Sweetheart Swindle Romance Scams
An insidious and heartless crime is perpetrated when a lothario-style con artist worms his way into the heart of a victim using romance as the hook rather than financial gain. These robbing Romeos scour church groups, social clubs and any other venue where financially well-off widows congregate.
Some are just gigolos after gifts, support and the obligatory nookie, while others have a well- rehearsed plan to deplete the victim's financial reserves.
They do this by a convincing ritual of courting the emotions of someone who, perhaps not aware of their need for love, has not had such flattering attention since their own heady youth. Everyone wants to be loved, and their egos are naturally inflated when a younger, attractive man shows a gentlemanly interest. Their friends become jealous and this only stokes the fire of romance.
Whatever forces create the aura of romance, these guys exude it. Imagine though, you have lost your husband of many years and, even though he wasn't a saint, his passing created a void in your life. You are alone.
Years have passed since his death and you are starting to become more independent. You don't rely on your grown children for advice as much as when you were first bereaved. In fact, you started to secretly resent their treating you like a child, as well-meaning and considerate as they might have been.
You get chocolates and flowers and invites for romantic candlelit dinners. You are torn between guilt and hope. You can't really believe that someone could still fall for you, wrinkles and all.
People forget that our internal emotions do not change even though our bodies wear down. We thankfully subdue some of them out of practicality and decreasing hormonal levels, otherwise teenagers wouldn't be the only ones making out at the mall. But love, and the need to feel loved is timeless and vulnerable.
Hooked on this new drug, and still insecure, you find yourself subconsciously wishing to hold on to this arrangement by whatever means possible. Bedroom antics may play a part or not. It is the emotional dependence that is important for the cons to establish with you. This is easy when a relationship is actually one-sided though appearing otherwise. They have nothing to lose so naturally they are the dominant force.
You buy them gifts to compensate for your lack of desire for physical loving. They in turn, continue to act just like the suave and debonair men you read about in your romance novels, never burping or farting.
Your children, feeling a combination of resentment that you are cheating on their dead father mixed with guilt for depriving you of happiness, are wary and awkward. They may not openly oppose such a union but talk amongst themselves about their reservations.
They wish to be protective but it comes off as meddling in something you feel they could not possibly understand. Their distrust of your judgment is a personal affront. You become more secretive and stop discussing your personal actions with them.
They may live at a distance, making intervention difficult. Regardless, the scammer knows just how to deal with them by breeding mistrust after attempts to ingratiate himself with the family have failed. It becomes an us against them battle. After all, he says, they don't care about your happiness, just their inheritance.
Soon the Casanova con will want to take you out of your rut by proposing exciting new ventures. You have lost your friends and family so what could be better than starting a business, owning horses or investing in some sure-fire winner. You have to, in fact you want to, show your support and trust for his financial acumen. Anything to keep them around and that feeling alive.
You sign loan documents on your assets with just your signature, not his. He doesn't want your money, just your trust. Well, if you insist, he couldn't insult you by not taking some. Just a short-term loan mind you, with his verbal guarantee.
How long before both he and your money are gone? No telling. But they are sure to occur at the same time. Will the family ever get back together? Barring a suicide we can only hope.
Rather than forcing the victim to return to you and admit their foolishness simply let them know you understand they are the victim without rubbing it in with the "I told you so". Imagine if you went through a marriage and divorce where your spouses only motive for marrying you was to have children and then run away with them. Then imagine that your mother warned you about the no good so and so from day one. How would you feel about being reminded? It's not like you have forgotten or ever will.
Get over it so they can as well. So what, the money is gone. Pretend it never existed at least as far as guilt is concerned.
Your efforts to seek justice are hampered by the victims inability to act. They are immobilized by shame and lingering disbelief. They can not physically recount to authorities how they were duped. Every action they took was seemingly of their own accord. After all, they signed for a loan and gave monetary gifts. How do you prove deception or fraud?
About the only way to avoid this crime is to do a background check of lover-boy before he gets his hooks too deeply into the emotions of the impending victim. This has to be before he alienates the victim from the family.
Red flags should be raised when he is from out of town, has no actual employment or means of support, is in your opinion too young or too good for you or your parent, lives in a dump or rents below his attire and attitude, or has no other circle of friends.
The cost of a police check is minimal compared to the potential losses, both emotional and financial.
I should properly note that while the example above paints men in a bad light, just as many men are defrauded by money-grubbing female cons. Human nature relating to vulnerabilities or avarice are not gender specific.
Phoenix Police on Sweetheart Scams - excellent coverage of how female gypsies and their accomplices defraud elderly males. - Organized Crime Unit excerpt below
The concept is quite basic; man falls in love with young gypsy girl. Gypsy girl obtains as much as she can from the man until he has no more to give. Then girl flees.
Of course in this case, young doesn't always mean a teenager. The gypsy woman could be in her 40's to 50's. But to a 90-year-old man, she is young.
The scam works as follows. First, they profile the victim who is first targeted by their age. The older they are, the better. From the late 60's onwards the victims are extremely vulnerable, easily manipulated or intimidated, and forgetful. They also usually have easier access to cash through retirement accounts and credit availability.
The gypsy perpetrator knows that elderly men are lonely, having been widowed for numerous years and often haven't had sexual relationships in recent memory. The victims' children are usually distant, middle-aged and often spend very little physical time with them.
Where do the gypsies find the victims? Almost anywhere! However, local grocery stores, banks, and the biggest target, Casinos are popular contact points.
Next is the approach. It starts out as simple contact. The gypsy girl will approach and start a simple conversation during which she will flirt with and flatter the elderly victim attempting to find out their name, living arrangements, and marital status. This is, of course, done by clever conversation and in a way that is non-invasive.
At some point, she will walk him to his car and offer to help in the future by taking him to the store or cleaning his house. She will try to exchange telephone numbers at this time. Usually the old guy is so starved for attention and conversation he will exchange numbers. The gypsy's husband or family members will then follow the victim to see where he lives.
The gypsy will then start calling the victim and/or show up at his house. Even if she wasn't, she will make the victim believe he might have invited her, deliberately working on the victim's potential forgetfulness.
At some point early on, she will try to reel in the victim through a sympathetic story referencing lack of finances. Usually idle comments about not being able to get a job and unable to feed her children. She might then ask to borrow some money. The elderly victim usually gives grocery money at this point, either out of sympathy or feeling pressured.
She continues the sympathy routine, continually escalating the finances needed. Such as "I'm about to get evicted from my apartment, what am I to do?" The victim will then rent an apartment for the gypsy, in his name. She then expresses the need to have it furnished then takes the elderly victim to a store and charges thousands of dollars in furniture in his name.
Then of course, comes the story of "I need to get a job so I can pay you back. But I can't get a job without a car." So, off they go to a car dealer where he usually walks away purchasing an extravagant vehicle in the range of $30,000 to $60,000 dollars. And don't forget the trip to the jewelry store, where he is talked into purchasing a pair of Rolex watches or a diamond ring.
Once in place, she will introduce her gypsy husband as her brother. They team up and work on ways to bilk money from the victim. While she girl works the sweetheart scam, the gypsy man will try and get the victim to go into partnership on some scheme such as "I'm a car body-man. With your money and my knowledge of repairing cars, we can go into business together. You buy the used cars and I'll repair them, then sell them." If this occurs, the gypsy will sell the cars the victim buys, but continually lie about the sales.
At some early stage of the sympathy routine, the gypsy will tell the victim she loves him. She will "expose" herself to the victim, continually trying to entice him through emotions of love and sex. Very rarely though will the gypsy girl allow the victim to kiss or have a sexual relationship, telling him it's against her religion to allow such a thing unless they are married.
Should this be considered you will soon hear the sad story of "What's going to happen to me when you die. Who will take care of me?" The gypsy will attempt to talk the elderly victim into taking out a large life insurance policy, naming her as beneficiary.
The sweetheart scam will continue until either the money runs out, the victim dies and/or fear that the police might become involved.
Very rarely will the victim call the police. Usually it's the victim's family that eventually discovers the scam after numerous months of operation and reports it against the victim's wishes. When confronted by police, the victim may or may not remember every incident in which he's been scammed for money but will generally remember that the girl promised to pay him back. The victim will also be reluctant because he's in love, scared, or embarrassed.
If the gypsies believe they are going to get caught, they will flee and change their identities. If caught, they will offer the victim "most" of the property back. This of course being the car they've been driving for the last year, or the furniture. Any cash or jewelry will be gone.
The gypsies will then tell law enforcement it wasn't their intent to steal from the victim, they promised to pay everything back saying "It's not their fault the elderly man was lonely and had nobody to take him to the store or doctor. Where was his family?" The gypsies will also justify any items obtained as gifts.
Prosecution is often difficult because the victim is reluctant to assist, and/or his memory is so poor that he makes a bad witness. Prosecution will also take into account whether the victim was a willing participant!
So why is the sweetheart scam so devastating? After all, the old man is with this young girl in his last days of life! It's his dream come true. If it makes him happy, so be it!
On the other hand, at some point the gypsies flee with the property and leave the elderly victims with little or no cash left, unable to make the monthly payments the credit companies still hold them responsible for. Victims rarely report the crime and simply live their remaining life destitute and distraught, with only a meager retirement salary.
A new true crime show called Aphrodite Jones is being produced by Buena Vista (Disney) and USA network. They are currently working on a story about con-artists/bigamists and wondering if there are any cases you know of where a man has taken a lot of different women or wives for money. (sweetheart scams)
They are interested in profiling the case and using their resources to catch the man.
Please e-mail Brielle Lebsack Associate Producer if you can help.
Tired of picking losers? Perhaps one of the major online matchmaking services is worth trying? There is Match.com, which also has a service called Chemistry, and Lavalife. As always, be careful and wary of the Nigerian scammers who want you to deposit checks for them once they have established your trust after several months.
We feel that my widowed father-in-law was talked into writing a will naming a lady who lived on the floor above him which gives her everything he owns including the rental property and a duplex.
He had put her name on his checking/savings account first and she was found to be electronically transferring money from his account into her account at the same bank. He would not believe that this woman would do this to him even with the evidence right in front of him.
He passed away a month ago and so my husband and his sister filed the will that states that the daughter is the executor. Well, this lady is now filing her claim against that. We want his assets to go to his grandchildren but what can we do? This has become financially draining because we have to pay a lawyer for this and do not have a lot of money. Help would be greatly appreciated.
Janet Ellis 01/29/02
Reply: As I am not a lawyer I must refer you to one, or direct you to do a search on www.google.com for the keywords (probate contest) and then (contesting a will). Several free sources of info will appear which may help.
From: "Glenda K." Fri, 11 Aug 2000
The section on victims hit home. I have been through so very much of what you described. I am a 48 year old woman with Parkinson disease. Two years ago my husband of 17 years divorced me saying he was too young to care for a disabled wife.
A man named Carmen F. studied me, checked my credit, and won my confidence by saying all the right things. I never lived with him. He got into my mail, returned credit card offers, changed all the beneficiaries on my accounts, 401k, medical etc, and bought a truck in my name. The DA in Araphaho county Colorado refused to prosecute saying it was my word against his.
I lost almost everything. I was forced to file bankruptcy. This man has a history of fraud and scams committed on disabled women and he is still out there free. This took place in 1998 and there is probably not much that can be done. I felt it important that others know that he and others who prey on the disabled are out there!!!!
Dear Mrs. K,
It saddens me to hear of your plight yet I am encouraged that you have the fortitude to speak of your troubles. It is a big part of the recovery process as a victim. I wish that I could print your desire to have this con exposed but sadly I leave myself open to dissemination of libel, however true.
I would however like to post your message in the hopes that it might trigger a response from someone in the same position before it is too late for them.
You should, I think, still review my section on credit and identity fraud to see if any of the credit agencies can be advised, if you haven't already, just in case he resurfaces in your financial life, heaven forbid.
For now, take care and thanks for taking the time to write.
I could not believe that you responded much less how quickly you did so. Thank you. You certainly have my permission.
At the time all this occurred one of the news stations in Denver wanted to do a story. I now regret I did not--but I was in no shape at the time to handle it.
A bit more information about the man. There are men who "hang out" around buildings where they know the women who work there have good jobs. He was and still is, I suppose, such a man. I worked for US West and had a very good job. I thought at first he worked there too. He was friends with building security and had free run of what was supposed to be a secure building. His mentioned his last girlfriend had MS--and he said she died.
I believe he was drugging me. I was also taking my Parkinson's Disease medications. I have large gaps in my memory. I tested positive for Rohypnol "roofies" the date rape drug. The last time I lost consciousness I was out 3 days.
I called my brother who came from California and moved me to Oklahoma. I am now on medical retirement unable to work. It has been a long recovery but I am much better now. When I first arrived in Oct 98, I had brain damage and was unable to read, do simple math, and had no short term memory.
I already had Parkinson's but I believe what happened caused the disease to progress far faster than it would have. I tape recorded some of our conversations. Had I not done so I feel sure I would not have been believed. The detectives I worked with were very kind and understanding and wanted "to get him". If my story can be of any help to anyone else please print it.
Thank you, Glenda
Dependant on a Sponge Bath
A few years ago my family obtained the name of what we thought was a reputable health care agency from our local senior citizens center. After interviewing several candidates, a 34 year old woman from Georgia ( in the former Soviet Union) was chosen as a "live-in home health aide" to assist my paralyzed 74 year old father in law.
She said that since she was new to the U.S., she did not have a social security number yet and requested that her weekly salary of $520 be paid in cash. As time went on, my father in law became far too attached to this woman and the family became suspicious.
My father in law insisted that she took very good care of him and would not let us consider looking for a replacement. We wanted a social security number so we could report her earnings but my father in law insisted that he would prefer to keep paying her in cash.
Quite by accident, our family found out that he and this woman (who we later found out was an illegal alien and unauthorized to work in the U.S.) had been secretly married for 17 months after she convinced him to marry her to avoid deportation.
We immediately contacted INS who waited seven months to investigate her. By that time, she had successfully passed the "two year period" for a marriage so the INS ignored all communications from our family insisting that this was a clear case of marriage fraud. We were told that once a U.S. citizen signs an affidavit of support for a foreigner, INS would not waste their time and manpower to investigate further. She now has a permanent resident green card and my father in law, who was once considered "well invested", is now broke.
We discovered she has a history of violence, having been arrested twice. Both times she resisted arrest and attacked the police officers. The first offense went to municipal court and was dismissed with a small fine. The second time, she broke a police officer's hand and she is currently under indictment by our county superior court on four different counts. This happened one year ago and we are still waiting for a court date.
If she is tried and convicted of a felony, she will be deportable. It is our only hope of removing her from our lives. My father in law thinks that she takes great care of him. Almost every weekend she leaves him alone for 36 hours while she "visits" friends in NYC or has an outing in Atlantic City.
During this time, he is often left in his hospital bed without food or a drink. He has been totally brainwashed to think she is the best thing that has ever happened to him and he will not be able to live without her. His lies and deceit have cost him three sons and their wives and six grandchildren. His family will not even visit him as long as this violent woman lives in his home.
Several months ago I was contacted by a representative at the U.S. Embassy in Georgia asking me to share my INS contact information with another family in my area who contacted them with the same concerns about their elderly father.
A 44 year old illegal alien from Georgia working as a home health aide had convinced their 78 year old newly widowed father to part with over $150,000 in cash.
Upon further investigation, we found out that these ladies know each other. The second woman stayed in my father in law's home as a guest of his "wife" for two weeks upon her arrival in the U.S. Both families are having a difficult time trying to convince our fathers that these women are here only for financial benefit, permanent residency and a green card. Although I have written numerous letters to government officials, no one seems to care about the issue of marriage fraud.
Has anyone written about the influx of illegal aliens who come to the U.S. on visitors' visas, go underground, then surface working as home health aides for unlicensed home health care agencies. If this happened to our families, it must have happened to others.
Afraid of the Russian Mob Connection 10/06/02
Have been paging thru your site and I believe I may be on to a different kind of scam from Nigeria. I believe a young man from Nigeria is running a money scam on a very large popular black website. He contacts women, gets their personal info, bombards them with attention and long distance phone calls which helps validate that he is in "love" and even states he has applied for visa.
Then after months of gaining their confidence he asks for money. What makes this a scam and not your average bad guy is the depth that he goes to. He runs this with more than one woman at a time, speaks with family members, the whole nine yards.
It was a fluke that I found out that I, as well as other young ladies, were victims. I have info that he gave us and would like to verify if the company he said he worked for exists.
I do not know if he is in this alone. He makes large volumes of phone calls and if he is doing this with numerous women simultaneously. It must be costly or he has some kind of "hook up" going on. Please help or point me in right direction. I would like to see him stopped and see that no other unknowing lady gets hurt and loses money.
M Mosley 08/21/02
I Promise To Love Your Credit
I was 49 when I married my husband, who I met through the INTERNET. It was my first marriage, his third and I have reason to believe that the entire marriage was both a sham and a scam. Before we got married he asked me to take loans for him in my name for a substantial amount, though most of the loans are listed in our Prenuptial Agreement.
We were only together 15 months, Oct 8 2000 to Jan 22, 2002 after which he blackmailed and extorted money from me until May then he was convicted of harassment July 02. We still aren't divorced.
He has only paid back $1,800 of over $40,000 in debts and has told me I only got that to make sure I continued with the divorce and that he never intended to pay me back. I have been paying off his loans since May 02 and he just leased a 2002 Cadillac Escalade for $699.00 a month.
I have notified all three credit bureaus to put fraud alerts on all of my credit cards and I have notified my mutual fund companies not to accept telephone transactions. Even I can't call and have to have my signature guaranteed. But that's fine. I would rather be very safe than any sorrier.
I would like to say that I have moved on. I know I will get a Judgment. Getting the money will be a whole other problem unless I can persuade the judge to do a wage garnishment.
I sent for certified copies of his first divorce which showed he was held in contempt of court 3 years in a row for non payment of child support and alimony. The FL court did an income deduction order however, he was self employed at the time so I am sure his ex wife and children did not see any support.
Except for the harassment conviction, I can't get anyone to take me seriously. He is a con man and I am concerned he is going to just move on and do what he did to me to someone else. After all, why should he stop? Look how successful he was with me.I have been in contact with my local prosecutor and he tells me that his office prosecutes 10,000 cases a year and mine would never even get past the grand jury because I married the guy.
I don't understand. It's almost like spousal abuse. Years ago a wife couldn't get protection because she was married to the abuser. Why don't the courts recognize the monetary aspect as well? Just because my husband didn't leave any bruises doesn't mean that I haven't been abused and financially saddled. If you have any suggestions please send them.
Kathleen R. 10/05/02
Editors Note: I can find very little information on this topic. All non-lethal suggestions welcome.
I'm Staying, You're Going
I would like to address an issue regarding illegal alien women
marrying citizens of the US.
My friend is divorced from a woman who has made his life a torment. He said that she was very nice in the beginning but afterwards, all hell broke loose. She would curse and provoke arguments to an extent where it got physical. Then she began to disappear for hours at a time, leaving him to take care of their infant son.
He found out that she was having an affair with a man in the next apartment building, got angry and uncharacteristically threatened to kill her and the man. She went running to the police, and had him evicted from his apartment.
Then she based her divorce on a temporary protection order, and was granted emergency support from it.
My warning to anyone contemplating on marrying an illegal is to first get all the facts, because marrying someone who is not a citizen is an even bigger responsibility. You will be subject not only to state laws, but international ones as well.
Always consider that some people will do anything to keep from being deported and all it takes is someone getting access to your social security card to cause identity theft. I also think that the US has a very loose security system as far as illegals go.
P. Whitley 06/10/03
Conman gets 10 years for wire fraud in sweetheart scam
04/07 - (NJ) - Patrick Giblin, 42, found his victims in membership lists of online dating services, focusing on women who were near despair because of family tragedies.
There were no state boundaries to his interest in them.
He made promises of marriage and lifelong companionship.
All they had to do was send him money. Sometimes as little as $450; once as much as $50,000.
In every case, according to Giblin's admission when pleading guilty almost a year ago to 10 federal wire fraud charges, he used the cash to fuel a gambling addiction.
It wasn't high stakes wages, but the slot machines at Caesar's that Giblin said ruined his life, estranged him from his family and forced him to beg for money.
On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler sentenced Giblin, a former Atlantic City resident, to 115 months in federal prison and ordered him to make $182,442 in restitution to 25 victims.
When Giblin told Kugler he needed a program to help fight an addiction that began when he was 19, Kugler offered a better alternative.
"You need to stop stealing," the judge said.
"I don't care if you burn it or throw it down a hole, you have no sense of shame, no sense of remorse," he said.
"I need in-patient treatment," Giblin said, interrupting the judge.
"You're a crook," Kugler responded.
"I can't mend the broken hearts of the victims or restore their self-esteem. If you were working an honest job and throwing your money away at the casino, no one would care. But you're stealing," Kugler said.
He ordered that Giblin remain on parole for three years after he completes his sentence. During that time, he will be barred from gambling and must register for self-exclusion lists maintained by casinos to provide support for gambling addicts.
Two of Giblin's victims, one from Texas, the other from North Carolina, spoke at the sentencing of being promised by Giblin he would relocate to their areas, sometimes with a job in law enforcement, and was interested in marriage. Neither of the women ever met Giblin, but both eventually turned over their savings to him when he called with stories of broken-down cars, blown-out tires and traffic tickets -- all of which could be paid off and clear the way for him to proceed to the victim's hometowns.
Sandra Bikhit, who works for Global Cash Access, which provides Western Union Services within 15 feet of the casino floor at Caesar's in Atlantic City, told Kugler that Giblin used her office to receive "dozens and dozens and dozens" of wire transfers of thousands of dollars.
On one day, he received three wire transfers of cash from different women, she said.
"He was my most regular customer," she said.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Ronald Chillemi said Giblin probably stole up to $400,000 from as many as 100 victims and said there was no way for the government to track down any money that was transferred to him under different names.
Man admits swindling women he met on date lines
05/06 - NJ- An Atlantic City gambler admitted in federal court Friday that he found a way to separate lonely women from their cash. With the aid of two telephone dating services, Patrick Giblin, 42, first charmed them and then fleeced them.
Pleading guilty to 10 counts of wire fraud, Giblin admitted he had taken between $200,000 and $400,000 from 10 women in eight states. None of the victims live in New Jersey.
More than a half-dozen victims were booked on flights to testify at Giblin's trial, which was to begin Monday before U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler.
Some of those women will attend Giblin's Aug. 18 sentencing, said Assistant U.S. Attorney Matthew Skahill.
Under a plea agreement, Giblin faces a potential sentence of up to 20 years on each count and millions of dollars in fines. Giblin has been detained since he was arrested March 3, 2005, by FBI agents at a gaming table at Caesars Atlantic City.
Prosecutors said Giblin used Quest and Lava Life, two dating services for singles. Although both companies also use Internet hook-ups, Giblin used the telephone.
In his scheme, Giblin established rapport with his victims through repeated telephone calls and said he wanted to pursue a romantic relationship with them. He next said he planned to relocate to the area of his victim, but would run into unexpected cash flow problems and would ask for a loan, directing the woman to send him the money to a Western Union office in Atlantic City.
According to an indictment, Giblin often became antagonistic with the women when they refused to extend a second loan.
Some of them were threatened, according to the investigation.
Giblin refused to provide his telephone number to the victims, calling them from blocked numbers or public phones.
The federal investigation showed there may have been as many as 50 victims of the scheme.
Giblin used the proceeds for gambling in Atlantic City and Las Vegas, said federal prosecutors.
Sexy Sweetheart Scammers Steal Seniors Savings
CA - 03/08 - There have been several cases where senior citizens are being robbed of thousands of dollars in Sacramento.
Police say, 34 year - old Ruby Miller followed a 90 year - old man home, claiming he had dropped a dollar bill.
That dollar cost the man thousands. The man says Miller gained his trust and quickly moved into his home. She took over the man's finances and transferred over 50- thousand dollars in equity in his home to her husband's account, liquidated 150- thousand in certificates of deposit and sold his home for over 200- thousand dollars. After Miller left, the man was forced into a care home.
Ruby Miller and her husband Nicky Marks were arrested in Sun Valley in January. They're in a Washoe County detention facility as fugitives from justice.
Ruby Miller and her husband aren't the only ones accused of pulling this scam.
Miller's sister in law, Linda Navarro, allegedly befriended two seniors in Sacramento as well, stealing 100-thousand dollars.
Washoe County detectives are urging residents around the Truckee Meadows to talk with older relatives and remind them to be careful.
Online ‘Romance Scam’ victim speaks out on her experience
AZ - 08/07 - A disturbing new trend in Internet scams is emerging, and seniors are the target.
Seniors looking for love on Internet dating sites with reputable names such as “The Christian Cafe” are finding themselves the victims of an international plot to be scammed out of thousands of dollars. There are all kinds of Web scams out there, but none leave their victim feeling more violated than the Romance Scam.
The premise is deceptively simple. Men and women who typically work out of Nigeria or Russia (but claim to be living in America) develop relationships with Americans they meet on Internet dating sites. They send e-mails filled with romantic poetry and promises of their undying devotion, in hopes that this would assure a cash advance to pay for a fake hotel or plane bill. The victim believes that the relationship is sincere, but ends up with broken dreams and an empty pocket book.
The emotional betrayal may be worse than the lost money.
“This is going to make me think twice about trusting people,” said Vickie Forbes, 49, who almost became the victim of a romance scam in July. Forbes, who lives in Tucson and works in Green Valley, is speaking out to help others recognize the warning signs.
“Up until he began asking about the money, we had normal
conversations,” she said, feeling comfortable enough with
the man she met on ChristianCafe.com to begin talking with him
on the phone. “He seemed like a genuinely nice person, and
he kept in constant contact with me. He called me when he got up
in the morning, he wanted me to call him when I got up and when
I got back from work.”
In hindsight, she says she should have been wary of the over-the-top romantic language in the e-mails, “but at the time, I was just flattered.” Photos of her suitor showed him to be an attractive 45-50-year-old man from Italy who had moved to New York, photos she now believes were stolen from an online modeling company.
Inconsistencies in his story had been bothering her, but the red flag began to wave when he asked her to forward $4,500 to pay for a plane ticket one month after they started talking.
In her search for answers, Forbes came across Romancescams.org, a Web site that has gained national recognition on shows such as “Oprah” and “Maury Povich,” started by a woman who was a victim herself. Through the site, Forbes learned how to trace the IP addresses of the e-mails she’d been receiving. She was shocked to discover that the emails were coming from a computer in Nigeria.
“I was in denial at first” she said. “I never thought something like this could happen to me.”
In April, the U.S. State Department issued an official warning to users of Internet dating services because of the recent resurgence of this particular scam. Romancescams.com says it has more than 7,500 members who have been victimized, with a reported collective loss of more than $3 billion dollars. There’s even an active Yahoo users group dedicated to the subject and several online support groups for victims. The Web site, which has a huge database of “personal scam stories,” user discussion boards, and profile photos being used by known scammers, reports that seniors are especially sought out because they are believed to be more vulnerable than younger internet users.
Though most scammers target Americans, recent Associated Press reports reveal that romance scams are becoming a global problem. Earlier this month, a 56-year-old Australian farmer found himself in extreme danger after flying to Mali to meet the woman he had been talking to through a dating Web site. The “woman” turned out to be a gang of armed bandits who held him hostage for 12 days, beating him and threatening to “hack off his limbs with a machete” if he didn’t pay a $100,000 ransom.
Even though Forbes stopped all contact with her scammer and never sent the money, she says she still feels betrayed.
If you decide to pursue Internet dating, she says, make sure to do it locally so you can meet the person face-to-face. “My advice is to just be careful, and be aware that people like this are out there.”
You can report online fraud of any kind at the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center
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