READ IT TO ME: Click play to listen to this post.
Catfished in a Sweetheart Swindle Bobbi Ann grew up in a family where she was the only girl with 4 brothers. Her dad was a truck driver who spent most of his time on the road. When he was home he spent his time trying to catch up with the boys’ sports schedule. He never had much time for Bobbi Ann. He always thought attention to her activities was her mother’s job. Bobbi Ann admired her dad and quietly felt pain in her heart because of his lack of attention. When she went to college she fell in love with Buddy, and they both dropped out of school and got married. Things seemed great for the first 5 years. By then Buddy got into the habit of meeting guys at a local bar after work and would stay late. Finally, Bobbi Ann discovered that he was having an affair with her best friend and the marriage ended.
Bobbi Ann was devastated, depressed, and even suicidal. The loneliness at night was driving her insane. She learned about the dating app Plenty of Fish from a friend at work. She reached out in desperation, trying to fill the gaping void in her life. Soon, she met Michael from Chicago online. He had a winsome personality and swept her off her feet with kindness. He seemed to be a perfect fit. He asked many personal questions as he wove charm in his pursuit. She liked how he always seemed to make her feel special. After each web contact, Bobbi Ann wondered why she didn’t learn much about Michael. He began to direct the conversation to sexual behavior. Bobbi Ann wasn’t comfortable but she didn’t want to disappoint. So, she went along to get along. He boldly asked her to post sexually compromising pictures. She couldn’t believe that she did it.
She knew she was hooked when he asked for $5000 to start a new business. He said he would pay her back as soon as the business got off the ground. She cashed a stock investment in order to give him the money. At her next encounter, she asked him to come to San Francisco to visit her. He told her that he was too busy with his new start-up. When she insisted that she visit him he was slow to agree. He asked for another $5000 in order for his start-up to reach the next stage of development. Feeling pressured, she consented to provide the money and again posted a provocative pose at his request before ending the conversation.
When she flew to Chicago, he never showed up to meet her. She called the number that he gave her and was greeted with a rude encounter: Michael told her to release another $30,000 or he would take the nude pictures that she posted for him and ruin her reputation and her life. Bobbi Ann was blackmailed. She had been catfished with a sweetheart swindle in an internet scam for thousands of dollars.
Romance scammers weave all sorts of believable stories to con people. The stories might involve a sick child or a temporary inability to get to their money for a whole range of reasons. There is a kind of scamming called “catfishing” which happens when someone creates a fictional persona on a dating site to target a specific victim. Besides financial gain, catfishing motivations can sometimes be simply to cause distress or harm or possibly enable the perpetrator to carry out a fantasy or wish fulfillment.
Romance scamming has skyrocketed in recent years over the internet. In 2021 reported losses hit a record $547 million. That’s more than six times the reported losses in 2017 and a nearly 80% increase compared to 2020. The vast majority of frauds are not reported to the government.
Targets that make up sweetheart swindling include military romance scams, sexual exposure blackmail scams, fake dating sites, and code verification scams, where you are asked to click on a third-party link to verify your account. Once you click through you are asked a number of personal questions including credit card information.
Victims experience a range of negative emotions, such as anger, resentment, fear, anxiety, and depression. Furthermore, victims of romance scams feel embarrassed and believe that they are responsible for their victimization, which impacts their sense of trust in themselves.
Smart people get caught in a romance scam for many reasons:
1. Victims are vulnerable to idealizing their online pursuits. Often, needy and hurt, like Bobbi Ann, they tend to focus on the positives and forget the negatives in their new romance.
2. Loneliness: Some web users prefer expressing themselves online rather than in the real world. However, some tend to lower their guard to a scammer who takes full advantage.
3. Thrill seekers: some web users are impulsive and addictive. Some victims have described feeling addicted to the relationship and found it difficult to cut it off even when they learned that it was not genuine.
The coronavirus pandemic triggered people to spend more time online. It provided conditions that romance scammers could exploit. Often, scammers target older people because they are more likely to have assets such as retirement funds or homes, which they can steal. It is estimated that about two-thirds of romance fraud victims are women, with an average age of 50.
A growing trend in 2021 was scammers using romance as a hook to lure people into bogus investments, especially cryptocurrency. People are led to believe their new online companion is a successful investor who, before long, casually offers investment advice. These so-called investment opportunities often involve foreign exchange (forex) trading or cryptocurrency. When people follow this investment advice, they wind up losing all the money they invest.
How to avoid an online sweetheart swindle:
There are a number of guidelines that help you use a legitimate dating site and stay out of harm’s way:
1. Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know. Try a reverse-image search of profile pictures. If the details don’t match up, it’s a scam.
2. Avoid revealing too much personal information in a dating profile or to someone you’ve chatted with only online. Never provide your credentials to third parties online. If you give sensitive information, don’t panic — remove your credentials. Change your passwords and contact your bank immediately.
3. Use reputable dating sites and keep communicating through their messaging service. Fraudsters will want you to switch to text, social media, or phone quickly, so there is no evidence on the dating site of them asking you for money.
4. Avoid sending compromising photos to online strangers that could later be used for extortion.
5. Never send money or gift cards or disclose your bank details to someone you’ve only met online.
Many sex and relationship addicts have been snagged by swindles and fraudsters. They often remain hidden because of fear and shame. Online relationship scamming is pervasive. Taking suggested precautions will help you avoid the dangers described. If you have been victimized by a sweetheart swindle, please report the crime to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).