HAMPTON ROADS, Va. – Right now many seniors feel alone, wanting love and companionship, however too many of them are being victimized by online predators promising a romantic relationship.
A local 75-year-old woman said she was told lies by a man she met online, promising. She said she fell victim to an online romance scheme.
She agreed to share her story but did not want her identity revealed.
He said the man gave her many compliments, shared intimate conversations, and told her he was in love.
But then three weeks into their new relationship he started asking her to send money and she lost thousands.
She said he would call and text her all the time, but she didn’t have a way to reach him. She said at first he asked for gift cards for about $100 but then requested more and more money.
She said he would make various reasons for needing the money. She said she sent the money on apps that he helped her set up on her phone and wired the money.
“Every time I did it, I knew it was wrong,” said the woman, “But something just makes you do it.”
When she realized she was being victimized, she was upset.
“It hurts. I’m always too trusting, I trust everybody and I’m kind of a forgiver. I almost lost my family over this,” said the woman.
She said her children were upset with her and got involved and hired Cyber Security Expert Len Gonzales from Ally Cyber Investigations, LLC.
He was able to investigate the situation and work to help the woman realize that these people were trying to scam her.
The FBI says the number of senior victims has risen at an alarming rate.
They said romance scams account for the highest losses reported by victims over the age of 60.
In 2021 – there was a loss of over $432 million, according to the FBI – and the amount of losses continues to grow.
“There’s a lot of different levels to these romance scams and online scams that occur,” said Gonzales.
He said criminals will use the same basic script but cater what they are saying to the various victims. He said they will see how much money or how willing the victim is willing to go when providing personal information.
Criminals are reaching people through their phones, iPads, and computers but often times it’s very difficult to track them down which is why many of them are not arrested when they steal money from victims.
“It’s sad how they take advantage of people and in large part they take advantage of elderly folks,” said Gonzales.
Gonzales was hired by this woman’s family and was able to help her realize she was being victimized – and it wasn’t just the man she sent money to. There were others on dating sites who tried to get money from her. She showed Gonzales the picture of one man she was speaking with and he was able to show her that the image was actually of a gay porn star whose picture was likely stolen.
Another man was able to hack her accounts after he asked her to read the numbers that were sent to her phone. She told him the numbers because she didn’t realize that he was hacking her account.
She said while trying to report the issue to Google she got wrapped up in another scam. She said the person on the other end of the phone told her that she needed to pay $200 to correct the hacked account. She provided her credit card information and personal information.
She said she was first a victim of the romance scheme and then the victim of identity theft.
Gonzales said too many people are not protecting themselves.
“That’s why the numbers are so high. That’s why these scams are so pervasive. That’s why these people are able to create so much revenue, it’s because people don’t have their guard up,” said Gonzales.
For this woman, the agony of this horrible situation has made her untrusting of anyone.
For more information from the FBI on how to prevent romance schemes, click here.