$26.7 Million Dollars
That is how much the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (CAFC) said romance fraud cost Canadians in 2018. By aiming for the heart, romance scams are hugely profitable for fraudsters. It is believed that only somewhere between 5 and 15% of victims of fraud report it. Unfortunately, feelings of shame and embarrassment often mean people don’t report being victimized in this way. As a result, $26.7 million is an exceptionally low estimate.
Throughout history, love has been used to financially take advantage of others. In the modern digital world, not only do we need to be wary of those we know and see in-person who may be taking advantage of us, but it is also those we meet online. Social media is a con artist’s goldmine – they don’t even have to meet their victims in person, let alone live in the same hemisphere. It is on social media they can learn about your interests, hobbies, religion, politics, career, your taste in music and food. With this information, they can turn themselves into your soulmate. Typically, these scams are conducted primarily, if not entirely, online and by phone. They flood their intended victim with attention and words of affection. The technique of “mirroring” in which they adapt their speech and experiences to be like yours is used to build rapport and the illusion of being your “other half”.
While anyone can become a victim of fraud, women in their 40s, 50s, and 60s, who are well educated, and especially those who are divorced or widowed, are the most common victims of romance scam while those over the age of 70 lose the most money. Debby Montgomery Johnson is one victim of this scam. An accomplished woman who became a single mom when her husband died suddenly when she was in her 50’s lost over $1 million in such a scam. Julie Ericksen has bravely spoken out about her experience of falling victim to a romance scam. Her loss: at least $500,000. Both have said in interviews they couldn’t believe it happened to them. Yet like far too many women (and men, too), these con artists were able to find their soft points, tapping into an emotional need that made them vulnerable. Unfortunately for both women, these losses were devastating – financially, and emotionally.
Like many of the things in life we regret, if we are truly honest, there are warning signs. Such as one ask for money, leading to another. The ever-present intention to form a life partnership, just needing to get through this one hurdle first (usually with a dollar sign attached). Unexpected events coming up that mean a delay of being able to meet in person. Both Debby and Julie have publicly acknowledged there were many warning signs, including their own instincts, at various points along the way. And yet the financial losses continued. Like a gambler who is down, rolling the dice one more time hoping this time they would be paid back and in doing so, get some of their losses back as well.
Financial security involves protecting yourself and your income, including from con artists and fraudsters. As it relates to Romance Scams, the FBI has listed 7 tips to help you avoid them:
The FBI has listed 7 tips for avoiding Romance Scams (https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-scams-and-crimes/romance-scams):
- Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
- Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
- Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
- Beware if the individual promises to meet in person but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.
Achieving a lifetime of financial independence is hard to do. Having someone take that away from you by abusing your trust can be devastating. Take steps to protect yourself. If you think someone may be taking financial advantage of you, or are struggling with how to handle a situation, you don’t have to face it alone. Talk to a trusted family member, friend, counselor, support group, or even your professional financial advisor. In the event you are a victim of fraud, report it to the authorities. Don’t let feelings of embarrassment or shame result in further loss. Remember, most common victims are well-educated and intelligent – you may just find yourself in good company.