Imagine going on a dating website looking for love, but ending up falling for a scammer.
The “master of disguise” pretends to be somebody else, luring those seeking romance into a “romance scam” instead.
“They want to believe that they have this relationship. They want to believe it.”
That’s what M. Veil Griffith the Administrator for the Cambria County Area Agency on Aging said after seeing an increase in these scams.
“Thousands and thousands and thousands of dollars. Right here it’s all over but even right here in Cambria County,”
Griffith says members of international gangs overseas make fake profiles on dating websites or Facebook targeting vulnerable, lonely, older women.
She’s seen victims in Cambria County give an average of $30,000 to $50,000 to their nonexistent lovers, but sometimes into the hundreds of thousands.
The scammer will tell the victim that they’re having an emergency, and will teach them how to send the fraud in cash, cryptocurrency, or gift cards.
“After they get the quote-on-quote romance started, then all of the sudden there’s an emergency. It’s very urgent. This ‘too good to be true’ man doesn’t have access to all of the money that he said he had, so starts asking the victim to send money, and they do,”
According to the Federal Trade Commission, $1.3 billion was lost to romance scams in the United States within the past five years.
Griffith says that many of the victims involved with these scams are in denial that they even are.
“Women are mortgaging their homes. They’re turning over their retirement accounts and annuities. They think that they’re in love,”
Out of the 35 reports the Cambria County Area Agency on Aging gets in a month, about half of them deal with financial exploitation, and at least five of those are romance scams.
AAA officials say since more older people have computers and cell phones and are on dating websites and Facebook the problem has been increasing.
Ed Sedlock the Protective Services Supervisor for the Cambria County Area Agency on Aging said he once saw a victim give up $1 million to a scammer.
“That money leaving our area is gone forever. If they need to go into a home, they don’t have that money. If they need to repair their house, they don’t have the money. Of course, if they planned on helping out children or grandchildren, the money is not there. So, it leaves a big hole in our community,”
Officials there say it’s also up to the banks to stop romance scammers to see if someone is taking out large amounts of cash.
Banks, community members, and loved ones can report romance scams to the Cambria County AAA, even if they only suspect something.
“We have trained protective services investigators who will go to the home, talk with the victim, and we do everything we can to try to stop it. Especially if we can involve a family member,”