At our firm, our clientele primarily comprises of pre-retirees and retirees, and we foster enduring relationships that span years, if not decades. Being integral to numerous pivotal moments in our clients' lives, from joyous occasions like retirement and family milestones to assisting them through somber events such as widowhood or health challenges, positions us uniquely. As custodians of our clients' financial well-being, we strive to proactively address emerging threats. Given the escalating prevalence of online scams, specifically romance scams, this month's blog delves into this insidious yet widespread 21st-century crime.
Inspiration struck after watching "Marriage.con," a Netflix documentary highlighting real-life incidents of online dating scams among educated, intelligent, working-class women in India. Surprisingly, parallels with stories closer to home in the U.S. became evident, underscoring the universal nature of the issue. Lisa Mills, a romance fraud expert at Victim Support, a UK-based non-profit, aptly describes romance scams as "particularly insidious" due to their exploitation of the victim's fundamental desire for love and connection.
The modus operandi is strikingly similar across borders: scammers craft fake profiles on dating apps or social media, weaving a web of deception to establish trust and companionship. Victims are lured into a 'love bubble,' distorting their reality and rendering them vulnerable. The perpetrators exploit this vulnerability, creating a fabricated need for immediate funding, often accompanied by gaslighting (manipulating someone into questioning their own sanity) and guilt-tripping if the victim hesitates.
Within days or weeks, emotional manipulation and gaslighting culminate in victims being conned out of substantial sums, sometimes their entire life savings. The COVID-19 pandemic amplified this nefarious activity, with reported losses reaching a staggering $547 million in 2021 alone, an 80% increase from the previous year. Gift cards emerged as the favored currency due to their traceability challenges, and many victims refrained from reporting the crimes out of embarrassment.
Recognizing the signs is crucial. Red flags include avoiding in-person meetings, swift progression to long-term commitments, requests to open new bank accounts, sudden urgent monetary needs, and insistence on money transfers via platforms like Western Union or MoneyGram, often accompanied by gaslighting.
If you suspect a romance scam, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends immediate cessation of communication, discussing the situation with a trusted individual, and conducting a reverse image search of the scammer's profile picture. Reporting the incident to the FTC at ReportFraud.ftc.gov is crucial for investigations by law enforcement agencies. Additionally, notifying the relevant social networking site or app and alerting your bank if money has been transferred is essential.
For those with a loved one victimized by a romance scam, providing unwavering support is paramount. Assure them that it's not their fault, emphasizing that such incidents can happen to anyone, even the most vigilant among us.