Romance scams becoming more common as stigma around reporting remains
Romance scams are the type of scam that people lose the most money to, according to the Federal Trade Commission.LEARN MORE
Special Agent Sarah Lewis with the FBI Baltimore Field Office said there is a recipe that romance scammers follow and points out red flags to notice.
A woman thought she made a love connection on an online gaming site, then he convinced her to invest her life savings in a fake opportunity.
Torchy Massie was courted by someone online who contacted her through the game Words with Friends.
“This gentleman, he asked me if I would play with him,” said Massie.
He said his name was Michael, and he was also widowed. After a year of messaging and talking on the phone, he brought up an investment opportunity.
“All I had was $35,000 and they were going to invest it in Bitcoin. When my husband was alive, he was interested in doing that,” said Massie. “And I'm thinking, well, when I die, I want to leave my kids some money and this is a good way to do it.”
She received statements showing her investment had grown to a small fortune. The statement, purportedly from a company called Corral Investments in the United Kingdom, claimed her initial investment had grown to $960,780.
However, the website listed on the statement — www.corralinvestments.com — now redirects to a page that shows the website domain is for sale.
“I had to come up with $17,000, I think, to get the money out of there. And to come up with that I didn't have the money. And when I talked to my friend, Carole, we were playing Words with Friends, she said, ‘Torchy, that's not how an investment works,’” Massie said.
Her friend quickly realized she’d been scammed, but Massie is still reluctant.
“He says that money is there, that he would help me get the money out. He said, ‘It's real, Torchy.’ He kept telling me that ‘No, it's real,’” said Massie.
Special Agent Sarah Lewis with the FBI Baltimore Field Office sees this often.
“Yeah, so it's one of the most challenging parts of my job. And I've really been working this last year to find ways to convince people and I'm not having a ton of success,” Lewis said.
She tries to help victims recognize the deception by showing them the “recipe” romance scammers follow. While the presentation may change, the ingredients stay the same.
“The person always claims to be overseas and that's one of the reasons why they can't meet you,” Lewis listed. “The scammer will usually try to get the victim off the dating site as fast as possible … usually, their profile will really mirror what yours says. And then, when you start communicating with them, it's very hot and heavy right off the bat. You know, they're emailing you, calling you, texting you constantly. There's a term for it called ‘love bombing.'”
Michael said he was based in Turkey, and he convinced Massie to move their conversations from the gaming app to a messaging app called WhatsApp.
Michael wrote Massie every day, telling her that he wanted to marry her and buy a house with her in Maryland.
Lewis recommended researching admirers’ stories by googling their name and details they’ve shared, check if their photo is linked to other profiles, do a reverse google image search of photos they’ve sent and talk to friends and family about the new person in your life.
“If somebody has excuses why they can't meet you face-to-face, stop talking to that person. I mean, I wouldn't even say be hesitant, I would just say move on to someone else,” said Lewis.
And it’s important to recognize these signs early. In addition to Massie’s $35,000 investment, she also paid for medical treatments after Michael claimed his son had been in a terrible car accident.
“I’m a Christian, and I believe in helping people when they need help. And I didn't think after three or four years that this man was deceiving me, I believed everything he told me,” said Massie.
Special Agent Lewis added that victims who run out of money are sometimes manipulated into becoming money mules. Scammers have them open bank accounts, deposit money, and forward it elsewhere. This is a criminal offense in which the person goes from being a victim to being involved in the scheme.
Lewis wants anyone searching for love online to remember to never send money to someone they’ve never met — no gift cards, cryptocurrency or wire transfers. And she believes there needs to be more conversations about these scams to prevent your loved ones from experiencing this heartache that can be financially and emotionally devastating.
According to the FBI, losses for those 60 and over keep climbing. So far this year, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) received more than 3,800 reports of romance scams from victims 60 and over, totaling $211 million.
Last year, more than 7,000 victims 60 and over reported losing $419 million. This data only includes those who reported the crime to the FBI, and doesn’t include investment schemes.
Click here to file a report with the IC3.
The Federal Trade Commission is also tracking the impact of romance scams with more than 70,000 people reportedly losing $1.3 billion in 2022. The FTC looked closer at the lies these romance scammers told and compiled a list of the top fake narratives.
This story was originally published by Mallory Sofastaii at Scripps News Baltimore.
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