Dear Dr Victoria, I have met a man on myspace. He and i get along very well. He has never asked me for money or any account numbers. He works for an oil company. He is currently in Japan finishing up a project .
He recently asked me for some money to help him pay off a debt. He said he will pay me back. This is the first time he has asked me for money. Should I do this or not? I'm concerned that he could be a scammer as I've heard about these sorts of things and would value your thoughts.
You are right to be concerned and you're also very brave to bring this subject up. Sometimes these types of stories come to the attention of the public but often the potential victims of scams are too ashamed or embarrassed to admit that they've been taken in or even nearly taken in and they would sooner forget all about it.
This story has all the classic hallmarks of a scam. You've met through the internet and I wouldn't mind betting that this man initiated contact with you rather than vice versa. You don't say how old you are but you may be interested to know that that women over the age of 40 are the chief targets of these types of scams. That's not to say if you're a woman over 40 you should expect to be approached by a scammer – just that this group is more likely to be approached.
He says he's a business man working abroad. This is a classic tale. Often these types will also give you some detailed story to win your trust – perhaps saying he's widowed to gain your sympathy. He's now asked you for money “to pay off a debt”. If you can take a small step back from your feelings right now, just ask yourself why any genuine person would ask for money from someone they know only through the internet. Firstly, if he was genuinely a wealthy business man who travels abroad and works for a multi-national company, he would not have to resort to asking you for money. Secondly, if he had genuinely got himself into serious problems, perhaps as a result of a drug problem or gambling and had really exhausted all lines of credit such as overdrafts, loans or credit cards, there are other ways to solve these problems besides asking a stranger for money. If you were in the same situation, would you really ask someone you'd met through the internet, but who you'd never met in person for a loan? This isn't normal. I'm sure you wouldn't have even thought of asking this man for a loan if you needed money, whatever the circumstances.
Two other scams I've heard of include stories of “wealthy business men” who befriend women through the internet and then ask them a small favour of agreeing to receive a shipped package. The woman will then receive a phone call or email shortly afterwards requesting perhaps $200 from a supposed shipping company as the full shipping bill has not been paid. The package never materialises but the credit card bill does. The other scam involves the supposed wealthy business man asking you to phone him on his satellite phone or special international business number. He may then come across as very polite and charming but the hour long phone bill could incur a bill of 1000 Euros or more.
Occasionally scammers may get through to internet dating sites. Reputable sites should have multiple checks in place to detect scammers. These safeguards should include rigorously checking that credit cards are not stolen or cloned, that the IP address and the postal address match the identity of the member, that there is nothing unusual in the text of the profile posted (such as unusually phrased content or email addresses) and that the photo does not appear suspicious in any way. The sending of a large number of contact requests in a short period of time should also automatically trigger an internet dating site to freeze an account and look very closely. Reputable sites will err on the side of caution and will not hesitate to instantly close down a member's profile if they even suspect a scammer.
Finally, one other thing that you should be very cautious of is any member on an internet dating site quickly asking you to use instant messaging or personal email rather than the secure messaging service provided. You should ignore such requests, especially in the early stages of communication as it can sometimes be a way to communicate without a trail of evidence and also to keep up communication after their account has been shut down.
I'm glad that you've been cautious and haven't simply fallen prey to this request for money. If it's all innocent he should understand if you briefly explain that you can't afford to lend him any money at all. If he's a scammer as I suspect, then you may not hear much from him after you decline to give him money.