In today’s society, online dating is common. But what are the warning signs that you may be targeted by a scammer? Today’s guest is Joe Eweka. Joe is a criminal justice professional, security management specialist, project management professional, and the author of the book Confessions of a Lonely Lover: An Exploration of Online Dating Scams.“Scammers lie a lot. Be watchful for inconsistencies.” - Joe Eweka Click To Tweet
- [0:40] – Joe shares his background as originally from Nigeria and attending college and graduate school in criminal justice and law in the United States.
- [3:13] – Because of being long distance, Joe joined a social network to be able to better communicate with his brother and found himself in a scam.
- [5:16] – Catfishing is another term for romance scams and Joe says they are the most dangerous.
- [6:33] – One red flag is that the person you are speaking with tries to take your conversation off a dating app.
- [8:13] – Scammers lie a lot and work in teams. Sometimes you may catch inconsistencies.
- [9:00] – Watch the profile photo as well. If things look too good to be true, they probably are.
- [10:20] – Be suspicious if you cannot find anything at all about a person.
- [11:28] – Scammers often used borrowed text. Copy the suspicious text and paste it in a Google search.
- [13:06] – Scammers avoid video calls.
- [14:28] – Deep fake technology exists but is not commonplace in dating scams yet.
- [15:35] – Strange steps in the process like money orders, money transfers, and the purchase of several gift cards are major red flags.
- [16:34] – Do not accept friend requests from people you don’t know on social media and never send money to them.
- [17:47] – Joe advises using a computer to check links because you can hover your cursor over it to see the URL before you click. You cannot do this on a phone.
- [18:50] – Don’t assume that because you are the one to make the first contact that they are not a scammer.
- [20:03] – If you use a dating app, limit your communication to just the app.
- [22:10] – Do not rush and be sure to ask a lot of questions. Cut off all communication with anyone who seems suspicious.
- [23:30] – If you are meeting someone in person, you should always meet in a public place and with other people you know.
- [24:42] – Never go to another country to meet someone in person who you have never met before.
- [26:35] – Always report scammers.
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- Confessions of a Lonely Lover: An Exploration of Online Dating Scams by Joe Eweka
Joe, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
It is my pleasure, sir.
Can you give myself and the audience a little background about who you are and what you do?
I'm originally from Nigeria. My name is Joe Eweka. I am also an American citizen. I went to school, got my first two degrees at John Jay College of Criminal Justice—my first master’s from there—then I went on for my PhD program at two other universities. Thereafter, I attended another master's program by Strayer University in Information Technology.
My main profession is in criminal justice and law, specifically criminal procedure. I also have a background in information technologies, as I indicated. I have licenses in a few fields, including real estate. I'm also certified by the Project Management Institute as a project management professional.
I am a volunteer now. I'm no longer in law enforcement. I also used to be an investigator as well as a compliance agent. Now, I am a religious volunteer, helping people on how to better their life to deal with the crisis, especially what we find ourselves now, the pandemic.
You're usually familiar with people knocking on your doors every week, every day before, but now because of the pandemic, I serve love for our fellow man. Our love is first of all for Jehovah God, but the second most important law for us is love for fellow man. So we don't go from door to door in order to protect them, and our respect for the sanctity of life to also protect ourselves. Now we write you letters, call you on the telephone, send you a text, to help you better understand what is going on around you and how to successfully deal with it. That's what I do now.
Got you. What piqued your interest in online scams? Was there a particular event that happened?
It was one of my brothers in Italy that invited me to join flixer.com so we can communicate. This was at a time when calling other people in other countries was exorbitantly expensive. This was one way we could communicate regularly. I joined specifically to be able to communicate with one of my brothers there. Soon after that, I started getting invitations. “I like your profile.” I like what you represent. Can we get to know each other better?”
At first it was just friendship because it was both men and women, then it progressed from there. Before you knew, despite my own background in criminal justice, I fell for it, but I quickly realized that these were all scams. I need to put this in writing so other people would know what the dangers are. At the same time, I needed to protect certain people. That is the reason why I changed the names.
When it comes to online scams, let's walk through a list. I know you've got a list of online scams that you'd like to talk about. Let's work our way through that list.
OK. I'm going to go into details, then I'll talk about the warning signs of that particular type and the do’s and don’ts. Also define what it means. The last type of online dating scam that I'm going to talk about is what they call catfishing or catfish scams. The term here is specific to romance fraud.
According to the Kaspersky article that I mentioned earlier—I will quote what they say about this. It says, “Catfishing refers to someone creating a fictional persona or identity on a social media or dating site to target a specific victim. Besides financial gain, catfishing motivations can sometimes be simply to cause distress or harm, or possibly enable the perpetrator to carry out a fantasy or a wish fulfillment.”
This is perhaps one of the most dangerous of all. Why? Because they know who they are looking for—you, specifically. They just want to take your money and cause you enormous pain, just for fun. Now, if I may talk about the warning signs you should be looking for.
Number one, scammers try very quickly to move you off the dating site or app that you met them so that there would be no record of them asking you for money, because that will get them into trouble, get them flagged for inappropriate behavior. They try to take the conversation elsewhere—WhatsApp, emails, or text messages.
Number two, the conversation quickly turns romantic. You've heard of the word hopelessly romantic. Pun intended, really. You know because your romance is hopeless. It’s not leading you anywhere except disaster. The person professes to love you early on in the relationship. How could that be? Some believe it.
Number three, the criminals ask you many questions about yourself but avoid giving direct answers to your questions. Or they just make up stories that sound too good to be true or too tragic to be real.
Number four, scammers lie a lot. Always know that. As such, they are likely to forget what they told you last week. Somebody telling you the truth will always tell you the same thing. It doesn't matter when or how you ask it. Somebody lying to you may not remember what they said last week.
The advice here is that you should ask the same set of questions in different ways, days or weeks later, and then watch out for any inconsistency. And there will be inconsistencies. And because scammers usually work in teams, the person having the conversation with you today is likely totally different from the one you spoke with last week, or do all of them pretend to be the same person but they are different? The person you are talking to today, although you think is the same person but not, the answer he or she is going to give to you is going to be different than the one you got last week.
Then the fifth thing you should look for is that the profile photos look too good to be true. It looks too professional. In this world, people don't really care what is on the inside. They just get enamored by the facial appearance, which usually is deceiving.
As a result, scammers will get the most appealing-looking man or woman and put it on their webpage. Besides, you may get someone who says she's a female and is actually a guy, or someone who says he’s a man is actually a woman. They put a picture there that appeals to you. Just your perfect man or your perfect girl. Other than that deceptive loop, there is very limited personal information on their profiles. They don't put details of their personal life on the profile except the ones that are made up.Most professional scammers do not have real digital footprints, at least not under their name they make you believe. -Joe Eweka Click To Tweet
Sixth thing you should look for is that most professional scammers do not have real digital footprints, at least not under their name they make you believe they are. While it is possible that some people really avoid putting their personal information on the Internet—there are people like that; they just don't want to be on the Internet. Be suspicious. If you cannot find anything at all about the person on the Internet, besides the fake profiles that they have on social media.
Even when you give your information to the DMV, or the reputable government organization—the post office is notorious for that. For instance, one day you move to another place, fill out a forwarding slip to the post office, and before you know it, you are getting all kinds of junk mail. How? You did not want that. It is the government, the post office that sold you out unfortunately.
It is very difficult not to find any information about anybody, but scammers try to make that happen. What you need to do is, the profile picture that you see, do a reverse search on it on the Internet to see if it matches the name the person tells you he or she has been called.
Number seven, scammers often use borrowed text. In academia, we call it plagiarism. That is when you use someone else’s words verbatim. Sometimes when you paraphrase the words, they’re still very close together, or use their ideas without giving the original author credit. Scammers do that. They see something that is catchy, they copy it, and send it to their targets.
Or the scammer may be in a team and the team decides this is what they are going to be using that works, so all members of the same team will use the same word across several social websites or apps. What you need to do is copy the block of text messages or emails that the person sent you—the one you think is so good, so poetic—copy it and paste it, then use reverse search. See if it matches other websites using exactly the same wordings.
Like their bio details. You copy and paste that, and you're going to find the same exact thing under other names.
Exactly, because there are websites that are dedicated to exposing scammers. Somebody has reported it, so they may have it there. Then you know this guy or girl is up to no good.
Number eight, scammers avoid video calls. Why? They would never do a video call with you where you can see them clearly. Even if they agreed to a video chat, something is going to appear to be wrong with the camera. That is guaranteed.
Doing a video call with you is anti-terror code to their own objective. It’s against their objective because their objective is to defraud you. If they do a video call with you, they defraud you later, then you can identify who did it. They don’t want that. That is why they will never reveal their true identity and allow that.
I want to interject on that one. One of the things that I worry about in that advice, what I think is currently good advice, is deep fake technology is getting better and better. At some point they're going to be able to do real-time fake videos. It becomes complicated.
Right now, you are correct. There are some that are able to do that. The tech was there, they were able to do that, you're correct. But for the most part, that technology and the ability to use it is not commonplace yet. At least you can look for that for now as a warning sign. Some will say, for instance, for countries that still use, what do you call it, postal money order?
Yeah, avoid Western Union.
Exactly. They will send you a forced postal order and say, “Deposit this amount in your account, because it takes too long here to do but is quicker there since it is drawn in your country. Deposit it in your account, then withdraw the cash and buy gift cards or Visa cards and send to them.”
You deposit that in your account, your bank thinks it is genuine, and then you are immediately able to withdraw some money. I don't know how. You can withdraw the money, you withdraw the money from it. Later on when it goes to the exchange, it is going to be returned because it's fake. They will know. Then your bank now debits your account for the amount you withdrew.
That's not all. You have committed a crime, including bank fraud, and you could be held responsible for that too. That is why that is very serious and you should not fall for that.
Now, the do's and don'ts. Number one, do not accept friend requests from people you do not know on social media sites or apps. Never send cash to anyone. Never send gift cards to anyone because you will never get it. At least sometimes if you use your credit card and you are proactive enough and you immediately find out that it was fraud, you can contact your bank, then may be able to get the money back, or they will give you the money back even if they don't get it back.
Number two, do not reveal your sensitive personal information on social media, dating websites, or apps. Like I said before, never put your real date of birth on any social media. Period.
Number three, do not click on any links or downloads in emails or text messages sent to you. Or in the profile biographies on the dating website, or other social websites or apps, which seem totally unrelated to the conversation you're having—the link.
My recommendation is to always use the computer. Most people use handheld devices, phones and tablets today. Why? That is very convenient, but the disadvantage is that you cannot hover over the links with your mouse. Because you use a computer, you hover over the links, it will reveal the URL of that link. Then you can compare the URL with where this information is purportedly directing you. If they match, you know it’s genuine. Or if they don't match, you know it is a problem. Delete it immediately.
Number four, do not have any false sense of security just because you were the one that initiated the contact. You look or you join this dating website. You look at this guy, he’s cute and the girl is beautiful. You say, “Can we get to know each other,” or whatever language you use. Just because you were the one who initiated it does not mean you're safe because some cyber criminals set a trap and then go and wait for the victims to come to them, just like most predators. They wait. Crocodiles for instance, lions. They wait for you to come. Then just before you realize it, it’s too late. You take the bait and they will devour you.
Number five, beware of too many compliments, especially when the compliments are flirtatious. You might want to copy and paste the flattery compliments just like we indicated earlier. Copy and paste the flattery compliments into search engines like Google to see if the same exact words appear on a website that exposes scammers.
Number six, if you must use a dating website, which I strongly advise against, make sure all your communications are on the site's platform. Not via email, not phone calls, not video calls, not text, not WhatsApp. Just on that site’s platform so that if there's any inappropriate behavior, you can report it to the administrator of that site for further investigation and they have evidence there.
Yes, because they'll know if this person is having the same conversations with multiple people—they can see it there. I've often heard that scammers will often as soon as they have someone that they've connected with, they'll delete the profile that day.
Right. As a matter of fact, that has happened. In my book, there was a time in the preface where I decided to write a book about this. After I had the book I realized that not just one but multiple scammers. Then I need to write a book about it. I wrote it, and then other things were happening in my life so I just left it there. By the time I began to edit the book to add more commentaries that explains certain things that were not clear, I checked some of those links out. Some were no longer there. They had been deleted.
I don't know if it was actually a result of me reporting those issues to the administrators, I don't know. Maybe there are other people that reported it after or before me, and they decided enough is enough. They chose to leave or the administrators banned them. I don't know.If you must have online dating, which I strongly advise against, ask a lot of questions. Repeat the same questions in different ways.-Joe Eweka Click To Tweet
Now, to continue with the do's and don'ts. If you must have online dating, again which I strongly advise against, do not rush. Ask a lot of questions. Repeat the same questions in different ways, days or weeks later, and take note of any inconsistencies.
Number eight, cut off all communication with anyone who appears suspicious. Immediately. You may also need to report the person to the dating website or app where you met the scammer for further investigation.
Number nine, do not send any compromising photos or videos of yourself or of someone else to anyone, please. Especially someone you have never even met. The same intimate photos or videos will be used to extort money from you later. The scammer may just upload them to the Internet just to hurt you after they've taken all they can financially from you, or just for fun.
Number 10, scammers usually do not meet in person, as we talked about earlier. However, if someone wants to meet with you in person and you agree, even if he or she is a scammer or not—it really doesn't matter—you should always meet in a public place until you get to know the person well.
Also, ask that person—scammer or not—whether you can bring someone else along with you especially on your first date. If somebody who really cares about you and wants to have a long relationship with you—marriage or whatever else—will not object to you bringing someone else with you. If the scammer agrees that you could bring someone else along the first few dates, by all means do so for your safety.
Furthermore, even when you have someone that’s going with you, both of you could be in trouble. Both of you could not come back. So make sure that you tell your other friends and family members where you are going, when you are going, and who you are going to meet with.
Number 11, never, never, never go to another country to meet someone you have never met in person before. The dangers of such a move go beyond just losing your life savings. You could lose your life or become a sex slave in a foreign land.
Number 12, as I talked about before, do reverse image search or reverse email search. Google is so good that, that post an image—even of yourself—was there. If you’ve ever had that picture somewhere on the Internet or something that looks more like it, Google is going to find it.
Yes, Google knows everything.
Yes. The most powerful company in the world, basically, in my view. But again, I’m just a nobody. Now, make sure you do these lookups—the reverse email and the reverse image lookups—before getting involved with anyone you meet online.
Number 13, do a background check on someone you have decided is a good potential for you before you get emotionally involved, certainly before meeting him or her.
Number 14, if you want to date, this is my recommendation. Again, I'm old-fashioned. I'm not imposing my ideas on you. You are free to do whatever you want. In my honest, little view, if you want to date, it is better to date someone you already know. It is often said that a bird in hand is better than a thousand birds in the forest.
Lastly, number 15. Report scammers to the Federal Trade Commission and to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center. Thank you, Chris.
You're welcome. We'll make sure to link to both, everywhere that we can report. What is the name of your book if people want to read it?
I have come not to promote myself but to talk about this; I will help a lot of people. My book is Confessions of a Lonely Lover, and the subtitle is Exploration of Online Dating Scams by Joe Eweka, PM. I'm also known in the music industry as African Joe. If you Google African Joe, you get about 85-86 songs, songs that I wrote, performed, and produced myself. I have seven music albums.
You’re a renaissance man.
No. I just thank Jehovah God for giving me certain skills.
I think that's a perfect note to close out this episode. Joe, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Thank you, Chris. Thank you.