“Suckers have no business with money anyway.” – Canada Bill Jones
First an update to my Labor Day post: On September 15th, the Federal Trade Commission issued a Press Release announcing a crackdown on gig platforms that engage in deceptive, unfair, and anti-competitive practices harmful to gig employees. While it remains to be seen if anything will actually be done and what effect it has on gig work, it’s nonetheless a hopeful sign for those of us who rely on this type of work to help us get by.
Now on to a different type of fraud perpetrated on vulnerable Americans.
There’s an epidemic of loneliness in the United States. A Harvard study on Loneliness in America published in 2021 noted that 36% of those sampled reported feeling lonely almost all the time in the four weeks prior to their interview, including 61% of those between the ages of 18-25 and 51% of mothers with young children. A study published in 2020 by the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine noted that one-fourth of Americans ages 65 and older experience social isolation, and that these older people are at greater risk for premature mortality than those who smoke, have high blood pressure, or are obese.
If you’re lonely and looking for companionship on social media or on dating sites, beware of those who would take advantage of you. Sure, you know to be wary of married folks or those who would rob, rape, or even kill you. But have you considered the fact that your new friend or love interest might actually be part of an international criminal gang?
Why romance scams? It’s easy and it’s cheap. If you have a computer and internet access, you can become a scammer. Sign up on dating sites for free, set your target range, and swipe right on every profile that pops up. Working alone is ok, but if you affiliate with a criminal gang, you gain access to their information, experience, and network of money launderers.
Romance scams are also lucrative. The FBI reported that in 2021, 24,000 victims lost over $1 billion to romance scams. It’s believed many such crimes are not reported because the victim is either ashamed or an older person fearful their ability to access their money will be curtailed.
Some scammers are easy to spot. I tend to notice right away if someone claims to be from this region but doesn’t use regional slang. Or if they don’t correctly spell simple words. Or perhaps their comments make no sense (likely because they’re using a translator app). Or they claim to be an American working overseas, typically as a doctor, construction or oil worker. These types thrive on social media, especially Facebook, where they attempt to engage with potential victims by responding to their comments on public posts.
Some scammers aren’t that easy to spot, but taking a few simple steps can help you avoid heartache and financial loss.
- Use Google to search provided photos. Find out if the person you’re talking to is posting elsewhere using a different name. It could indicate the photos were actually lifted to be used by a scammer.
- Tell a trusted friend or family member about the relationship. Ask what they think, and respect their judgement. Hiding the relationship from others is a glaring red flag.
- Trust your instincts. If you feel something isn’t quite right, it likely isn’t.
- Do not under any circumstances send them money no matter how sad a story you’re given. If the money is for them to come visit you, see bullet #2.
- Don’t give out your phone number. Instead, use a free or low-cost second number app for all contact.
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. A lot of that crap you’ve heard about true love is just that – CRAP. There isn’t only one true love out there for you; instead there likely are plenty of people in this country who will put up with your shit if you’re willing to put up with theirs.
A special note about money laundering: acting as a money mule is illegal. Do not open bank accounts, cash checks, convert gift cards, or deposit cash and forward the money elsewhere. You WILL be caught, which is why you’re being asked to do it instead of the criminal doing it themselves. One such victim, 81-year-old Glenda Seim, fell for a romance scam in 2014, then acted as a money mule despite repeated warnings by bank employees and law enforcement that her “true love” was a scammer. In 2021 she pled guilty to two felonies and was sentenced to 5 years probation; the leniency in sentencing was due to her recording a video for the FBI warning other potential victims (see the video here).
Oh, you’re too smart to fall for scams like these? I also thought that until I attended a recent webinar on the subject and realized I likely have been scammed or would have been had I not cut the cord when I did. I’m not smarter than them; I’m damn lucky.
So don’t give up on companionship, but do be informed, and be careful!