Consumer Watch: Sweetheart scammers breaking hearts and taking money
OKLAHOMA CITY (KOKH) —
A summer romance can turn into a money draining nightmare. Ease and access to technology has propelled the growth of sweetheart scams across the United States. Fraud experts say with these particular scams it can be difficult to get the victim help, because they often may not ask for it, or believe the person who is scamming them actually loves them.
It is true that love can sometimes make us do some crazy things, and that is exactly what scammers are counting on with this one. People in Oklahoma are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars thinking they are helping their soulmate. It often starts as a social media connection, and can grow into talks on the phone. The scammer goes out of their way to develop the illusion of a relationship with the victim.
"A lot of times they will groom them even for months. Sometimes it happens more rapidly, but you could be talking to someone for a long time, and then all of a sudden their son is in the hospital. Usually it is for someone else," says Elaine Dodd, with the Fraud Division of the Oklahoma Bankers Association.
The people who fall victim to these kinds of scams can range in ages, and they don't always involve the illusion of romantic relationships. It can take the shape of someone pretending they are talking to “the parent they never had." The thing that ties them all together is that, eventually, they all ask a specific question.
"There are different variations on it, but always they are asking for money, and that is your first red flag," says Dodd.
It can be difficult to convince a victim that they are indeed a victim because often they feel that this relationship is real.
“Through the period of the scam someone can lose $850,000. I have seen $1.5 million. If someone has access to that kind of money, once they get sucked in all bets are off,” says Dodd.
If you think a family member could be a scam victim, experts say it's important to reach out, and be persistent while presenting the victim with facts.
Fraud investigators say it is important to be suspicious of attempts to create fast and close relationships with strangers online. Know that scammers tend to ask for a few hundred to a few thousand dollars the first time, and they tend to claim it is money that will help someone else. For additional resources take a look at this Oklahoma Bankers Association breakdown of the sweetheart scam, also known as the romance scam.