Romance scams cost Americans $500 million each year, the FBI says. And the crime is soaring fast. Lonely people isolated at home during the pandemic are an attractive target for thee criminals. We’re currently exploring this awful phenomenon in a two-part podcast series at AARP’s The Perfect Scam.
In last week’s episode, I shared the story of Christine, who just can’t talk her recently-widowed mom out of sending money to online criminals posting as romantic partners. Mom is basically out of money now. She’s spent all her retirement funds, even taken out title loans on her car, just to keep her “online lover” happy. The fever of deception has gotten to the point that Christine’s mom has nearly cut off her daughter. It’s a painful tale; you can hear Christine ache as she describes losing both her father and her mother in a short span of time.
Today’s story is equally disturbing, but there is a happier ending. Last week we also met Ben, and his mom Debbie, who gave everything she had to lovers she met online. Today we re-join the story of Ben and Debbie, just as he discovers his mom is in severe money trouble – Debbie had asked her sister for help paying the bills and Ben found out that way. He doesn’t really understand why, not yet. Debbie is a widow, living in New Jersey. Her husband died over a decade ago, and she only started dating again recently. She’s met a few men playing games like Words With Friends, and she’s struck up all-virtual relationships with them. Ben knows his mom had been chatting with a man named Joshua, but he has no idea how far things have gone.
In this episode, I’ll offer a rare glimpse at a moment when a loving family is able to break that fever of deception. It’s a moment I’m very proud to share, and I think it’s really important for anyone trying to free someone they love from a romance scam. If you or someone you love is in this situation, I hope listening to this episode will give you a roadmap for dealing with this issue.
Listen to today’s podcast by clicking on this link, or clicking the play button below.
Don’t miss a post. Sign up for my newsletter
BOB SULLIVAN is a veteran journalist and the author of four books, including the 2008 New York Times Best-Seller, Gotcha Capitalism, and the 2010 New York Times Best Seller, Stop Getting Ripped Off! His latest, The Plateau Effect, was published in 2013, and as a paperback, called Getting Unstuck in 2014. He has won the Society of Professional Journalists prestigious Public Service award, a Peabody award, and The Consumer Federation of America Betty Furness award, and been given Consumer Action’s Consumer Excellence Award.