Column: Can’t buy me love: Romance scams

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Commentary by J. Douglas Kouns

They steal your heart, then steal your money. In 2017, the FBI reported more than 15,000 victims with more than $200 million in reported losses. With Valentine’s Day approaching, it’s a good time to remind people of this prevalent and heinous scam.

Recently, a person hired us to confirm the background of her online love interest. After proving he didn’t exist, she wouldn’t accept it. We warned, “He will soon tell you of an emergency and ask you for money. Don’t!” She emailed later, heartbroken, “You were right. His daughter is supposedly sick and needs $1,200 for medicine. Thank you!”

Typically, the victims are older, single and emotionally vulnerable women. Predators learn this information from public social media and online dating profiles. They spend the first weeks, even months, chatting, flirting and escalating the relationship. They’ll exchange fake pictures and family stories to lure victims, gaining trust and confidence. Once the hook is set, an emergency arises and they need just a few hundred or thousand dollars. But then another thing and another thing arises. One extreme example cost a wealthy widow nearly $2 million dollars as she was milked for cash over time.

Protect yourself. Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches. Go slow, ask lots of questions. Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to go offline. Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information. Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, then always comes up with an excuse. Never send money to anyone you don’t know personally.

If you suspect a scam, stop all contact immediately. If you are the victim of a scam, file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at IC3.gov.

J. Douglas Kouns is CEO of Veracity IIR, a private investigation and security consulting firm in Carmel.

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