I have a question about something I haven't seen you address. I have a friend (no, really) who uses a dating site, and ended up corresponding with a guy who claimed that he was a former marine now working on a cargo ship currently in the Indian Ocean. They emailed back and forth for a week or so before he sent her an email saying the ship had mechanical problems, and was heading to a nearby island near Somalia. The story quickly became ludicrous when he claimed that Somalian pirates were nearby. Before the ship left the island, he said he wanted to mail her a small trunk for her to keep secure with his cash and valuables because he thought it was now likely they would get overtaken by pirates. He asked for her address, but no money, in order to send her the trunk. She realized this story didn't make any sense, and she quickly cut off correspondence.

However, we are both curious, what was the point of this scam? He hadn't asked her for money; he just wanted her address. Was he merely trying for identity theft? This seems too elaborate. If the trunk even existed, would it be carrying contraband he was trying to slip through customs? If it didn't, would he have claimed she would have stolen it, and demanded the money that supposedly was in it? Could the point be to find the address of a single woman living alone in order to rob her or worse? Something else? Normally scams are pretty easy to figure out, but we're scratching our heads over this one. I couldn't find a description of this sort of scam on the internet. There are a bunch of trunk scams, but all the variants I read about involved the person sending money for the trunk.

I've always known to be careful meeting people on a dating site, but it hadn't occurred to me that there might be scams to watch out for even before the first meeting. (BTW, this dating site encourages people to email each other a lot before meeting, so it would seem to be ideal for these scammers.) Have you ever heard of anything like this? Do you have any idea what the payoff was supposed to be?

Somali Could've Abducted Marine

You're right, SCAM: I've never addressed a question about literal pirates before. (I have, however, discussed the roleplaying/porno/butt varieties ad nauseam). Thank you for expanding my horizons.

But I have received plenty of questions over the years about catfishing. (Quick reminder: Catfishing = creepy people on the Internet creating fake identities to trick people into emotional/romantic relationships.) Usually, catfishing is a game played by the bored, the lonely, the sadistic, or some combo of the three. Most catfishers aren't interested in scamming people out of anything other than their time, their emotional energy, their romantic hopes, and their faith in humanity.

That said, there are scammers at work online whose ultimate goal is scamming someone out of their identity or stealing their money—and, yes, they're all over dating websites. I'm guessing this fantasy former marine's request for information was probably the first of many requests. First, they were going to ask for your friend's home address. If she was stupid and/or incautious enough to share that info with them, they would've concluded—quite rightly—that your friends was softhearted/softheaded enough to share, oh, maybe her banking info or her social security number.

Happily, SCAM, your friend is neither soft of head nor soft of heart. She did the right thing and stopped communicating with this person. If she didn't report him to the dating site, she should.

My advice to avoid scammers/weirdos/wasting your time? Get their real name, Google 'em early, Google 'em often, and don't get sucked into a long, drawn-out conversations prior to meeting—in other words, don't make huge emotional investments in people you haven't actually met and don't actually know. Tell them you want to meet up right away for a quick drink or coffee, and that first meeting should be brief and constrained—because you have to get back to work or you have another commitment that evening.

Finally, SCAM, while your friend's Marine is almost certainly a fake—a scammer of some sort—modern-day pirates are very real.

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