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Anatomy of a romance scam as told by NBC10’s Tracy Davidson – NBC10 Philadelphia | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans

Romance scammers are stealing money from consumers every day, to the tune of $1.1 billion in 2023 alone. Anyone can be a target, no matter their background, including NBC10’s own Tracy Davidson. After one such scammer tried to target her, Tracy decided to share her interaction to expose their methods and help protect others from being scammed. She shares her story below:

I honestly didn’t think anything of it when “James Williams” reached out to me via social media in late February asking, “can I have a conversation with you?”

I followed him back and sent him a direct message.

“How can I help you?” I asked.

“I just want to be friends with you,” he answered. “You look so wonderful and respectable that words just cannot express how beautiful you are.”

Flattering. But wow, red flag there. But I played along, just to see where this would take us. I asked the Secret Service to follow along as well.

“Romance scams are pretty prevalent,” Kristie Sandefur, an investigative analyst with the Secret Service in Philadelphia, told NBC10.

Sandefur said the daily interactions that ensued were classic romance scam.

James asked me where I live. He said he was from Seattle but was “currently in Syria working with the United Nations, as a military orthopedic surgeon.”

James said he had one son, Jack. He sent me a picture that showed a man and a teenager in sunglasses.

“This is all a part of that relationship building phase where they’re earning your trust,” Sandefur said. “They’re trying to bring you into their circle. Make you a part of their family.”

Two weeks after our “relationship” began, James professed something to me.

“My feelings for you is growing stronger each day,” he wrote. “I want to talk with you face to face and feel you near me.”

“This is playing out exactly how we would expect it to play out,” Sandefur said.

Sandefur said these romance scams are all according to script and often target people who are lonely.

“One thing to just be aware of is this is these people’s full-time jobs,” Sandefur said. “This is all they do. You know what I mean? They’re essentially chained to a desk for the entire day. They’re given multiple phones. They’re given multiple aliases, identities and they’re you know, told to contact a hundred Americans in a day.”

James told me he had exceeded his vacation limit.

“The only way I can leave camp now and come see you is if you are going to help me and apply for my vacation,” he wrote.

He told me we needed to apply to the United Nations.

“I think he was trying to add some legitimacy by using the United Nations,” Sandefur said. “Clearly not a member of the United Nations.”

James gave me an email address and told me what to say.

“The UN vacation department is going to charge you some money,” he wrote.

Sandefur said that the United Nations website has a fraud alert to protect people from scammers like James.

I emailed the address that James gave me and received a response that said they received my email requesting the vacation certificate. The response also cited a supposed law stating that I needed to pay $14,000 in U.S. dollars. The reply stated they could accept the payment through bitcoin, bank to bank deposit or bank deposit.

“Very typical in non-English speaking countries, you know, fairly confident that person is overseas,” Sandefur said. “And then all the grammatical errors. The domain that that email was sent from is not a United Nations domain.”

I asked where to send the money and I was given bank account information of a woman in Canon City, Colorado.

“That person, likely a money mule,” Sandefur said. “Money mules are people that scammers basically recruit to move money for them.”

We called the numbers listed for that woman. Two of those numbers were disconnected. We didn’t hear back from the third number after we left a message.

I never sent any money and I continued to receive daily messages from James. But now I just ignore them. Just like you should from the very beginning.

The FTC also shared additional advice about protecting yourself from romance scams.

Never send money, crypto, gift cards, bank or wire transfers to anyone you’ve never met in person. Be suspicious of excuses for why a real life meeting is impossible. Do a reverse search of any pictures shared. If you see those pictures associated with another name or details don’t match, you’re dealing with a scammer.

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