DEAR ABBY: I was recently the target of a romance scam on a popular singles website. After being a divorcee for 15 years, I decided to try online dating. Minutes after I went online, someone asked to chat.
He said he was a widower with an adult daughter and a jeweler by trade, living near me but returning to Florida the next day with ultimate plans to relocate to my area. He mentioned he was originally from Germany and had an accent. We chatted on Google Hangouts, and he sent me sweet emails every morning saying how much he loved meeting me and that it was "our time to have a second chance."
After three weeks of chatting but only a short, garbled phone conversation, he asked for a favor. He was attending a jewelry show and needed me to send his diamond supplier money to pay for a shipment. He made it sound urgent and gave me a name and address in Ghana where he could get the best quality diamonds at the best price.
All along I had kept my guard up, but his request confirmed for me that it was a scam. When I Googled the Ghana name and address, it came back "Ghana Scammer." Abby, these people even provided photos of the person they pretended to be, along with a cellphone and address that actually were under the name of the person they were impersonating.
A couple of telltale signs people should be aware of: First, if you don't talk to them or their cellphone seems to have a very bad connection, it's likely they aren't in the country. Second: If you can't meet in person, it's likely they're pretending to be someone else. He told me that his email had been hacked, and then someone tried to have a conversation from his email asking me personal questions about my retirement funds.
Please help me warn others about these types of scams. -- LOVELESS IN WASHINGTON
DEAR LOVELESS: Gladly! Thank you for writing about your near-miss, because many trusting people have been victimized in this way. Phone and online scams have more than proliferated this year; they appear to have metastasized.
No less than five individuals I know have been approached by scammers trying to lure them into money-losing "propositions." Two of them were told they were having problems with their tax returns. (Not true.) Two others got the "Grandma, please don't tell my parents, but I'm in jail and need bail money" phone calls. One of the women is childless; the other told the caller, "That's funny. You didn't mention it when I talked to you two hours ago." (The caller hung up on her.)
It takes courage and trust to open oneself up to a stranger you hope could become the love of your life. Romance scammers know this can make people vulnerable. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), this particular type of scammer typically tries to lure potential victims away from a dating website and communicate privately by email or instant messages. They tend to profess their love very quickly, and spin elaborate tales about business ventures, overseas travel or family problems that end in requests for money or favors from their mark. According to a recent FBI report, romance scams made up more than 10 percent of the $800 million in Internet crimes committed against Americans last year.
Readers, as much as you might want to believe the impassioned appeals, guard your hearts and your bank accounts from these scammers. Report them to your dating website and to FTC.gov. Protect yourselves by visiting USA.gov/scams-and-frauds and learning how dozens of these scams work and where to report it if you have been victimized.