She thought she was finding love, but a woman from Massachusetts ended up losing her life savings in an apparent online dating scam.
The woman, who asked to remain anonymous and will be referred to in this story as Alice, met her online partner back in October on Facebook’s dating feature. She was under the impression that she was chatting with a hardworking family man who was widowed and looking for a meaningful connection.
“He seemed to be honest and sincere, never asked anything inappropriately, no direct questions or anything like that that would lead me to make me suspicious as to who he was,” Alice told NBC10 Boston in an interview. “Talking on the phone and texting, you get very close to people, and you really think, ‘This is going to happen.'”
The man on the other side of the screen told her that he was working on a pipeline project for a Newton-based oil company overseas in Saudi Arabia. They even video called each other multiple times.
Criminals can devote months of time to gain a victim’s trust in these cons.
“I supposedly had his name, all of his information and it seemed legitimate,” Alice said.
Things began to take a turn in April — that’s when Alice said that the man asked her to lend him money to help paying for part of the project, claiming that he was having issues accessing his bank account.
“At first, I was kind of cautious about it; I did ask and question, I did get a copy of his passport,” Alice said. “And in April, I sent him the first amount of money, and that seemed good. He sent me a tracking of the package for the pump and that sort of stuff and that was supposed to help him finish his job he was coming home.”
But the loan requests continued — for increasingly urgent reasons — and Alice kept sending money.
When the man was finally supposed to return to the United States and meet Alice at an airport, she said he claimed to be in the hospital after a car crash.
“I knew at that point I was being scammed,” Alice said. ” I kind of thought that I wish I had the last two weeks back and wouldn’t have been so vulnerable in my life.”
We at NBC10 Boston reached out to the phone number that Alice had been using to communicate with the man — and he answered when we first called in July.
Over the phone, he told us that he was not scamming Alice, and that he planned to return her money to her when he got back to the United States at the end of July.
Alice, though, still has not gotten her money back. Instead, she is now receiving emails and calls from a man claiming to be an agent with the FBI, telling her not to discuss the case with anyone. She believes these messages are a part of the same scam.
Romance scams have cost consumers hundreds of thousands of dollars.
When we reached back out to the phone number in August, the number seemed to be disconnected.
Alice has filed a report with the FBI, local police and the Florida Attorney General’s Office, which told NBC10 Boston it took the matter directly to her bank.
The FBI, meanwhile, could not confirm an open investigation into her particular case.
Supervisory Special Agent Doug Domin of the FBI Boston Division spoke to NBC10 Boston about cyber crimes in general, though, and how challenging they can be to investigate.
“Some of the loss amounts are too small to dedicate resources to,” Domin said. “We can see from a larger scale that this is actually a crime problem we need to address and investigate.”
That broader picture of different types of crime is often painted through data collected on IC3.gov — where any victim of cyber crimes are urged to report their case.
It’s not just The Tinder Swindler. $547 million was lost to romance scams in 2021, up 80% from the prior year. Unfortunately, dating apps can’t guarantee that the person you’re messaging has your best interests in mind. So we talked to sex and relationships researcher Justin Lehmiller for tips on protecting yourself from scams when you’re looking for love.
“I would first recommend they first contract the bank that money is being sent from, let them know it’s a fraudulent transaction, and then I would report it IC3.gov,” Domin said. “We encourage people to have conversations with friends and family about security.”
According to the FBI’s 2022 Internet Crime Report, the amount of money reported lost through all cyber crimes in the United States almost quadrupled from 2018 to 2022, from $2.7 billion to $10.3 billion. Domin did say, though, that there’s been a big public outreach push for people to report these crimes using IC3.gov.
As for romance/confidence scams specifically — which involves cases where the perpetrator tricks the victim into thinking they are in a relationship, whether that be familial, romantic, or otherwise — there were 19,021 cases reported to the FBI in 2022. That signified a total reported loss of $735,882,192.
In Massachusetts in 2022, there were 296 reported cases of this type of scheme, resulting in a reported loss of $9,303,384.
For Alice, she lost nearly $200,000, and that has her pushing her retirement back, and staying with her brother in Florida.
“I’ll never get my money back which is pretty sad because it’s my life savings,” Alice said. “I’ve always helped people and I’m just hoping to put a positive light on this to become an advocate for scamming for elderly people.”
After Alice said she realized that she was being scammed, she contacted the bank’s fraud department and also tried recalling the wire transfers — all to no avail.
The bank wrote in a letter to the AG’s office and to Alice that since she sent the money herself, they did not have recovery options for scams.
Her lawyer, though, fired back, writing that the bank should have raised more red flags when she made the large money transfers.
In a statement to NBC10 Boston, Chase Bank said situations like these are “heartbreaking,” and urged people to ignore requests for money.