It happens every day: A client calls their financial representative or institution and asks for a large distribution out of their account. There is often no explanation for the distribution and the request is processed.
Unfortunately, there is an all-too-common fraudulent dating scam behind it. The client is securing the money for a “romantic partner” to fulfill some urgent need for money. And the need is always desperate, even if the romancing scammer claims to be independently wealthy and will be bringing millions of dollars to the relationship.
Some common scenarios that we have observed at MassMutual:
- The scammer says they are stuck on an oil rig and need to pay their employer to come home.
- The scammer is stuck in a foreign country and needs money to pay the customs fee to fly to the United States.
- A victim’s new beau, whom she had never met, claims to be in custody after being detained for attempting to smuggle gold and diamonds into the United States, and she needs to send a foreign court $100,000 for his release.
These online dating stories always end the same: The supposed “romantic partner” and the money disappear. The client is left with a broken heart and a lower net worth. The amount of money lost is increasing as these scams become more commonplace. They have even attracted the attention of the FBI .
Scammers are experts at preying on emotions and investing just enough time to gain the trust of lonely individuals. The scammers connect with their prey by utilizing online dating websites and social media sites. They spend hours in online chats, on the phone, and texting in order to cultivate an emotional connection. There is rarely any direct personal interaction. By the time the scammer asks for money, the victim is fully invested in what they believe is a romantic relationship.
Sadly, many of these online romance scams target senior citizens because of the vast amount of wealth that seniors hold in the United States. As financial services firms educate their employees to be on the lookout for this “love scamming” fraudulent activity, some scammers are now even coaching their targets not to discuss the relationship and to use excuses like home renovations as a reason for the withdrawal or loan.
The best way to protect you or your loved ones is to be aware of the signs of the online romance scam and to look for any hints of a new relationship in your loved one’s life. If the loved one talks about a new relationship, ask questions about the person. If the answers are vague or evasive, or if your loved one has had no direct personal interaction with the other person, it may be a financial online romance scam.
If you suspect your loved one is the victim of a financial online romance scam, consider notifying the companies that hold their financial assets, including the loved one’s financial representatives. In addition, notifying local law enforcement and the local FBI field office can often be beneficial in stopping the loved one from providing money to the scammer.
Here are some specific tips for identifying a financial romance scam:
- Be wary of individuals on dating sites who reside in a foreign country or a difficult place to travel to, like an oil rig or a war zone.
- Avoid sending funds or any personal or financial information to an individual you have never physically met.
- If you honestly believe the individual is real, conduct online due diligence, including conducting a reverse image search on the individual and looking them up on a search engine. Many stories do not hold up to basic online research.
- Be skeptical of legal documents provided by the romantic partner purporting to corroborate the stories. Scammers have become proficient at creating fraudulent legal documents that “look real.”
By teaming up and living mutually, we can all work together to stop these financial online romance scams.
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This article was originally published in January 2020. It has been updated.