Online dating made this woman a pawn in a global crime plot

Once a romance scammer has identified a vulnerable target, the trajectory of the ensuing crime is easy to predict. Each con begins with a grooming phase, during which a scammer tries to create an intimate bond with his mark: He will deluge the potential victim with plagiarized love poems and mawkish texts and gently encourage her to reveal dark memories from her past. Once the victim seems emotionally invested in the relationship, the scammer will ask for a small gift—just enough to buy a new laptop or cover a child’s tuition shortfall. If the victim complies, they’re soon hit with what Whitty terms “the Crisis,” a sob story designed to elicit a large and urgent contribution. A scammer who’s impersonating a soldier may say he needs money for an Afghan exit visa; an ersatz oil driller will claim that he’s trapped in a Kafkaesque foreign hospital. As Whitty noted in a 2013 Security Journal paper, victims often believe that using their money to allay the crisis will “lead to a reduction in the amount of time they have to wait until they finally meet [the scammer] face-to-face (which is ultimately the real prize for most of the victims).”

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