Anatomy of a “Lonely Hearts Scam” Day one!

The other day I was minding my own business when I received a random message on Whatsapp.  I honestly only use the app to talk to a few people. Looking at the message was obviously a scam of some kind. As I am currently studying the psychology of scams I figured this would be a great opportunity to do a little research. with a real-life con artist, They are totally unprepared for me.

The plan is to gather a lot of information about the techniques the con artist will use to convince the mark to give them money.

Is there a chance this is a real person contacting me? Sure but the more you read into this the more that it will be clear this is a con artist.

What is a Lonely Hearts Scam? 

The lonely hearts Scam (AKA Catfishing, Romance Scam etc) is always done through some kind of correspondence and has existed way before email or even the telegraph. The scam works like this. 

  1. Mark receives a message from an attractive person (Sorry ladies you are not immune) 
    1. The con artist starts a conversation and slowly over time begins to build trust and romance.
  2. There will be many attempts to meet however for some reason something always fails. 
  3. At some point there will be a situation where they need you.
    1. Money will need to be wired or mailed in a way that is difficult to trace. 
    2. Package will often be filled with personal items but switched turning the mark into an unwitting drug mule. 
    3. You get a strange message Where they have been captured and you need to pay a randsom.

Most of the time the scammer contacts over a dating website and occasionally emails.  This time it is over WhatsApp.

Lonely Hearts Scam, How does the scam work? Understanding how to defend yourself vs Scams and Con artists.
Lonely Hearts Scam looking at how the con works

Lets break it down 

Unlike a lot of scams we get over the phone or where links are sent. The lonely hearts scam takes time. They will most likely have detailed notes on what is said so they can reference them again. They are also most likely chatting to 10-20 people all at the same time. I’m expecting this to take a few months.

She starts off with “Long time no see, How are you? 

This seems normal enough and that is the point. We often forget we met people. and we do not want to feel rude. By suggesting that they know us puts us on the back foot. During this time our brain is working hard to find out how we know someone. Guilt is a powerful factor for misdirection.

Many people will not reply and just delete the message. And honestly, that is fine by the con artist as they want to weed out anyone who might get angry and waste their time or worse .. get them caught.

“I’m fine too, I’m Alice, Do we know each other? Why is your phone in my Mobile phone?” 

Once again this is a method of making it seem like we know each other. Even I at this point was not 100% sure they were not some kind of business contact. So I started off polite and provided my real first name. (That is the only real bit they are going to get from me….. I have created a profile just for this occasion see below) If this was a real contact my first name should be enough to jog any memory. 

Hey, Kevin hello, nice to meet you. 

IF we don’t remember where we met maybe I have the wrong number again. 

This is where the scammer is trying to qualify if I’m going o be a good mark. She is giving me the opportunity to end the conversation ( I’m going to use “She” in this case as it will be easier for the readers… however gender is not important for this scam because we will never meet) 

She also stated that she has the wrong number again. This justifies the random connection and for those lonely hearts out there,  giving a sense of luck. “How lucky am I that a random beautiful woman just happen to have the wrong number and contact me” 

I’m in China and I left Australia before the outbreak, which scared me. 

This is where she is setting the stage for a later in the con. She says that she is in China and had visited Australia. For me, this is the clear sign of a Lonely Hearts scam. I actually do not believe she is in China, The scam needs a foreshadowing of some kind of conflict at a later date. Like a location that Mark believes to be an oppressive government. 

The part about the outbreak is interesting to me as it’s obviously a qualifying statement. This could have a few factors. They are either setting up to “escape because of an outbreak” or they want to figure out if I’m an anti-vaccine or a covid denier (People with low levels of critical thinking as they have already fallen prey to disinformation making them an easy mark for an experienced con artist) 

There is also the possibility that it’s just filler. The con artist wants to keep the conversation going. They will for the most part agree with me with most of my statements. Remember she is trying to build a false relationship. So unlike the salesman at the car lot, she is not going to hit me up with the sales pitch anytime soon. The Longer we talk the deeper the hook is set.

What do we know so far? 

With just a few lines we can tell a lot about the scam. 

  • I was informed by a friend that the phone number is from the UK. 
  • Person claims to be from China. 
  • Reading the phrasing it suggests that the person is not a native English speaker (However that can be part of the scam) 
  • The interactions started later at night 7:37 PM, and tends to be more active during that night (More information about that later) 
  • They claim to be from an oppressive country 
  • I would say they do not have a lot of hacking skills otherwise they would have done some research on me.

Ok back to work. 

We talk back and forth a bit about the pandemic. The normal stuff. If we are vaccinated (more likely probing to see what my stance is) When talking about the lockdown she said 

I hope not, I’m going to take my daughter to Australia 

This is important. Notice she did not mention if that was going to be for a vacation or if she is trying to escape China. Giving the story flexibility to adjust the story to however our chat goes. But most importantly it builds sympathy mentioning that there is a child involved and a daughter at that. It also builds the story allowing Mark to fill in a lot of blanks. 

I asked what she did for a living. Honestly, I was expecting “Model”, “Actress” or “Unemployed” as these are the most common with this kind of scam as they are very glamorous. However, the answer is genius for a lonely hearts scam. 

Lonely Hearts Scam how they manipulate how you think

I run my own plastic surgery hospital, and I also invest in stocks and passwords

A good con allows the Mark to fill in the blanks, never direct. They use a technique of guided discovery to control what you are thinking.  This is where they give you enough information for you to come up with your own conclusions making you think it was your own idea.

Let’s break it down. 

I run my own plastic surgery hospital suggest that she has money, professional a medical Doctor even. 

Con artists will often set the concept that they do not need money. This makes us relax or possibly dream of sharing that money with them. (Lonely hearts scam and all that) 

Then we have the subtle suggestion of Plastic Surgery. When you think of a beautiful woman and plastic surgery what is the first thing that comes to mind? Yep “Boob Job”. Yet again adding to the painting of a very attractive woman. The con artist has tricked the mark into picturing their perfect woman. They can’t help it.

Now let’s address Cryptocurrency. This is part of a qualifier. She wants to know how knowledgeable I am with Bitcoin. This will help with a later transaction. It also suggests that she has money. 

 So now the victim would have the image of an attractive Asian woman who is successful smart, with big boobs and a lot of money and is already a mother. The perfect bait that preys on a middle-aged white guy who would be interested in a wife.

Fake persona for fighting back.

So in order to string this along, I needed to have a persona to play along, and not give out any real information about me. If they had done their research they would not have chosen me as a Mark. So I’m going to assume that I can use a made-up profile. So I created one but kept Kevin as the first name.

  • Name: Kevin S.mith (I altered the name in this blog post delibertly so google does not give me away if they do a search in my area)
  • Age: 46 
  • Job: Insurance Sales
  • Relationship status: Divorced. 
  • Not good with computers and likes working on old cars and hiking. 

Fake Kevin just happens to share a name with a famous director making him hard to Google to verify my story. When she asks my name I will go on a long rant about how I share the name with the director and how it’s a pain in the ass. I’m also going to talk about my “Work in insurance sales” often and talk about a potential bonus or promotion that is coming up. (Making me an attractive mark)

I have taken detailed notes to refer back to the story that I have told. Because this is exactly what she is doing. Lonely hearts scammers will often keep detailed notes as they are running this same scam with 10 other people at the same time.

More to come.

This I was just day one. Like I said before I’m expecting this to take time.

Con artists use stories and our own brains against us. They want us to feel strongly about something. Lust, greed, Love or even compassion. When we are filled with strong emotion we are less likely to pay attention to the details that may give a con artist away. A story is the best way to deliver that emotion.

To avoid lonely hearts scams

  • Never send money to anyone you are not actually dating in the real world.
  • Trust your gut. If something is wrong you are most likely correct.
  • If it’s too good to be true then it’s a scam
  • When the emotions get strong .. check in with a friend and get their opinion (AND TRUST YOUR FRIEND! )

More from MacMason