So-called “romance scams” proliferate, with both women and men being taken for millions of dollars every year. The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) has issued a press release on the topic of romance scams that cultivate a “relationship” and then move in the direction of investing in a “great opportunity” as part of a “couple.”
With two out of five couples meeting online, people of all ages are more than likely in a relationship with someone they met through an app, on social media, or somewhere else in cyberspace. While online dating has increased the pool of available singles, it’s not without problems.
People interested in a relationship only touch a button or swipe to see multiple options for your next date. But it’s precisely that ease that makes online dating dangerous and expensive. In romance scams, where someone befriends another to convince them to send money. Anyone of any age can find themselves in this situation, especially if they are comfortable using dating apps.
The Romance Scam
In many cases, a person who is the object of an online affection is simply being scammed, or “catfished,” and swindled out of money, eventually leaving them alone and at a loss.
The “relationship” starts out innocently enough, with the fraudster contacting their mark through any number of outlets on dating apps, social media, and even messaging platforms such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, or SnapChat. Once the fraudster gains the victim’s trust, plans are made to meet in person, but never happen. The conversation turns to financial affairs, and then the scam begins.
According to the CFTC, many scams concentrate on virtual currency, forex, or foreign currency exchange, or digital assets through legitimate looking trading apps and software. The trading platforms are controlled by a company located overseas, making it look like the “investment” is doing well so that the victim is encouraged to continue investing. The money is actually being sent overseas and is nearly impossible to recover.
The CFTC press release also offers information to protect yourself against such fraud:
- Keep all conversations on the dating app or site, since a fraudulent profile prefers to move off the platform to avoid detection by filters built into the app or site’s chat function.
- Take screenshots of the potential romantic partner for a reverse image search and find out if they have been used in other scams. Most, if not all these individuals steal their “identity” from someone else.
- If there is pushback when suggesting an in-person meeting or a video call (Skype, Zoom, etc.) or other real-time verification, this is a red flag.
- Never send money to someone you only know online and have never met in person.
Always get a second (and third and fourth) opinion about new investments, and never invest in something you don’t understand.
Can A Lawyer Help Recover My Money?
Fraudsters frequently find their victims through a process called “catfishing.” They begin by using a fake persona with stolen photos and other “supportive evidence” to create an online life that isn’t real. Then they look for possible “romantic partners” on dating apps and websites, Facebook and other social media, messaging apps, and other platforms where tracing is difficult. They avoid meeting in person as well as video calls, preferring to keep everything to texting or messaging. After many conversations that begin building trust with the victim, they initiate requests for money.
For example: a 68-year-old man named Jim is contacted on Facebook by what he believes is a 25-year-old female, and they begin talking. Jim is on Social Security and works part-time to supplement his income. This “new girlfriend” claims to be in the military and stationed in combat locations overseas, texting Jim daily. The truth is that military members stationed in these areas aren’t allowed to have cell phones, and email is strictly monitored.
After talking for a while, “she” asks him for money—airfare to get home, medical bills, etc. He pushes to meet in person, but she never commits. Jim arranges a meetup in a large city and spends hundreds on airfare to get there. She never shows up, and he never sees her in person. But he continues to send her thousands of dollars, even selling family property to obtain the funds.
Another example: a fifty-something woman is “in a relationship” with a businessman she met on a dating site for the over-50 set. The “relationship” develops, and eventually, her “boyfriend” disappeared, his phone is turned off, has bilked her out of $10,000. She continued looking for him online until she finds the real businessman and calls his home phone. The man’s wife answers, and tells her that he’s happily married. This is the second time the man has received this type of phone call. In both cases, there was no “dating” except by text, and neither woman had met the man with whom they were involved.
Both individuals have been scammed, or “catfished.” Neither knows who they were “in a relationship” with, nor what country they were in. A frequent storyline is that the pursuer is in the military, or a “doctor in a foreign country.”
Many relationships do begin legitimately from an online meeting, and progress accordingly. But others are not what they appear and can become costly. If you or someone you know has become involved with another person online, exercise caution. And of course, don’t send money no matter what kind of plea they use.
Banks Liability For Failing To Identify Fraud
Banks, brokerage firms and other financial institutions are required to have complex supervisory systems designed to help prevent investors from being defrauded and to identify when someone is make large or unusual withdrawals. If your bank or brokerage firm failed to question why money was being withdrawn from the account or otherwise helps facilitate moving money to a fraudster, they may bear some responsibility for your losses. Silver Law Group represents victims of elder financial abuse, romance scams and Ponzi schemes against banks and other professionals who play a role in allowing these frauds to proliferate.
Have You Lost Money In A Romance Scam?
Silver Law Group represents investors in securities and investment fraud cases. Our lawyers are admitted to practice in New York and Florida and represent investors nationwide to help recover investment losses due to stockbroker misconduct. If you have any questions about how your account has been handled, call to speak with an experienced securities attorney. Most cases are handled on a contingent fee basis, meaning that you won’t owe us until we recover your money for you. Contact us today at (800) 975-4345 and let us know how we can help.