One of the more popular methods used by scammers to bilk money out of unsuspecting victims is the so-called Sweetheart Scam. What makes this type of fraud especially insidious are its most common victims: older widows or widowers at their most vulnerable following the loss of their partner.
Worse, the swindlers are almost never caught because most of these scams originate from a foreign country. The only real defense you have is to take precautions if you find yourself in a virtual or long-distance relationship with someone.
How Romance Scammers Use the Sweetheart Scam
Most sweetheart scammers follow the same formula. They connect with a victim online, often through dating sites or even by phone. They know how to tug at the heart of a widow or widower to develop a close, intimate relationship from afar. The correspondence deepens and plans are made to eventually meet. At some point the scammer contacts the victim with news of a tragedy, or some emergency requiring financial assistance. Some scammers will start off small, requesting $100 for a bus ride home. The next request will be bigger, maybe $30,000 for a medical emergency, always with the promise to repay the victim. Eventually, the scammer disappears, deleting their email address and phone numbers.
Preventing Sweetheart Scams
If you become involved in a virtual or long-distance relationship, take every precaution before moving forward. If you’re not careful, you may even become the victim of identity theft.
- Take the relationship slow and ask many questions along the way.
- Track down their digital footprint online. Be suspicious if there is none. If you find one, be suspicious anyway–scammers know how to set up fake identities.
- Ask yourself why this person would be interested in you. Does it make sense?
- Be very suspicious if the person professes feelings of love.
- Be suspicious if the person claims to be a U.S. citizen but is unable to meet you in person because they travel frequently or work overseas.
- Be extremely cautious if they constantly come up with reasons for not being able to meet you in person.
- Above all, never, ever send money to someone you haven’t met in person.
If you think you are in the midst of a Sweetheart Scam, contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
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