Regina man's identity used in online romance scamming
Alec Couros reports many fake profiles that use his photos and scam women into falling in love
For years, con artists have been using Couros's identity for romance scamming. They take his photos to create a fake online profile. This profile may be on Facebook, or dating sites such as Christian Mingle and Plenty of Fish.
The scammers are usually a group of people in Nigeria or Ghana posing as one person. They then lure women into romantic relationships and try to get money once the women fall in love.
Couros is a professor at the University of Regina who focuses on communication technologies. He has an active online presence. Scammers can easily grab photos of him and his children to paint a picture of a divorced or widowed man looking for love.
They can communicate over written messages, or even blur YouTube clips of Couros to make it appear like a low-quality video call. Then, they try to get money.
"These people use a lot of great psychological aspects to con people in," said Couros.
Conversations between scammers and victims will often go on for months. The con artists will find different ways to ask for money. In some cases they pretend they are flying to see the women, but got stuck in an airport with no passport and need to ask for some quick money.
In one instance a woman in Brazil took out a $500 loan to help the man she thought she was dating.
Couros says it's not just one type of person who is being scammed by these tricks.
"Where you've got a heart you can be scammed."
Women scammed around the world
The first time Couros discovered his identity was being used to lure women into a relationship was 2007. A woman from Barcelona posted on Couros's Facebook wall that he was in a relationship with her. He describes his actual wife as "very patient" throughout all of this.
Another woman in Texas only discovered her relationship was fake when her son decided to do some investigating. The woman was a bit out of Couros's age range. Her suspicious son did a reverse Google image search of the photo and found it traced back to Couros.
This woman believed she was in love with Couros. She had his photograph both at work and on the mantel in her bedroom. It wasn't until her son showed her a YouTube video of Couros as his real self that she realized she had been duped.
In a letter from the woman posted to Couros's blog, she writes, "I died in that moment. I now realized that the person that I have been in love with has your face but is another person."
Websites not prepared to deal with romance scamming
This past week, Couros's own Facebook account was taken down. He received a message from Facebook that questioned his identity. He had to send his passport ID to prove it was him.
Couros sees this as a sign that Facebook needs a new reporting and authentication system. His Facebook account had been around for more than seven years, and he had more than 2,000 friends. Yet it could be taken down by someone reporting it. He suspects it could be someone from one of the fake accounts that turned him in.
Couros says this is a problem that needs to be fixed.