Online romance scammers: first they steal your heart, then they steal your money

Roses are red, Violets are blue — could your valentine be scamming you?

The Better Business Bureau reports over the past three years, romance scams have cost Americans nearly $1 billion. It’s a massive worldwide problem, and it’s costing people in our region hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Todd Farmer and Sam Wright are attorneys in Paducah. They say they’ve received calls from several men and women — all single seniors looking for love online — who are now victims of a scam.

“The first case we saw, it had actually driven the woman to the point of bankruptcy,” says Farmer.

“The fraudsters are even speaking with the seniors on the telephone, and in some cases they’re able to do video chat as well,” says Wright.

Wright and Farmer say the scammers are creating relationships with their victims through online dating sites. First, the scammer gets them hooked, then they pounce. They ask for money, bank and credit card information, and even gifts — typically with the promise that they’ll be paid back.

“It’s not tens of thousands,” says Farmer. “It’s hundreds of thousands.”

How do you know if your online love interest is fake? Here are three warning signs from the Federal Trade Commission:

— They ask you to chat using your personal email, text, or phone rather than in person.

— They make up a story to pull at your heartstrings, then ask you to wire money.

— They ask you to set up a new bank account.

“These scams are a lot more widespread than people realize, because the victim is very embarrassed,” Farmer says. That’s why it can go unreported.

“I have seen what the fraudsters send, and it can be incredible convincing,” says Wright. ” So, I would caution anybody who passes judgment on a victim in this case.”

When asked if there’s hope that victims could get their money back, Wright told me, “I don’t know the answer to that question.”

With many of these scammers living outside the U.S., Farmer says they’re practically untouchable.

If you think you’re the victim of a similar scam, Farmer and Wright suggest contacting police, then calling an attorney.

Click here to report a scam to the Better Business Bureau.