With the growth of social media romance scams are increasingly more common and costly to its victims.
Criminal networks and unsavory characters defraud lonely people around the world with false promises of love and romance.
A romance scam is essentially a confidence trick involving feigning romantic intentions toward a victim, gaining their affection, and then using that goodwill to commit financial fraud. The fraudulent acts typically involve access to the victims money, bank accounts, credit cards ,email accounts and other identification factors. It may even involve mail-order bride scams in order to establish citizenship for the perpetrator.
Accordingly, the victims are both men and women who are typically elderly and emotionally vulnerable.
Scammers typically post profiles on dating websites, social media accounts, and classified sites in order to search for victims. With an aging population, there is no shortage of victims and the cost to them in both financial hardship as well as emotional toil, is enormous.
I have a court case at present, where a lonely opioid addicted lady met such a scammer on an online dating site and they married within weeks of meeting each other and ”falling in love” . She very quickly changed her will to make him the sole beneficiary of her approximately $5 million estate. Her children were in a state of apoplexy during their short courtship, but the more they tried to become involved in her life, the more she pushed the children away.
Typically private communications are established between the scammer and the victim, online falling in love occurs at least on the part of the lonely and vulnerable victim, and after a period of time. The scammer feels connected enough with the victim to ask for money. The excuses for the money are often imaginative, but typically fall into an urgent need for medical or education expenses. The scammer typically tells the victim that he or she will join the victim very soon in order to have a loving and lasting relationship.
The victims are often embarrassed to come forth with their situation. In 2016 the Federal Bureau of investigation received reports that in excess of $220 million US was lost to victims that year by way of relationship scams. That amount is increasing every year.
Scammers are very talented at convincing the victims that they are sincere, and know how to “play” their victims by sending love poems/letters , and building up a loving relationship with many promises of one day we will be married.
The Internet makes this type of crime and scam relatively easy because one can pretend to be anybody one wants to be. The scammers can be anywhere in the world and victimize people. They basically troll the Internet looking for targets.
The scammer will often know quite a lot of information about the intended victim beforehand by reason of information already provided on social media by the victim.
The scammers intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear herself or himself to the victim, gain trust, and ultimately promise marriage.
The victim is typically looking for love and happiness, and thus are vulnerable to hearing the appropriate messages that the scammer is well-versed in providing.
Law enforcement state that online romance fraud is a very difficult crime to prove, as someone using a computer to hide behind, can be anywhere in the world. The scammer typically remains a fugitive whose real identity may not even be known. Thus it is a lucrative an easy crime to commit, and easier still to remain anonymous and beyond the reach of authorities.
To an objective observer there are often many “red flags” that the victim should have or could have realized if enough effort was put into researching the purported love interest.
Some general advice to avoid being a victim of such scammers is as follows:
1. Go slow and ask lots of questions;
2. Be wary of individuals who seem too perfect or too quick to initiate leaving a dating site to go off-line and communicate directly;
3. Beware of attempts to isolate yourself from friends and family;
4. Do not provide intimate photographs or financial information that could be used later to extort
5. Never send money to anyone you do not know personally.
6. Be at least as suspicious on the Internet as you would be if you met and unsavory character in person.
Banks and other financial institutions could greatly assist in reducing the number of romance scams if they were to become more involved in unusual financial transactions involving a senior. For example, financial institutions must automatically report any overseas transaction greater than $10,000, but the federal watchdog only investigates suspected money-laundering or terrorist financing activities, and not the financial abuse of vulnerable elders.