KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) — One of the most costly scams reported to the Federal Trade Commission is the romance scam. In the most recent reporting period, the Federal Trade Commission reports romance scams reached a record $304 million in losses, up 50% from the previous year.
These scams nearly led one East Tennessee woman to give away her home. Romance scams are different from others. They prey on lonely people looking to connect with someone, and can often take months to develop to the point where money changes hands.
It was about nine months ago when Vivian, a recent widow, began corresponding with a guy who said his name is Mark Crocker.
“He’s a handsome man, Yea, I always called him my sexy man,” said Vivian who chose not to reveal her last name.
Once the man caught Vivian’s affection, he began the scheme to get her money.
“We texted back and forth for about a month before he went to Australia, gold buying,” said Vivian.
Crocker told Vivian he made 25 million dollars while there. Then he sent a text claiming the law was after him and he needed money. She sent cash at first, sticking the money in between pages of a paperback book, and mailing it.
“$10,000, once. $10,000 a second time. $10,000 a third time. Then I did a $20,000 loan from the bank. And then at one point, he needed more. So, I gave him $30,000 that was (from) my IRA. Ah, I maxed out a VISA card, a Discover Card. And, I gave him cash from my life insurance policy which was $3,000,” said Vivian.
Vivian shared that after all of this, he was still wanting more.
“He’s wanting me to do a collateral against my home of $50,000,” said Vivian.
Vivian told us she wasn’t sure whether or not she had been scammed.
“You know I felt like I had gotten so far invested, that I couldn’t stop because I wanted to hope that I’d get my money back,” Vivian told WATE’s Don Dare.
“How were you going to get your money back?” asked Dare.
“He was going to give it back to me.”
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The FTC reports romance scammers create fake profiles and target people through popular social media sites like Facebook or Instagram. They strike up a relationship with their targets to build their trust. Then, they make up a story and ask for money.
“You know after my husband passed away, I’m by myself. You know I live up here by myself and you know, I get lonely,” said Vivian.
“It’s one of the most desperate crimes we see because a lot of times, folks that have a little bit of money are often lonely,” said Aaron Bradley, Area Agency on Aging Director.
Bradley says if you suspect a friend or loved one is a victim of a romance scam have them stop communicating with the person immediately.
“Local law enforcement is starting to look at this more closely because they realize how big of a problem it is and also realize how much money is involved,” said Bradley.
Vivian has contacted her local sheriff’s department and state investigators who specialize in elder abuse. Romance scams are considered elder abuse, under the law.
If you are a victim of a romance scam or believe you have been victimized by online fraud, file a complaint with the FBI’s internet crime complaint center at https://www.ic3.gov/ and call your local FBI field office.