Romance scammer uses ethical hacker’s user profile for evil: Part One
By Terry Cutler
“Are you that Terry Cutler?” the woman on Facebook Messenger asked. “The one I’ve been chatting with online? The one I am in love with?”
Thinking to myself, “Who wouldn’t be in love with me with my dashing good looks and superhero physique?”
But then I realized the seriousness and that someone she knew as Terry Cutler had stolen my name, personal life, and business life—available online—to build a fake Terry Cutler profile.
The woman, who we will call “Brenna” to protect her identity, in mid-2021, opened Facebook Dating and saw the fake profile, using my picture and background information. Once the connection was made, he asked her to continue the conversation on WhatsApp.
Soon, Brenna fell in love with her online beau and, over three months, handed over 40,000-pound sterling, or $68,453.00 in Canadian funds.
They had never met. Planned visits ended with “Terry” making excuses and cancelling his visits—a work-related emergency, a stop payment preventing him from paying his bills, a family emergency. The demand for financial help continued.
That’s when Brenna began her investigation. The search for her “Terry” ended with me, and we connected on Zoom.
Creating a fake online identity
Romance scams occur when someone deliberately creates a fake online identity or adopts someone’s online profile to search for vulnerable women to gain affection and trust. The goal is to establish a relationship, endear themselves to win over their victims and gain confidence.
The scammer will usually lie about their occupation, background, and education. In this case, Brenna’s scammer said he was in cybersecurity, had two children, and was living in the United Kingdom.
They will say whatever the victim wants to hear. Requests for personal or financial information, intimate photos or videos soon follow and plans to meet in person. Soon, they will ask for money to help them with an emergency and promise to pay it back but never do.
Many victims are over the age of 50, mostly women, in a problematic marriage, recently divorced or widowed, desperately looking for love through dating sites or other social media, having money, and willing to give it.
It’s happening more than we would like to believe.
In 2019, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre received 972 complaints related to romance scams, including 682 victims purging their bank accounts of more than $19 million to scammers pretending to be someone they are not. The number of victims may be higher—many people do not file complaints because they feel embarrassed.
We are all human, and we make mistakes. Some signs that will tell you may be under the web of a romance scammer include:
Be careful what you post online
- Be careful what you post online. Scammers can fit pieces of your life using photos and posts to develop a complete picture to hone in on your vulnerabilities. For example, you may radiate online that you are a very giving woman who is well-off financially. You may also post online the first anniversary of your late husband’s passing, a tell-all signal to a romance scammer that you are open to online requests to find love.
Remove what you already have online –
- Research photos and profiles using online searches.
- Go slowly and ask lots of questions
- If the individual asks you to leave a dating service or social media site.
- If the individual agrees with everything you are saying and in everything you believe, this is a sign you are under the spell of a romance scam.
- The individual may attempt to isolate you from friends and family.
- Deny requests for inappropriate photos or financial information that could later extort you.
- If you haven’t met the person after a few months, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Never send money to anyone. If you don’t know somebody, don’t send the money.
- If the person is too good to be true, then it is.
Brenna could never have imagined such a person could exist. The time may have been right. Increases in reported romance scams coincide with the Pandemic of 2020.
In Part Two of Are you the Terry Cutler hitting on me? Why are we so vulnerable to romance scams?
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