Did you know that Valentine’s Day spending is expected to reach “27.4 billion this year, up 32% from last year’s forecast? Approximately $167.00 per each person spending. According to the National Retail Federation (Feb. 13 ,2020), love is big business and in the midst of Covid 19 both dating aps and romance scams sky rocking.
Love is definitely in the air and in the age of Covid-19; it’s increasing fraudulent activities. Romance Scams – in which fraudsters pretend to be a love interest to bilk unassuming partners – has surged during this pandemic. The unscrupulous scenario is putting some companies on high alert for suspicious financial transactions. Recently, The Verge documented an all-too familiar case of Grace, a young widow who met the man of her dreams on line.
Both were wealthy and owned their own businesses yet… “The texts came nearly every morning. I love you. I miss you. I adore you. If Grace* didn’t answer immediately, Scott, her boyfriend — or beloved, as he liked to call himself — would get worried. Was she okay? Why wasn’t she answering her phone? It had only been a few months, but Grace knew she and Scott were going to spend the rest of their lives together. They’d met on “OurTime”, a dating site for people over the age of 50.
She was retired, middle class, a widow with three kids who all now had families of their own. He was a successful businessman who worked in solar energy, drove a Mercedes, and had two houses — one in Cuba and another in the US. He was wealthy and promised he would take care of her. There was just one catch: he was stuck in Havana because of COVID-19 and couldn’t access his money. Could she help?
Of course, she could. Grace was in love. She trusted him. And wasn’t she ultimately using his money? So yes, she wrote some very large checks to pay for Scott’s business ventures, through a checking account he’d opened in her name. But the money in those accounts was money Scott had wired in; she was just helping him access it.” Yet the reality was there was no Scott, there was no other bank account, and she was out every penny.
As Jack Hagel reports in the Wall street Journal (Feb. 14, 2021), “About 32,800 romance scams were reported last year, up nearly 31% from 2019, according to Federal Trade Commission data released last week. Consumers reported losing a record $304 million to the scams, an almost 51% increase, the FTC said.”
As we know, romance scammers build up a fake online persona to develop relationships with their victims through online dating apps or social media. They keep their distance making excuses to the infatuated mind sound plausible and possible-away on business, phony military deployment, passport is not ready. The common denominator is once they get the cash they are after they usually disappear.
Monic Vaca, an associate director of the Federal Trade Commission says that times are ripe for fraud. Social distancing has complicated in -person dating/ People are spending more time online. There is a general increase of dating apps. Plus, travel restrictions and health reasons are also giving fraudsters seemingly legitimate excuse to not meeting victims’ in person (I just tested positive for Covid, there is a quarantine at my work etc.)
The problem has been exacerbated by COVID-19, which has provided the perfect cover for romance scammers. Prior to the pandemic, it might have seemed odd to start a relationship with someone without ever meeting in person. Now, for many older people who are single and also more susceptible to the virus, online romance is the only option.
To Grace, who we met earlier the damage is emotional as well as financial. “I don’t have anyone to talk to; I don’t want to tell my family I’m an idiot,” she says. It’s a level of shame that is typical for romance scams victims, says Amy Nofziger, director of the Fraud Watch Network at the AARP. “These scams are crimes, but for some reason the victim gets blamed a lot,” she says. “It can happen to anyone. These people are smart, they’re educated. They just fell in love.”
Because there is so much guilt attached to being scammed victims are hesitant to tell their loved ones who are quick to blame and shame in fits of anger That’s why it is so important for counselors, behavioral and public health providers to offer services to those who have been scammed and to engage in public health campaigns.
Entities like Money gram and Western Union have actually beefed up their detection practices to try and stay abreast of fraudsters. However human gullibility and the need for connection often thwart even the brightest of folks. Scammers are very smart, and they know how to play into the victims’ vulnerabilities – loneliness being key. That is why public health campaigns warning folks about romance, dating aps is essential.
If you have a loved one you are worried about or if you are a behavioral health provider (psychologist, social worker, a marriage and family therapist, alcohol and drug counselor, rehabilitation specialist, or behavioral health center employee and want to learn more about how you can help a loved one who is scam victim, please reach out to me!