course, this will not always be the case, but Facebook should design algorithms which keep an eye on such people, just in case there are complaints in the future.
Since scammers try to match their profiles to those of their victims, you can expect them to highlight the above traits on their Facebook pages or dating profiles. They will most likely be widowed. Their wife will have died of cancer or in a car accident. They are often left to take care of a small child. They have a good job. They are either self-employed, work in an oil field, or are in the military. If they are in the military, they are in the American military, frequently in Afghanistan, though their linguistic ability is far from that of a native English speaker. Their profile picture will be that of a good-looking person they have found somewhere on the internet. This is important because the victim who receives a friend request from an attractive person is more likely to interact with that person. Sure, they may think it is unlikely that such a person would be interested in them, but, well, there’s always a chance, right?
Sometimes a scammer will steal someone’s complete Facebook profile. Once they get the login information, they will change the username and password but keep the entire profile in a different name. Sometimes they simply copy everything from a Facebook page to one that they created. In this case, the name on the profile page will be different from that in the URL. To victimize women, they will try to steal a profile of a man with children. Men are easily victimized by attractive women in suggestive poses. Biology uber alles.
The scammer’s goal in the initial contact is to get the victim to begin a chat session via a messenger service. Conveniently, Facebook has a built-in messenger service which the scammer can easily entice the victim to go to. They will never be available for a video interaction and their messaging will be in poor English. However, they will quickly proclaim that the victim is their soul mate and they will try to persuade the victim that they have strong feelings for them. Oddly, they will never refer to the victim by their first names, preferring such monikers as ‘honey’, ‘baby’, or ‘sweetie’. The reason for this is that they may be victimizing numerous people at the same time and they simply can’t keep track of all of their names.
Facebook also allows friends to see all of their other friends. These can also be used as potential victims. Don’t be surprised if your new romantic partner is suddenly found contacting your friends and making the same propositions they made to you. If they are discovered, they may say that they thought the victim was no longer interested in them but that they are the true love of their life. More often than not, these transgressions are forgiven. Actually, if you check the friends in these fake scammer accounts, you will see that they consist mainly of women. In fact, they are all likely the profiles of all the women they are currently scamming.
You may wonder how these scammers can get away with these fake Facebook accounts; however, making a Facebook account is relatively easy. All you really need is a valid email address. True, Facebook will ask for your birth date, but that’s simply to validate that you are over 13 years of age. That information can be removed once the scammers get their account. The account must have a profile picture and a legitimate sounding name. It should be noted that some people make fake Facebook accounts to sign into gaming and other sites while preserving their anonymity, so there is a valid reason for them.
Once established, fake Facebook accounts are difficult to remove. I traced one romance scammer to his fake Facebook account and reported him. All I got is a form letter from Facebook stating that the account appeared valid. They never even asked why I thought it was fake even though I reported all of the evidence. That account has since been taken down but it took many months.
Here is an example of a fake Facebook profile (now removed).
His profile was as follows:
Intro: In God I trust
Owner at My Own Business Institute
Studied at University of Cincinnati
Went to William Henry Harrison High School (Ohio)
Lives in Harrison, Ohio
Here are a few quotes from his letter of introduction to potential victims. (I have found many scammers using the same letter; some men, some women.)
“I have no other choice than to tell you the truth about myself.I am right here in Nigeria,Africa fed up of life and even thinking of committing suicide but i guess i should hold on till i hear from you maybe you are interested in me or not.I understand that this internet stuff is hard to believe because of what people do with it nowadays as i fell into this mess,that’s why i am in the condition i am in today.”
I kept the punctuation and grammar in its original form. In the letter above, the person claims that they went overseas with all of their money to meet their soul mate only to learn they had been scammed, often, oddly enough, by someone from Africa. “I was blindfolded by love.” Luckily, they escaped with their money and are in hiding but need your help. If you help them out, you don’t only get 15% of all of their money, but a life partner as well. If you ever get such a letter, I suggest you simply convince them that suicide is their only option. If you are wondering if a letter you received is a scam, simply pick out one unusual quote from it and paste it into a Google search (in quotes). If it turns up on a scam investigation site, you are being scammed. Here is an example from the above quote.
Since scammers use the same letters over and over to save time, Facebook needs to collect copies of all such scam letters and produce a database that would target those that send them. Of course, this means they must be able to collect information on any message a person on Facebook sends, but that’s the name of the Facebook game anyway. Facebook is able to view anything you send through Messenger. But what about Facebook-owned WhatsApp? Doesn’t that have end-to-end encryption? Yes, however, there are ways around that, especially if you own the company. (For more details, read this.) Scammers will try to lead victims to a non-Facebook-related site to chat. They often ask to be emailed. They normally use free Yahoo or Gmail accounts.
The dating site business is currently booming. It’s a good time for Facebook to enter that market. Long before the Cambridge Analytics debacle, Facebook already knew how to assess and manipulate users with their algorithms. Back in 2015, the University of Cambridge and Stanford University published a study which showed that a computer could use a Facebook member’s ‘likes’ to determine their personality and predict their future behavior. In fact, as the number of ‘likes’ increased, the computer became better than the member’s friends, family, or spouse at understanding the person. The study even claimed that they knew the person better than they knew themselves.
If all this is true, then Facebook should be able to construct the best dating app ever invented. That said, there are still those x-factors that are beyond the computer’s ability to assess, such as why we find particular people attractive even when no one else does. Or why we don’t find universally-acknowledged attractive people particularly interesting. These anomalies may lay too deep in our psyche or subconscious for a computer, another human, or even ourselves to understand.
But scammers are no different from any other Facebook user until they start scamming. They can project a false persona which will appeal to a distinct group of vulnerable individuals. Once actively dating, some victims will come to them and some they will actively pursue. It is quite clear that in order to stop scammers from reaching their goals, you will have to have your first online date with a chaperone. That chaperone will be Mark Zuckerberg, because without that sort of impostion, I can see no other way that Facebook can stop itself from becoming a romance scammer’s paradise.