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'Romance Scam': Woman shares how she became a victim, warns other vulnerable people

What's a romance scam and how do we prevent it?
What's a romance scam and how do we prevent it? 04:59

BALTIMORE -- For the first time, "Anne," who didn't want to be identified, shared her story of being involved in a "romance scam."

"You've got to be weary and you're going to do your factfinding and make sure it's legit," Anne said.

Anne's story started in 2021 during a vulnerable time for her after her husband of 50 years died. She joined a dating site.

"I was contacted by this gentleman who said he was an engineer out of Europe and he was working on an oil project and this was the last project and he was going to retire," Anne said.

At first, things with her new connection were going well.

They spoke on the phone regularly.

"Within three weeks, he sent me this very lovely bouquet and a basket and it kept getting stronger and stronger and I thought, 'This is not bad,'" Anne said.

But, about a month in, things took a turn.

Anne's new romantic interest told her there was an emergency at work and he needed money. So she sent him the money.

"It was over $100,000," Anne said.

Anne is one of tens of thousands of Americans who fall victim to Romance Scams every year.

"Typical Romance Scams affect people that are retired age, is where I see most of my victims," said FBI Special Agent Sarah Lewis. "They're usually widowed or divorced later in life."

The FBI investigates these scams which are often run by large, international, organized groups.

Agents in Baltimore assigned to the Complex Financial Crimes squad tell WJZ that most scammers deceive their victims using the same script and tactics Anne's alleged scammer did.

"They're overseas, they can't meet you face to face, something happens and they need money and it just snowballs," Lewis said. "The person they meet online is very attentive, very affectionate, and gives them constant attention and for somebody who is vulnerable and has gone through death or divorce, it's really wonderful in their life and they start to trust this person."

"The story just kept getting embellished and embellished and embellished," Anne said. "It was just amazing the way the story was crafted to such a degree and it was believable."

Romance Scams can be sophisticated.

"I mean, who would've thought that anyone, any type of unscrupulous person could come up with this type of detail and this kind of an organized story," Anne said.

According to data from the FBI, in Maryland last year, 325 victims lost $8.8 million to Romance Scams, which is a slight decrease from 2022 when 350 victims lost more than $15 million.

"I'm hoping it's because of all of the prevention we're doing, like this and the education we're doing in the community, but it is still a really huge problem," Lewis said.

The FBI says to look out for red flags, such as the scammer not being willing to meet face to face.

You should also always keep all communication on the dating site you're using, reverse image search the person you're communicating with and take things slow.

If you fall victim to a scam, report it immediately to your bank and the FBI's Internet crimes website.

"Unfortunately, a lot of times victims aren't able to recover a substantial portion of their funds because they've taken so long to report," said FBI Supervisory Agent Keith Custer. "In my estimate, only 10 to 20% of victims report and the most common reason for this is embarrassment, frustration, they've lost everything."

Anne says she was able to get a little over $10,000 of her money back after she reported what had happened.

She's never shared her story with any of her loved ones but is speaking with WJZ in hopes of keeping others from going through what she did.

"People, especially women, need to be aware that if you're in a depression or if you're really down about something, you need to recognize that you're there and you need to recognize that is not the time to stop being weary," Anne said.

Learn More about Romance Scams

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