CLEVELAND — We’ve all heard of dating app nightmares – maybe you’ve even been the victim of an online scam in which someone pretends to be someone they aren’t.
Scammers are now taking things to the next level by posing as law enforcement officers – even worse, News 5 found out some of these impostors are making a profit.
In a sit-down interview, Detective John Morgan had to answer a phone call from an out-of-city number.
“That’s from Columbus,” Morgan said. “Oh wait, it might be a scammer. Hold on.”
He’s been fielding all kinds of strange incoming calls for the last two months because someone is using his name and title for internet blackmail.
“The internet has anonymity, so you can be someone else,” Morgan said. “You don’t have to be yourself and you can have this alter ego.”
This version of a dating scam starts out seemingly innocent enough on dating apps like Tinder and Bumble.
However, the person on the other side of the screen isn’t looking for romance. Instead, they’re looking for hush-money.
“You can just type in whatever you want. You know, blue eyed blonde haired girl,” Morgan said. “You go to images and it shows all of these photos.”
With a quick Google image search and a few swipes right, impersonators create fake profiles and make their next move.
After just a few messages back and forth on the dating app of choice, the scammers ask to take things offline.
They say they’d prefer to communicate through phone calls and text messages because it’s more intimate.
Morgan said things typically escalate quickly and inappropriate photos are often exchanged.
“Some of them appropriate,” Morgan said. “And probably a lot of them inappropriate.”
This is where the blackmail begins.
“After the inappropriate pictures are sent, then all of a sudden, the next phone call is from either myself, ‘allegedly,’ somebody impersonating me,” Morgan said.
The scammers pose as attractive women or underage girls on the dating apps, solicit nude photos from males on the other end of the conversation and then fake a second identity.
They pretend to be Detective John Morgan and claim to be working undercover. They then blackmail the other person for cash or a money transfer.
“The voice is very commanding and it’s almost intimidating,” Morgan said.
Morgan has received more than half a dozen phone calls from panicked people who were told they needed to pay up in order to prevent criminal charges.
“So they called me back and when I answered they said, ‘Wait a minute. You don’t sound like the guy that I just talked to,’ And I immediately said, ‘Oh you’ve been scammed. Please don’t send money,’” Morgan said.
Those dating app users typically fork over the cash without hesitation to spare their permanent record from charges of solicitation or possession of child pornography.
Morgan said the fake phone calls coming from someone posing as him are convincing because he does specialize in investigating sex crimes and human trafficking.
His accolades are readily available online.
“Because they could look me up and say, ‘Oh this is legitimate,’” Morgan said.
However, Morgan said the online scare tactic is far from how a real law enforcement officer would communicate with someone under investigation.
“We’re not asking for money,” Morgan said. “We’re not saying, ‘Hey if you don’t send this then we’re going to investigate you.’”
He worries his name being used in this scam will tarnish public perception of him.
“It’s pretty aggravating because you work really hard to build up a good reputation,” Morgan said.
Morgan said if you are going to pursue a relationship online, to meet the person you are communicating with in a safe, public place before spending time together intimately.
He also suggests keeping private matters...private.
“Let’s meet for coffee,” Morgan said. “Let’s not start throwing around inappropriate pictures.”
Morgan still receives phone calls from victims of this scam.
The scam calls and wire transfers are being investigated by multiple law enforcement agencies.
No suspects have been taken into custody and no criminal charges have been filed.