The romance scam is one of the most expensive frauds reported to the Federal Trade Commission. The Federal Trade Commission reports that romance scams totaled a record $304 million in losses during the most recent reporting period, up 50% from the previous year.
These frauds came dangerously close to convincing one East Tennessee lady to sell her house. Romance scams are distinct from other types of fraud. They prey on lonely people seeking companionship and can take months to grow to where money is exchanged.
Vivian, a recent widow, began communicating with a man who claimed to be named Mark Crocker some nine months ago.
“He’s a gorgeous man; in fact, I’ve always referred to him as my sexy man,” Vivian, who declined to share her last name, added. Once the man gained Vivian’s attention, he began plotting to defraud her of her money.
“We exchanged texts for approximately a month before he traveled to Australia to purchase gold,” Vivian explained.
Crocker informed Vivian that he earned $25 million while there. Then he sent a text message alleging he was being pursued by the cops and in desperate need of money. She initially contributed $200, sandwiching it between the pages of a paperback book and sending it.
“$10,000 in a single transaction. A second time, $10,000. A third time, $10,000. Then I obtained a $20,000 bank loan. And then he needs additional supplies at one time. As a result, I handed him $30,000 from my IRA. Ah, I maxed up two credit cards: a VISA and a Discover. And I handed him cash from my $3,000 life insurance coverage,” Vivian explained.
Vivian revealed that despite everything, he was still hungry for more. “He’s asking for a $50,000 collateral on my home,” Vivian explained.
Vivian stated that she was unsure whether she had been duped. “You know, I felt like I’d invested so much money that I couldn’t stop because I hoped I’d get my money back,” Vivian explained to WATE’s Don Dare.
“How were you planning to recoup your losses?” Dare was questioned. According to the FTC, romance fraudsters build fictitious identities and target individuals using popular social media platforms like Facebook or Instagram. They establish rapport with their targets to earn their trust. Then they fabricate a tale and solicit funds.
“As you know, I’m single following the death of my spouse. “As you know, I live up here alone, and as you know, I get lonely,” Vivian explained.
“It’s one of the most desperate crimes we witness because many people who have a little money are typically lonely,” Aaron Bradley, Area Agency on Aging Director, explained.
Bradley advises that if you feel a friend or loved one is a victim of a romance scam, they should immediately cease communication with the individual.
“Local law enforcement is taking a closer look at this because they recognize the magnitude of the problem and the amount of money involved,” Bradley explained.
Vivian has alerted her local sheriff’s department and state elder abuse detectives. Under the law, romance scams are considered elder abuse.
If you feel you have been the victim of a romance scam or online fraud, make a report with the FBI’s internet crime complaint center and contact your local FBI field office.