RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) – 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 often 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 Henrico Police Detective Stuart VonCanon. He’s also embedded in the FBI’s Cyber Squad. He says 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.”
The bad guys are usually overseas and hard to catch. The victims are typically older and 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 is that there’s often never any face-to-face communication – no Facetime 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 outsider’s point of view ‘hey, does this part really make sense, does this part really make sense?’ Oftentimes they just don’t’ want to believe it. When they do, it’s very, very embarrassing,” VonCanon said.
There’s usually a good story, which is a person who 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 or payments in strange forms, it should be a warning.
Another sure sign of a scam is that 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 said.
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 at ic3.gov. 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.
Copyright 2021 WWBT. All rights reserved.
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