“It’s not just the finances, it’s the emotional part, too—being embarrassed, being ashamed, being humiliated.” Even now, though, she remains conflicted.A part of her still wants to believe that Charlie is real and that their relationship was real—that the e-mail exchanges about church and the phone calls when they sang together and prayed together meant as much to him as they did to her.
The woman, in her 50s and struggling in her marriage, was happy to find someone to chat with. He was very positive, and I felt like there was a real connection there.”That connection would end up costing the woman million and an untold amount of heartache after the man she fell in love with—whom she never met in person—took her for every cent she had.
She even holds out hope that one day Charlie will repay her, as he promised to do so many times. There can’t be a man in this world that could be this horrible to have purposefully done what he’s done to me.” The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do.
Otherwise, there is no doubt that he is a heartless criminal who robbed her and broke her heart—and who is almost certainly continuing to victimize other women in the same way.“I can’t even imagine a man, a person, that could be this bad,” she said. They spend hours honing their skills and sometimes keep journals on their victims to better understand how to manipulate and exploit them.“Behind the veil of romance, it’s a criminal enterprise like any other,” said Special Agent Christine Beining.
The SFA has been working with training providers to help develop the tool, make it easy to upload information, and give them the opportunity to demonstrate the range and quality of their training.
As part of the design process, around 400 employers and 200 training providers have already tested the system, playing an integral part in shaping its design.
“And once a victim becomes a victim, in that they send money, they will often be placed on what’s called a ‘sucker list,’ ” she said.
“Their names and identities are shared with other criminals, and they may be targeted in the future.”To stay safe online, be careful what you post, because scammers can use that information against you.
“It’s not like going in a bank and holding a gun to the teller,” Beining explained, “because there are so many leads that you provide law enforcement when you do that.
Even if you are able to get out of the bank, we can probably find out who you are and track you down.
Victims—predominantly older widowed or divorced women targeted by criminal groups usually from Nigeria—are, for the most part, computer literate and educated. And con artists know exactly how to exploit that vulnerability because potential victims freely post details about their lives and personalities on dating and social media sites.
Trolling for victims online “is like throwing a fishing line,” said Special Agent Christine Beining, a veteran financial fraud investigator in the FBI’s Houston Division who has seen a substantial increase in the number of romance scam cases.
“The Internet makes this type of crime easy because you can pretend to be anybody you want to be.