Are you in a romance scam?
Scammers are criminals who will say and do anything to steal your money. Probably the lowest scam out there is the romance scam.
Due to divorce, separation or death of a partner, you find yourself lonely to the point of desperation. You’ve heard that people meet new partners on social media, on online dating sites and you decide to give it a try. After all, no harm in seeing if there is someone out there, somewhere in the world, for you.
As these thoughts are going through your mind, thousands of seasoned crooks from around the world have laid traps to drain your bank account, and in the end, rip your heart out.
In 2020, romance scams increased by 50%, with victims reporting losses of $304 million. Average victim losses largely depend on the amount of financial assets owned by an individual. Wealthy people routinely lose more than a million dollars in a romance scam before they realize something is wrong.
But romance scammers also prey on older adults with relatively little in savings, and may spend months working to relieve a retiree on a fixed income of the few thousand bucks they’ve put aside for a rainy day.
The FBI reports that online romance scams continue to grow because of the money involved. Out of all the scams out there, victims suffer the greatest financial losses from romance scams.
The perpetrators of romance scams are ruthless and weave their evil webs using the psychology of loneliness.
1. You visit a dating site on the internet, share some details about your life, and post it for everyone to see.
2. Surprisingly quick, you receive a reply from someone, usually living overseas (or so they say), who shares your loneliness, understands your situation and tries to establish regular contact. Internet romance scammers move quickly, and the usual ploy is to get you to move communications from a dating site to text messaging.
The criminals use inexpensive software to hide their actual identity and location, but relentlessly pursue you through text messaging. When you ask to have a video chat with your new love, there is always a reason it can’t be done.
3. The scammer is aware of your brain chemistry and the reactions that quickly make you dependent on them and begin to trust the new love you don’t really know anything about. When trust is established, the scammer starts asking for money.
4. Knowing you are lonely, the scammer promises to come to visit, or even to marry you, but…
There is always a “but.”
The reason given why that promised visit can’t be made will usually be attached to a need for money, such as, replacing a lost passport, buying an airline ticket, paying for medical care, getting a visa, or helping with a business investment.
Once you’ve sent a scammer money, no matter how small, the reasons for more money never stop — until you wake up to the fact you’re being duped, or just run out of money to send.
Romance scammers usually tell victims to send money via cash, gift card or wire transfer. Once the money is sent — it’s gone forever.
It Can’t Happen To Me
I continue to be amazed at the people I meet at scam presentations who confess losing money in romance fraud. When we talk about their romance scam, it has ALWAYS followed the steps described above.
We’re not talking about stupid people. Retired doctors, lawyers, construction magnates, school teachers and even police officers fall for romance scams every day.
Be aware of your online relationships and protect yourself by asking for a video chat early in your relationship. Double-check the identity of the person you’ve met by researching their name on the internet and comparing their photo to pictures already on the web.
Be aware scammers often use posted photos of people, use a “reverse image” of a person, and create a fake identity around that photo. In other words, you are indeed looking at the picture of a real person — just not the actual person bombarding you with text messages.
If you become involved in an internet love affair, move ever-so-slowly. Ask a friend or relative for a second opinion, and never, ever send money to anyone you met online just a few weeks ago.
The Valley has a large number of seniors who’ve successfully made it to their golden years by “not being born yesterday.” Recognizing your humanity and how loneliness makes you vulnerable to heartless crooks is big step in stopping romance scammers cold in their tracks.
If you have a question on a possible scam, talk to a family member or call your local police department. Seniors can also call their county Senior Services Unit for more information about scams. In Mahoning County, call Bob Schaeffer at 330-480-5078. In Trumbull County, call Don Hyde at 330-675-7096.
Dave Long of Poland, a Youngstown State University graduate, is a retired public affairs officer with U.S. Customs and Border Protection who later worked as an Elder Scam Prevention Outreach specialist in Rochester, N.Y., before moving back to the Mahoning Valley.