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Should I send him money? Is he real? Is this a romance scam? Is this company legitimate?

These are the questions people are being forced to ask. It’s heartbreaking. Honest people are taken advantage of every day by 419 scams that prey on their vulnerabilities and trusting natures. We’ve seen literally hundreds of people on our forums who have fallen victim to these scams. They come here to warn others, or to see if they’ve been fooled, but the stories rarely have a happy ending.

It happens like this:

Divorced and lonely, you take a chance on a dating website, and there he is, a good and kind Christian man who talks to you daily and wants nothing more than to build a life with you. Unfortunately, he’s currently in Nigeria on a work contract and has run into some difficulty buying his plane ticket home, so could you just lend him $1,000...

Or it happens like this:

You’re toiling away at a low-paying job, when you’re offered a great job and an even better salary for a contract working for a company in London. It’s all so perfect with accommodation, meals, transport, everything included so you can send all your money home to your family. All you need to do is send them $500 for the application fee...

Or even like this:

Doing on online search for puppies to adopt, you meet a sweet woman from Cameroon who’s got a litter of English Bulldogs that she wants to send to good homes. They’re free, of course because they don’t want to make money from this and all you need to pay is the airport fees, which suddenly triple when the puppies are stuck at Douala Airport...

The scenarios described above, including the Job Scam, Nigerian Love Scam, Russian Girlfriend Scam, Sufficient Travel Funds Scam, and Cameroon Puppy Scam, are the most common scams we come across. There are many others though, including the ‘Friend in Distress’: You get a Facebook message or email from a friend who says he’s been robbed in a foreign country and needs you to send him money. He provides you with Western Union details. In reality your friend is sitting at home, unaware his account has been hacked.


Warning Signs You're Being Scammed Online

There are several warning signs that someone you met online is trying to scam you. The most common are:

- Poor spelling and grammar.
- Failure to send pictures on request or video chat.
- Having a thick African or Pakistani accent despite claims of being from the US or UK.
- Forming an online relationship that becomes serious quickly while they claim to be working abroad.
- Claiming to represent a company while using a Gmail, Hotmail or Yahoo email address.
- Asking for money from you, a person they barely know and have never met.
- Insisting money be sent via Western Union or other money order.

These are just a few of the warning signs you’re being scammed, and the last is the most important. Even if their reason sounds legitimate, why would they ask you for money? If it’s for a business there should be back-up funds available. If it’s personal then they surely have friends or family that can help them.


The Truth About Sufficient Travel Funds Scams

As a travel website, it may seem odd that we’ve come to be an authority on Nigerian 419 scams, but the basis of most these scams is the convoluted world of visa fees, airport taxes, and work permits. These are confusing things, with a lot of misinformation out there. Very few people outside of the travel industry really know anything about these fees. There are several constant guidelines you can be sure of, however:

- Visas are checked and issued upon arrival, not departure. If a person doesn’t need to apply for a visa in advance, then they will get it when their plane lands.
- Passengers are not required to carry cash. There is no airline, and no country, that requires passengers to have a ‘sufficient funds’ before they can board a plane.
- There is almost never a situation in which cash is needed to buy a plane ticket.


How to Protect Yourself from Being Scammed

If you think you’re caught up in a scam but aren’t quite ready to write the person off, there are measures you can take to protect yourself. Always verify their story from a third party, but NOT a third party that they put you in touch with. If they need to pay the Ghana Aviation Authority, then phone the Ghana Aviation Authority. If they need money for a UK visa, phone the UK embassy in their country. In the case of stories like the Cameroon Puppy Scam, when goods are stuck at a border insist on seeing official documentation with itemised invoices. Border control in any country will provide these documents.

Never send a money order to a person you don’t know. There’s a reason scammers use Western Union: it’s non-refundable. Once they have your money there’s no way to get it back. If you decide to give someone money, insist on using Paypal or another verified service so you have recourse to get your money back if it turns out to be a scam.

You should always be wary when someone asks for money online, no matter what the situation. Even though we want to be able to trust people, we all need to protect ourselves from those that would take advantage.