By Wesley LeBlanc
CLAY COUNTY – More money has been lost to romance scams than any other type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission.
Nobody wants to be lonely and being lonely, especially during the holiday seasons, but it can lead people to making some otherwise unintelligent decisions.
The decisions usually end in financial fraud for the population of adults 60 and older.
“It’s mostly older women in their 50s, 60s or even 70s,” Jax Federal Credit Union fraud manager Marianne Hubbell said. “They’re lonely, they go online, and these people on the other side of the screen promise them the world. Within a short amount of time, these scammers are promising their love and asking for money.”
Here are some troubling stats related to fraud like this, straight from the FTC: people reported $201 million in financial losses to these scams in 2019 and the average amount lost by a single person was $18,000. The number of people reporting a monetary loss during the first and second quarter of 2020 jumped up 19% from the same time in 2019, likely as a result of targeted scamming at those unemployed due to COVID-19.
Hubbell said catching these scams before the monetary loss happens is important and there are some things to look out for in the beginning.
“If they profess their love right away, that’s a big red flag,” Hubbell said. “Something else to note is that you really shouldn’t just send someone you’ve never met a lot of money. Go online. See if you can find the pictures they’re using elsewhere, because they usually use someone else’s pictures. Ask them what their job is and search for that online.”
She said if someone tries to move things off of a website like Facebook or a dating app and into text messages and phone calls, that can be a red flag. These things move fast, Hubbell said, and it’s often hard to tell when it’s happening to you so it’s important for others around you to recognize this and help you.
She said the person on the other end being overseas is another big red flag as are requests for electronic and wire transfers.
“Sometimes, it’s obvious but these people are lonely and desperate for a connection that they don’t see it happening,” Hubbell said.
She recalls a case where the person said they needed to transfer money to their romantic partner because their bank accounts were frozen and they couldn’t buy anything. That scammer requested the money be sent to a bank account. Hubbell asked the person if they recognized how weird it was that someone was requesting thousands of dollars.
“A lot of people just get in too deep and then they’re embarrassed to have been someone that was scammed,” Hubbell said. “The person on the other side is saying exactly what they want to hear and that makes it tougher to recognize what is usually a scam.”
Hubbell said her bankers will notify her when someone is making odd wire transfers and the like and then she and her team will begin to monitor the situation. It’s her job to try and catch it before the big financial scam actually happens and she also works with those already scammed to help them move forward.
She said money often can’t be returned unfortunately but that it’s important to report any fraud or scam like this to the FTC, the FBI and local police. The scammers are often hitting multiple people at once and by reporting it when it happens, you’re helping the FTC and FBI piece together the puzzle.
“We’re just trying to help you and it’s hard to get across to these people because they’re so into this relationship and their hearts are involved at that point,” Hubbell said. “You’re not thinking clearly at that point because you’re thinking with your heart, not your head.”
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