The romance racket is a growing, multimillion dollar-a year industry.
Love-related fraud has seen a disturbing, three-fold increase in recent years, with reports of the con tripling to 33,000 between 2016 and 2020, during which time losses quadrupled to $304 million annually, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
“I lost everything,” Evelyn, a badly scammed 60-something told the Tampa Bay Times of her experience being defrauded by a “silver fox” named Robert Wilson who turned out to be a group of criminals operating out of Nigeria. Unfortunately, she only realized who Wilson (whom she never met in person) was after he’d wooed her through virtual romancing and convinced her to loan him $204,000 over the course of six months.
Floridians have been so hard hit by romance scams in recent years (state residents lost $40.1 million to the cons in 2020 alone, according to the FBI) that Miami has a Society of Citizens Against Romance Scams.
“A critical thing to know,” the group’s founder, Tim McGuinness, told the Times, “is that virtually everyone can be scammed. It’s only a question of the right grooming and right story.”
Indeed, scams often follow a pattern of an individual reaching out via the internet, inundating their victim in love on a rapid timeline, being unavailable to meet up in person then suddenly finding themselves in a tight spot and in dire need of money.
Concerned a potential suitor has more in mind than winning your heart? John Jay College of Criminal Justice professor Chitra Raghavan recommends simply trusting your instincts if you think you may be being scammed.
“If you feel uneasy or uncomfortable,” Raghavan recommended, “go with your gut.”
Kinsey Institute at Indiana University senior research fellow Helen Fisher gave the Florida paper similar advice for those concerned about the sincerity of an online sweetheart: Be aware of what you’re purposefully refusing to see as a result of being courted.
“Scam artists trigger this brain circuitry, enabling these people to crave them,” she said. “These scammers are good enough to keep escalating those feelings… People feel good, and they overlook a lot because of that.”