Sextortion Scam Hitting Online Dating Sites in South Florida
Photo by bark via Flickr cc
If being a member of an online dating site wasn't treacherous enough, there's a sextortion scam going around that you should know about.
The scammers apparently use a charm offensive to cozy up with a victim, make that person believe he or she is the one, and then asks for a nude pic. Once the victim has sent that pic, the scammer then drops a scambomb by claiming to be law enforcement and telling the victim the nudes were sent to an underaged person.
Then comes the kicker: the victim is demanded to pay a fine, or else face the legal consequences.
Charm, trust, shame and fear. That's the scammer's modus operandi here, and BSO wants you to be aware of it.
"The scammers are targeting dating sites and engaging with people as a dater," BSO Officer Keyla Concepcion tells New Times. "They gain enough trust to have them send them a photo. Once they get the person, then they say they're an officer, and tell them they're in trouble."
So far there have been at least two confirmed cases where the suspect identifies himself as a law enforcement officer working with the BSO. The suspect, preying on the victim's fear of having sent a nude to a minor, orders the victim to pay a fine via Western Union or money order to avoid being arrested on a federal warrant.
According to Concepcion, victims have paid between $500 and $1,500 to meet the extortionists' demands. In attempt to make things look as legit and scary as possible, the suspect has been using names of real cops around the country.
BSO Major Donn Peterson's name has come up several times. Peterson says he's received numerous phone calls from frightened targets who tracked him down.
Once the victims realize Peterson's voice is different from the person they've been talking to who identified themselves as Major Peterson, they then realize they've been blackmailed.
"Major Peterson says he's gotten at least nine calls," Concepcion says. "Some of the callers are from the Gulf Coast region and as far as New York."
The sextortion scam is an active ongoing case that is apparently wide spread, and not just in South Florida. For now, investigators say that victims have been coming from the online dating site MBuzzy.com.
"It's not eHarmony, or one of the big sites," Concepcion says. "But our hope is that as more and more victims come forward, maybe we can find out if the scammers are working the big sites as well."
What BSO wants to stress, more than anything, is that neither cops nor any member of any law enforcement agency will ever call you and ask for money.
"We understand people get scared and, in a panic, they might fall for it," Concepcion says. "But no law enforcement agent will ever ask you for any money. There are legal proceedings involved, you'll have to go to court, even for something as small as a fine. Never will you have an officer ask you for money."
The key, of course, is not to freak out if you're targeted by one of these scammers.
"At the very least, take a moment and think it through," Concepcion says. "We understand there's an element of fear and even shame placed on the victim."
In fact, Concepcion says, instead of panicking, try to get as much information from the caller as you can. A call-back number, a name, anything you can use. Then notify your local law enforcement immediately.
According to BSO, law enforcement officers have encountered the fake red light scam, IRS collection scam, missed jury duty scam and injured/incarcerated family member scam over the years. The one thing all these scams have in common is blackmail, and the use of the victim's fear.
So here are some things you should know, via BSO: • No law enforcement agency will ever contact you by telephone to demand money or any other form of payment. • Citizens are reminded to use caution when conducting any online transaction or conversation originated in chat room forums. • Never give out your personal information in response to an unsolicited phone call or email. • If you receive a phone call from anyone claiming to be a federal agent or other law enforcement official seeking money, refuse the demand and report the threat to your local law enforcement agency immediately.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss New Times Broward-Palm Beach's biggest stories.