FBI warns of new tactics by online romance scammers #nigeria | #nigeriascams | #lovescams

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – Getting scammed on the internet is nothing new. You’ve heard the warnings about malicious links, fake e-mails, and the many ways fraudsters try and steal your money.

Now, the FBI is focusing on romance scams because the schemers behind the screen are getting more sophisticated, organized crime rings are often behind it, and the popularity of dating apps has given criminals an easy in.

Additionally, these scams not only rob people of their money but often leave people heartbroken, depressed and ashamed.

CBS Philadelphia talked with a woman named Carina about her experience getting scammed. She said it all started when she fell for a career-oriented guy, named Evan, last year on a dating site. Carina, who is in her mid-40s with a PhD in chemistry considered herself to be a workaholic and thought she had a lot in common with Evan and a deep connection. Within weeks, they exclusively messaged outside the dating app and shared personal details about their lives.

“He spent a lot of time getting to know me,” Carina said. “This person became my confidant, my best friend, I was communicating with this person more than anyone else in my life at the time.”

Carina said Evan had a successful career in finance and after weeks of chatting, he gave her a path to pay off her student loans by investing in cryptocurrency. It required borrowing from her 401K and although she said she was reluctant, she trusted Evan’s advice and the crypto platform even showed her money growing. Evan then convinced her to invest more so she borrowed from friends and family and then took out a high-interest personal loan.

Weeks later when Carina went to withdraw her earnings, she learned there was no money and there was no Evan.

She said she lost a total of $150,000 and had spent three months communicating with this person she thought was Evan via text because he always had a good excuse for why he couldn’t talk on the phone. Authorities say this is common.

“I think the most damage comes as the emotional damage to the victim themselves because not only were they defrauded but they were heartbroken often,” FBI Supervisory Special Agent Bobby Singh said.

According to the FBI, last year a total of 970 people across Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware reported they were victimized in a romance scam losing a total of $33.5 million. Experts say these numbers are likely grossly shy of the actual toll because people are often too ashamed to admit this happened to them.

Investigators say baby boomers are often the target but victims have been reported across all age groups.

“We’re all looking for love and a connection and I understand so much more clearly now all the psychological, manipulative techniques that were used to get me to comply,” Carina said.

She now knows the photos Evan sent her were stolen from someone else’s Instagram account.

Carina has since sought out support groups and is sharing her story to help others. She met Kathy Waters, co-founder of Advocating Against Romance Scammers, a nonprofit with the goal of educating lawmakers and the public about the threat of fake romance online.

If you suspect your loved one is caught up in a romance scam, Waters recommends raising red flags or offering to help them research the photos they sent claiming to be photos of them.

“Unfortunately, you’re going to get a lot of pushback because by then a lot of the manipulation has already started and they’re going to have an answer for everything,” Waters said.

Ultimately, Waters said empathy is crucial in supporting your loved one because they are often ashamed and depressed.

“The worst thing to do is to make them feel stupid, to pass judgment because once these victims realize, and they come out of it, they are their worst enemy,” Waters said.  

According to the FBI, many of the scammers are overseas making it challenging for law enforcement to find them and recover people’s money. If you think you were a victim of a romance scam, you can report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

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