Today we’re going to talk about romance scams. In my opinion, they are the cruelest hoaxes of all. Romance scams come in all forms and can appear anywhere. The root is usually the almighty dollar sign, although there can be other motivations such as power, control or downright cruelty.
Pahrumpians are familiar, of course, with the business of prostitution. There is a commodity, a payment and an open agreement to exchange one for the other. In the minds of some, the transaction may be immoral. Others may heartily approve. No matter your opinion on the business itself, it amounts to little more than a contract between participants.
Romance scams occur when one participant knows the full details and the other participant is a victim of misrepresentation. And contrary to the popular belief that smart people do not fall victim, the business of romance scamming spares none. Young, old, tall, short, gay, straight, fat, thin, black, white. We all seek love. We all want to believe in it.
The business of romance scams, and it IS a business, is best told with examples. Here are two of them. The names have been changed, etc., but the stories come from real FightFraudAmerica.com case files and are frighteningly true.
Take the case of northern Nevada resident Bart Ferguson. Widowed in his early 60’s after a 40-year marriage, Bart spent his time caring for his home, watching Law &Order, tinkering with his 60’s muscle car and trying to get used to a life without his lifelong companion, Babs. One day his church pastor reached out and convinced him to attend a singles social. “Babs died, Bart, you didn’t.”
Mary Frank, an out-of-towner who was visiting her aunt for the weekend, also attended the social. The magic was instant despite a 20-year age difference. Bart danced for the first time in two decades. Mary laughed at his jokes, told him about her twin sister in San Francisco, and shared her own loneliness since the passing of her late husband. By evening’s end, a new friendship was born; by week’s end, friendship had turned to romance. By month’s end the lovebirds eloped to Las Vegas.The happiness was short-lived, though, Bart died of multiple organ failure just 10 months later.
And Mary — sweet, wonderful, laughing Mary — sold the house, the car, the furniture and emptied all the accounts before she moved on to the next town, the next identity, the next lonely man, the next paycheck. In all, she’d made about $600,000 for the year she’d invested in Bart. Not a bad wage ....
Meanwhile, think about Ellen Marie Martin in Florida. Widowed after a long and happy marriage to her childhood sweetheart, she, too, felt the pangs of sudden aloneness. A friend convinced her to try a senior dating Internet site and she struck up a long-distance correspondence with a man named Robert.
He wrote long and wonderful emails to her, he called her daily, and life again became not only tolerable, but promising. Before they could actually meet, tragedy struck. For 10 days Ellen worried. Robert did not call or write and his phone went unanswered. Then Robert’s sister called Ellen, reporting that Robert was gravely ill and was dying. His only hope was an experimental form of chemotherapy that was well beyond the family’s means and there was no insurance.
Ellen reacted instantly; she wired $40,000 for the first treatment.
And so did five other women. All elderly, all lonely, all wanting to save the charming man they knew only by voice and written words.
Again, these are not fictional stories. Bart, Mary, Ellen and Robert actually exist.
The only truthful fact Mary had shared with Bart was that she had a twin sister. She neglected to tell him that her sister had been widowed three times in less than five years and that she, herself, had lost more than one husband to death. And Robert was not any more honest with Ellen. He totally forgot to mention his wife of five years, Donna, who believed that his income came from his wise investments. Nor did he mention his collection of throw-away cell phones. And of course he neglected to share information about the other five courtships in which he was involved.
In this day and age, even newfound love requires scrutiny. And if the object of newfound affection balks, it may be the first warning sign that the surface vision may not be what it seems when the layers are peeled away. Sad, but deadly true.