Woman Loses More Than $1 Million to Online Romance Scam

Chris Gaetano
Published Date:
Apr 11, 2019

New York Magazine's The Cut interviewed a woman who, despite being a former Air Force intelligence officer and senior bank branch manager, was caught up in a years-long romance scam that drained more than $1 million from her and her family. A romance scam occurs when a fraudster poses as a romantic interest to the victim, usually through an online dating site, and works to get the person to fall in love with the fraudster; once sufficient woo has been pitched, the fraudster then starts asking for money, promising that it's all for love.

In this case, the victim was a widowed woman in her 50s who, after the death of her husband, tried online dating. She was soon contacted by a man claiming to be a London businessman who traveled the world for lumber investments. Despite having never been in the same room as him, she was quite taken with his charm. After some time, he began asking for money, small amounts at first, usually for some ostensible business purpose. Eventually, when she ran out of her own money, she convinced her parents to give her $100,000 to pass on to the scammer. When it became apparent that she was completely tapped out, the scammer revealed that the whole thing was a fake and said he hoped she could forgive him. While hesitant to talk about her experience at first, she is now speaking out in order to warn others not to fall for such scams. 

Romance scams, while not a new invention, have seen rapid growth as online dating becomes increasingly common. The BBC said that, much like the profiled victim, most romance scams are targeted at women, 63 percent, and about 50 years old. The Federal Trade Commission received a record 21,000 reports of romance scams in 2018, costing victims $143 million, in contrast to 2015, which saw just 8,600 reports filed with a total of $33 million reported in losses. The total number of victims, according to the BBC, is likely higher, as many victims won't report due to embarrassment. However, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission noted that there are signs someone can look for to see whether a loved one, or perhaps even a client, is falling prey to a scam, which can allow time to intervene before more damage is done. In particular, it warns to watch out for sudden changes in lifestyle or in finances. If the victim is a family member, the commission advises persuading that person to block contact with the scammer. If the loved one is resistant to the idea, it suggests searching online for details about the scammer—which will often lead to anti-scam websites where the scammer is already known—and showing the results to the loved one.


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