What’s worse being heart broken or broke? How about both. According to The Federal Trade Commission, romance scams have climbed to record highs in recent years. In North Carolina, 539 victims lost $17.3 million to romance scams in 2021. That’s an average loss of $32,194 per victim.
WRAL 5 On Your Side had the rare chance to speak with a reformed romance scammer. The Nigerian man, who goes by the name Chris, now works with investigative company Social Catfish to warn others against scammers.
In speaking with 5 On Your Side, Chris admitted to stealing tens of thousands of dollars from unsuspecting women. He tells WRAL News that it was a woman in her 60s that made him finally stop.
“I felt this guilty conscience,” he explained from an unreliable WiFi connection. “I needed to be open with her because I would not want someone to do that to my mom.”
He gave advice on ways to spot a romance scammer.
Three ways to spot and avoid a romance scammer:
1-They seem too good to be true. Scammers steal photos of attractive and successful looking people and create fake online accounts to lure you in. Perform a reverse image search to see if their picture matches their name. If the photo is used on many dating apps using different names, it is a scam.
2-They fall in love having never met you. Regardless of how strong your online chat game is, it is unlikely someone will genuinely fall in love without spending time with you. Stop communicating with anyone who will not meet or video chat in a reasonable amount of time.
3- They ask for money, crypto or gift cards. The biggest red flag of all is when a person whom you have never met starts asking for money. Frequent reasons include problems with the bank account, medical emergencies or they need the money so they can come visit you.
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NC woman loses almost $200,000 to romance scammer
“I did not consider myself a stupid person, but I’m telling you they have a way of just sucking you in,” said Laura Francis, who lost nearly $200,000 to a romance scammer.
Her relationship started with friend request from a man who said he was from Europe and worked as a cosmetic surgeon. They struck up a conversation on Facebook but soon he asked to move things over to Google Hangouts.
“At the time I had no idea, but this is a big red flag and I want people to know because this is what scammers do, they drag you off of whatever platform you met them,” she said.
On Google Hangouts their online relationship deepened.
“After talking to a person every day for a month or two, you get feelings for a person,” she said. “He wouldn’t let me off the phone, unless I said I love you back.”
Francis was hooked. She thought she was involved with a rich doctor. At one point he even sent her a bank statement as a way to prove he had $3 million in the bank. So, when the man told her he was working in a remote area and lost his wallet she sent him $7,000 and it spiraled from there.
“He even at one point said he was arrested for something I had done and I ended up paying $56,000 to this other guy to get him out of jail,” she said.
Eventually Francis became suspicious, and with the help of her daughter discovered the photo connected to the account was of a surgeon in Australia and used for multiple fake accounts.
“That’s when I was able to tell him ‘You know what, I know who you are now, I know you’re a scammer, I suspected it but now I know for sure.”