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‘Made them fall in love;’ Romance scams causing heartbreak, financial ruin becoming more common

ORLANDO, Florida — Romance scams have become a gateway to heartbreak, and the loss of hundreds of thousands of dollars.

A woman from Central Florida reached out to our sister station in Orlando with a story about her elderly mother who fell victim to one of these scams.

“She says she’s engaged and they’re gonna get married,” The daughter of a victim, who asked not to be identified, said.

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She said that her mother fell victim to an online romance scam and lost almost everything.

“I think it’s more common than we know. Because people don’t want to talk about it,” she said.

She said her mother sparked an online relationship with someone who claimed to be the face of SpaceX and Tesla, Elon Musk.

“They hear that voice. They hear Elon Musk’s voice and they know it’s his voice,” the daughter said.

It started with wire transfers, and huge amounts of money going out. At least one transfer topped $100,000. There were daily ATM withdrawals of $3,000, with most of that cash spent on gift cards for the scammers.

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In late 2022, her mother’s $600,000 in life savings started dwindling. By early 2023, it was too late.

The daughter happened to see a statement on the counter showing her mother had just $60,000 left and the money kept slipping away.

Her mother said she was investing it with Elon Musk.

“She lost a total of $600,000 from what I can tell. I know that her credit cards are maxed out and she bought gift cards on all of her credit cards,” the daughter said.

It’s not a unique story, either, our news partners spoke with Christopher Maxwell, a reformed scammer from Nigeria who shared some of the tricks Scammers use.

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“I look for their trust. I want my victim to trust me. You just made them fall in love with you, and you take advantage of that,” Maxwell said.

Maxwell now works with Social Catfish, a company that verifies online identities using reverse search technology, to help educate people.

He said that romance scams were the easiest for him. He used popular social media platforms and looked for older women, often divorced, who he believed were more vulnerable.

“You know, when they’re divorced, they need someone to love them. You know, they’ve been through a lot in the past, and they just want someone that is going to spend the rest of their life with them,” Maxwell said.

Posing as a soldier or celebrity, he would make women fall in love with him and start extracting their money.

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“I have seen texts on her phone that say, ‘Hey, baby, how are you? What are you doing tonight, baby?’,” the daughter said.

She said her mother was giddy like a schoolgirl, but now she is living on social security. With financial stress on the family mounting, she wants others to be aware before it happens to them.

“It’s like you want to walk out of your house and scream or cry. It’s so frustrating,” the daughter said.

In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission reported $1.3 billion in romance scam losses in the U.S. but since many of these go unreported, they believe that’s likely a small fraction of what people lost.

If you fall victim to a romance scam, contact the FBI and the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint right away and also report it to the social media company where you met the scammer.


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