Hickory woman describes romance scammer | #datingscams | #lovescams

North Carolina is 9th in the nation for romance scams. The FBI reports that 422 victims lost $18 million in 2022.

HICKORY, N.C. — New FTC data shows 70,000 Americans lost a record $1.3 billion to romance scams in 2022, nearly doubling the $547 million victims lost in 2021. 

Experts say artificial intelligence, deep fake videos, and voice cloning are partly behind the troubling trend, allowing scammers to more easily deceive people looking for love. 

North Carolina is ranked 9th in the nation for romance scams. According to the FBI, 422 victims lost $18 million in 2022. WCNC Charlotte spoke with one of those victims who said she wished she recognized the red flags. 

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Lara Miller is a therapist in Hickory who offers pro bono counseling through her nonprofit.  

In 2022, a young man living in Africa messaged her on LinkedIn, asking for help. He shared an elaborate story with Miller about his family falling on hard times. 

“I felt empathy and sympathy and I felt bad for him,” Miller shared. “So, this is what kept me going.”

After days of chatting online, he tried making things romantic. “He would overly compliment me,” Miller recalled. 

When Miller shut down the scammer’s advances, he pivoted to another tactic.  

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“He then started pursuing … talking to me, wanting to call me mom and pursued the motherly angle,” Miller said.

Weeks later, the scammer told Miller he got hurt while working.  

“He says to me, ‘Oh, I can’t afford the medicine,’” Miller said. She then sent him $50. 

It didn’t take long before he asked for more money for rent and food. Miller told him to stop asking, stating he was violating her boundaries, but he kept pushing for more.  

“That’s when I was like, oh, red flag,” Miller recalled. Feeling manipulated for money, she stopped responding to the constant “guilt-tripping” messages.  

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“Anything that has to do with money, money being sent to someone that you don’t know, receiving funds, doesn’t matter how, but these are red flags,”  Social Catfish Co-founder Breanne McClellan said.

Social Catfish is a company that verifies online identities using reverse search technology. McClellan said people who have fallen victim to romance scams need to be extra careful afterward. 

“Unfortunately, when you do send someone money online, they put you on a list and so they will constantly contact you after the fact,” McClellan explained. 

Miller is relieved she was able to snap out of the scam with minimal losses and block the man.

“He was doing this with other women,” said Miller. “This is why I reported all of this to Social Catfish because I don’t want this to happen to other people.” 

Here are some tips to avoid becoming a victim of a scam: 

  • Emotional appeal – Any pitch that ratchets up your emotion will inhibit your rational judgment.  
  • Sense of urgency – You MUST act now, or else.  
  • Request for unorthodox payment – Gift cards, prepaid credit cards, wire transfers, etc.  
  • Explanations that don’t ring true – If your new “landlord” can’t show you the inside of the house, that could be because they don’t own it.  
  • You won, now pay up – It’s not a prize if you have to pay for it. Taxes, fees, shipping, whatever.  
  • Too good to be true – That’s because it’s not true. Sorry, your long-lost relative didn’t die, leaving you millions. That car you bought online for a third of its Kelly Blue Book value doesn’t really exist. The son of a billionaire diamond broker didn’t “swipe right” on you and fall instantly in love. That work-at-home job paying you hundreds of dollars an hour for stuffing envelopes isn’t real. 

Contact Julia Kauffman at jkauffman@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookX and Instagram


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