The victims reported collective losses of .4 million, which is likely only a fraction of the actual losses since many victims are too embarrassed to file a report, the FBI said.About 70% of the victims were female; more than half were women 40 years or older."In the process of going back and forth, a scammer is going to try to figure out what makes a person tick, what their vulnerable spots are," said Jenny Shearer, an FBI spokeswoman.
The woman, in her 50s and struggling in her marriage, was happy to find someone to chat with. He was very positive, and I felt like there was a real connection there.”That connection would end up costing the woman $2 million and an untold amount of heartache after the man she fell in love with—whom she never met in person—took her for every cent she had.
Victims—predominantly older widowed or divorced women targeted by criminal groups usually from Nigeria—are, for the most part, computer literate and educated. And con artists know exactly how to exploit that vulnerability because potential victims freely post details about their lives and personalities on dating and social media sites.
In July, "John" told her that he was traveling to the United Kingdom to buy antiques for his store.
Then one day he called saying he went to Nigeria to buy more, but he was stuck -- he asked her for $5,000 cash to get his purchases back to the States.
Trolling for victims online “is like throwing a fishing line,” said Special Agent Christine Beining, a veteran financial fraud investigator in the FBI’s Houston Division who has seen a substantial increase in the number of romance scam cases.
“The Internet makes this type of crime easy because you can pretend to be anybody you want to be.
In July 2016, the two Nigerian co-conspirators pleaded guilty in connection with their roles in the scam, and a federal judge sentenced them each to 36 months in prison last December.
But Charlie is still at large, presumably in Nigeria, and there may be little hope of bringing him to justice.
Be especially cautious with people you only know through online messages and phone calls. Many scammers use fake photos to lure their victims but video messaging is much harder to fake.
“He was saying all the right things,” she remembered. It’s called a romance scam, and this devastating Internet crime is on the rise.
You can be anywhere in the world and victimize people,” she said.