The romance scams you need to be aware of today | #datingscams | #lovescams | #datingscams | #love | #relationships | #scams | #pof | | #dating

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (ABC 4)- Ever spend Valentine’s Day alone?

If so, you might understand why February is such a busy month for romance scammers.

“I’ve never felt so seen or understood by another person in my life,” 62-year-old Marie says about a man she met online last year. “We had the deepest conversations I’ve ever had. The most romantic and soulful.” Marie is an experienced online dater and an acclaimed artist based in Florida, with no spouse or kids.

This potential soulmate claimed to be a Swiss national living in London and Cyprus. He also claimed to be a widower, 15 years younger than Marie, the father of a 10-year-old daughter. He was notably handsome, dark-haired and sophisticated in European fashion, restaurants, wine and travel. They spoke via phone and video chatted for hours every day. Despite her suspicions that this man was too good to be true, Marie fell in love with a person she’d never actually been in the same room with — who might not even have been human.

Every year, “romance scams” and other types of so-called relationship fraud cost Americans, especially those over age 60, over one billion dollars annually, according to the FBI 2022 Elder Fraud report. The risks are projected to increase with the recent growth of Open Source Artificial Intelligence, often called ChatGPT, a powerful computerized research and impersonation tool. The fake cupids you meet online can seem incredibly real, as artificial intelligence enables bots to hold realistic, thoughtful verbal conversations.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

Caitlyn Neff, an FBI victim specialist based in Tyler, Texas, believes the emotional trauma these online criminals cause often equals, or outweighs, the financial devastation.

“Victims are not stupid or gullible,” Neff explains. “Victims truly believe this is a caring relationship that has developed organically and magically over time. The perpetrators invest an astounding amount of time targeting and seducing their victims.”

Marie’s “dream date” made plans to travel to Florida over Thanksgiving to meet her, and to finalize a complex Miami-based real estate deal. He canceled because of a “legal delay.” He rescheduled for Christmas Eve. Another cancellation, though he insisted he’d make it all up to Marie with a lavish Valentine’s Day dinner in South Beach.

On February 13, he called, almost in tears. His Cyprus-based bank had frozen his account. He needed to wire $600,000 to the seller to save the transaction. Could he deposit the money in Marie’s Florida bank account, just for a few hours, and then transfer it to the client? Then he’d be free to fly to Miami to see her.

(Photo courtesy of Getty Images)

Caught up in the desire to finally meet this man she thought she loved, Marie agreed. Then she made a decision that kept her out of jail. She walked into her bank and explained the situation to the manager.

“This is fraud,” he said, turning ashy white. “I’m calling the FBI.”

It turned out the FBI already had a file on her supposed lover, who turned out to be a professional scammer who had successfully used dozens of older women as money mules, “borrowing” from their U.S. bank accounts to launder illegal funds. However, despite knowing it was all a scam, Marie still treasures the way he made her feel and even keeps a picture of him on her phone.

The FBI’s advice to avoid online scams is straightforward: if people sound too good to be true, they probably are.

“Be suspicious of anyone, even someone you know and trust, who approaches you online or via phone, cracks your heart open with expressions of deep caring, and then asks you for money or to share personal information such as your computer login, bank or internet passwords, credit card information, date of birth, social security number, or home address,” warns FBI victim specialist Neff.

If targeted, change your computer and social media passwords immediately. Be wary of anyone applying emotional pressure. A time-sensitive, psychologically wrought crisis is designed to override your self-protective caution. Finally, take action. File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP or online, or the Department of Justice Elder Fraud Hotline at 1-833-FRAUD-11.

You can also call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. East Coast time. For legal advice, contact your local bar association.

Then forgive yourself. Enjoy this whole month devoted to love, with a friend, a spa day or just you and your favorite heart-shaped chocolates. Keep on pining for true love. Just never give anyone access to your passwords, your money or your heart, without first verifying they are exactly who you think they are.

Sponsored by AARP Michigan


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