There is one very common scam which dramatically increased during COVID-19 pandemic and does not show any signs of slowing down. It is reported that Americans have lost more money to romance scams than any other scam, over a billion dollars just to this scam alone. A disturbing trend of scammers targeting recent widowers and widows playing on the emotion of the loss and loneliness to build a relationship.
Scams This Week 7/19/22
July 19, 2022
Romance Scams: This scam is not gender-specific as there are as many men and women through all the various sites who are looking for relationships. Unlike most scams that happen in a more short-term time frame, Romance Scammers take their time to build trust and slowly ask for money. This is because this is a multiphase scam that can happen over months or years. This makes them harder to stop.
Phase One: These follow a similar pattern as other scams and start with cold contact. This could be a fake dating profile, a fake social media page, or whatever they can use to establish contact. The user will always have an excuse as to why they are out of the country or in a different state.
Some common excuses are they are working on an oil rig, are serving in the military, or are a doctor with an international organization. They may be traveling and they’re having passport issues.
The scammer begins developing a relationship with the victim and taking as much money from them as possible. Once the relationship is set, the “goal” is to move the relationship forward and live happily ever after. The scammer's real goal is to lead the victim on as long as they can and steal as much money as possible so the excuses and the gaslighting are at an all-time high during this phase. The money they ask for could be for family, a flight to visit, medical bills, and travel documents, etc. After they have taken all the money that they can from the victim, and the victim is really questioning, the scammer will move on to phase 2.
Phase Two: The scammer has money sent to the victim from a third party, typically from another person being scammed. The scammers will say the money comes from their lawyer, family friends as a future wedding gift, business partners, etc. The victim is told to keep a small amount of the funds and send the rest to the scammer through gift cards, transfers, or bitcoin. This is all with the idea that the person the victim is communicating with will be coming to be with them to live happily ever after.
Phase Three: Most money mule situations end with threats. if money is sent to the money mule/victim and they do not send it to the suspect, this is when the threats start. They’ll say if you do not send the funds then they will be hurt, arrested for stealing the money, or even that a hired killer will be hunting them down and killing them if they do not send the money.
It is always easy to see the red flags after the scam is over, but when in the love or scam fog it is much harder to recognize. Detective Brad Thorne says something that has always resonated with him was a comment from an elderly male victim who was a widower, answering a question to someone who asked how he could fall for it. He stated, “ I guess you have never been so alone that it hurts, and then had someone come into your life who makes you feel just by paying attention to you”.
For someone who is alone, and who may have lost a spouse or friends or just lonely in general it is a powerful emotion to feel connected to another person. Scammers are ruthless and do not care about the emotional devastation of lying.