(Gray) — They’re designed to pull at your heartstrings, but romance con-artists often leave a financial and emotionally devastating trail of loss.
These crimes are unusually cruel. These con-artists toy with a person’s emotions for months and they end up taking a lot of people’s life savings. In the first six months of 2021, the FBI’s received more than 1,800 complaints, resulting in losses of more than $133,400,000.
“They’re very common, very prolific, and very effective,” said FBI Task Force member Stuart Voncanon.
Voncanon is also embed in the FBI’s cyber squad. He said romance scams are growing at an alarming rate.
“While we have one victim here that’s being targeted by a romance scam, we think it’s commonly numerous different actors that are actually targeting the person acting like the same person,” Voncanon added.
The bad guys are usually overseas and hard to catch. The victims are typically older and skew female, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a man or younger person who’s scammed.
The relationships start out over email or social media apps, on the phone, or through dating websites, but the big warning sign. There’s often never any face-to-face communication, no Facetiming or Zooming. The victims never really know who they are truly talking to, even if they think they do.
“We always try to relay to them and kind of share an outsiders point of view. ‘Hey, does this part really make sense? Does this part really make sense?’ and often times, they just don’t want to believe it and when they do, it’s very, very embarrassing,” Voncanon explained.
There’s usually a good story. A person is overseas in the military about to come home and they’re looking for love. At first, no money changes hands, but if a person asks you for iTunes gift cards, Google Play cards, payments in strange forms, it should be a warning.
Another sure sign of a scam: These con-artists often ask their victims to open bank accounts for them, either in the victim’s own name, or in the name of a fake business. These accounts are then used to launder money that was stolen as part of other cyber schemes.
“It reaches a critical area where the victims have invested so much into it, no matter how much worse it gets. It’s difficult for them to kind of walk away from it,” Voncanon added.
If you’ve been the victim of a scam like this, it’s important to tell family, so you have a support system. This is an emotionally devastating crime. Also, report it to the FBI. These bad actors usually have dozens of these scams going on at once. The FBI may be able to connect them and help several people.
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