When Candace first met Eric on an online dating site, he seemed like a dream come true.
After a rough divorce the year before, she was thrilled to meet a man who shared her religion, interests, and love of children and animals.
Some of them are career criminals, but many are college students with low incomes looking for extra cash.
In Nigeria, many of these fraudsters – known as “Yahoo boys” after the Internet portal Yahoo – have grown very rich, buying multiple houses, fancy cars, and expensive jewelry with the proceeds of their crimes.
Many romance scammers operate outside the United States.
According to Huff Post, most of them are located in Ghana and Nigeria, but an increasing number originate in communities of West African immigrants in Canada, Malaysia, and Britain.
Often, they rely on pre-written scripts that tell them exactly what to say at what point in the relationship.
They usually claim to have jobs that keep them outside the country for long periods of time, such as working on an oil rig, serving in the military, or working for a nonprofit.
Next, they seek out victims – usually people who are lonely and vulnerable – and work to build up relationships with them.
Some of the most successful scammers have extracted tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars from a single victim. Barb Sluppik, who runs the watchdog site Romance Scams.org, says in an interview with Consumer Reports that she’s worked with “men and women of all ages – doctors and lawyers, CEOs of companies, people from the entertainment industry – who you’d never think in a million years would fall for these scams but do.” Even celebrities aren’t immune, as the world learned in 2012 when Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o discovered he’d spent two years in an online relationship with a woman who never existed.
However, some people are more likely to be targeted than others. Jones, had not only his image but his entire identity stolen by scammers.