FindLaw columnist Eric Sinrod writes regularly in this section on legal developments surrounding technology and the internet.
"Romance scams" are becoming a growing problem. A romance scam occurs when two people contact each other on a dating app or elsewhere on the internet. Communications unfold between the two people with the purported goal of finding love. However, while one of the two people is intent on finding a dream match, the other person seeks to earn trust to fleece money over time from the innocent dating victim.
A real example of a romance scam recently was reported by CNN. A man representing that he was an Army captain based in Syria contacted a Japanese woman on a digital pen pals international web site. After a few weeks, their relationship seemed to be a romance, as the man was sending daily emails in English that the woman was able to translate into Japanese by using the Google Translate app.
Eventually, the man, who went by the name Terry Garcia (no, not Jerry Garcia), started asking the woman, referred to as FK in court papers, for money. Believing that she was in touch with her one true love match, over the course of ten months she ended up sending Garcia 35 to 40 payments totaling $200,000. To meet Garcia's increasing demands, FK borrowed from friends, other relatives and even her ex-husband. During that time, Garcia would email her as many as 10 to 15 times daily.
Terry Garcia was not a real person who was in love with FK. Rather, FK was a victim of an international scam orchestrated by two Nigerian men in Los Angeles who were assisted by others in Nigeria and other countries. And last month, US prosecutors charged up to 80 people, the majority Nigerians, in a massive conspiracy that allegedly defrauded $6 million from vulnerable women and some businesses too. So far, 17 people in the group have been arrested in the US and the remaining members of the alleged conspiracy are being tracked down in Nigeria and elsewhere.
Getting back to the big picture, The Federal Trade Commission has stated that romance scams in the past year have cost Americans more money than any other form of fraud, according to CNN. Indeed, in excess of 21,000 people were defrauded into sending $143 million to scammers in just 2018 alone.
Plainly, the lesson learned here is that people need to be careful in terms of who they meet for romantic purposes online for many reasons, including physical safety. And they need to be especially alert when their potential romantic partners start asking for money.
It is worth noting that these types of schemes that emanate from Nigeria or involve Nigerians is causing a major branding problem for Nigeria. Nigeria is a poor country which seeks to do business with other countries and international companies. But these types of scams cause some reluctance on the part of others to do business with Nigeria. Hopefully, the crackdown on these scams will have some success preventing future victims and for Nigeria as a trading partner.
Eric Sinrod (@EricSinrod on Twitter) is a partner in the San Francisco office of Duane Morris LLP, where he focuses on litigation matters of various types, including information technology and intellectual property disputes. You can read his professional biography here. To receive a weekly email link to Mr. Sinrod's columns, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org with Subscribe in the Subject line. This column is prepared and published for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the author's law firm or its individual partners.