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Virginia woman loses $140,000 in online romance scam

ROANOKE – “I thought we had a connection and I trusted him. I just wanted to help him.”

A Southwest Virginia woman tells the Better Business Bureau she has lost $140,000 in a years-long romance scam. The consumer, who wishes to remain anonymous at this time, says she received a friend request on Facebook in early 2012 from a younger man who seemed interested in her romantically. Recently widowed, she says she was in a vulnerable and lonely place. Soon after befriending her, the man started asking for money during chats on Yahoo Messenger.

“He said he was living in Nigeria working for a construction company, but was originally from Texas. He kept saying he couldn’t wait for us to be together.”

From early 2012 to August 2014, she wired the man more than $100,000 in funds using her home equity account, close to $20,000 from her husband’s life insurance policy, and all her savings. His requests for money ranged from airline tickets to basic living expenses, always promising to pay her back. She was even warned by both the bank and her family that such scams were out there, but didn’t listen.

“I thought I was smarter than they were. I honestly thought he was going to pay me back.”

In August 2014, she told the man she was out of money. His response? “To heck with you,” and disappeared, closing his Yahoo and Facebook accounts. She hasn’t heard from him since.

She knows that she will never get her money back, but contacted the BBB so others could learn from her mistakes. She repeated one phrase over and over again during her conversation with the BBB: “It’s just so heartbreaking.”

Sadly, this type of scam happens every day, and oftentimes victims are too embarrassed or afraid to report it to anyone. While these schemes can happen to anyone, older individuals are often the target. These scammers prey on emotion and are experts at telling people exactly what they need, or hope, to hear.

Here are some red flags for which to watch:

  • People who ask to talk or chat on an outside email or messaging service. Oftentimes, this allows fraudsters to perpetrate fraud without the dating site having a record of the encounter. Also many popular email services offer chat services to anyone with an account, and do not verify identities before issuing accounts.
  • Anyone who declares their love for you without meeting you or knowing much about you.
  • Individuals who prefer to communicate solely via email or over the phone. This is often the sign of someone who has a need or wishes to keep their true identity hidden.
  • Claims that a person cannot meet because they are traveling, stationed or working abroad. Dishonest people use distance as a tool and a means of keeping people at arm’s length. Scammers will also sometimes falsely claim a military affiliation in an effort to gain people’s trust.
  • Requests for money or credit card information. Any and all requests for loans or cash advances should be refused and prompt an immediate assessment of the person with which you’re communicating. These individuals will also request the money be sent via wire or using pre-paid debit cards. Red flags don’t come any bigger than this.
  • Someone who asks for sensitive personal information. Remember, a scammer’s goal might also be to steal your identity. Be protective of your personal information and watch out for suspicious emails that could have links which contain malware designed to compromise your computer.

What You Can Do:

  • Don’t be pressured into making fast decisions, especially involving money.
  • Be wary of random friend requests from strangers on Facebook or any other social-media platform. Creating a fake profile is not difficult to do.
  • Tell your family members about any new online relationships. They may notice the warning signs of a scam because they are not emotionally invested.
  • Take time to verify the person exists.
  • Never provide your personal information (address, date-of-birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know.
  • Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
  • Never send money for an emergency situation unless you’ve been able to verify the emergency.

The BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. The BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Reviews on more than 4 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution service, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Visit www.bbb.org.

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