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Long Island romance scam victim who lost $468,000 says she was scammed again while looking for help

Scam victim loses even more to fake online romance scam support group
Scam victim loses even more to fake online romance scam support group 03:17

NEW YORK -- Looking for love online is becoming more popular, but imagine your match turns out to be a scammer based in another country.

A Long Island woman said she lost more than $400,000 in a romance scam - and then was scammed again when she went looking online for help to get her money back. 

The CBS New York Investigates Team has learned romance scams are becoming all too common and reporter Tim McNicholas has found some people are getting hit with a 1-2 punch.

Just ask Long Island resident Connie Rotolo, who was bilked of $468,000.

Rotolo's 45-year marriage created some of the greatest joys of her life, but when it ended with her husband Al's death following a severe illness, that joy turned into grief at the worst time -- during a pandemic, while she was stuck in her Nassau County home.

"You know being alone, not having a network with you, not being able to go out, it was kind of lonely," Rotolo said.

Rotolo found comfort in a Prince Charming she met online who flooded her with compliments and photos of his supposed engineering work in the Philippines. But after six months, he started urging Rotolo to send money to help him, allegedly to avoid dangerous people who might harm them both.

After eventually sending him nearly half a million dollars, she realized she'd been scammed.

"It has been on me for three years, and every day I beat myself up. 'How stupid are you, Connie? You're an educated person,'" Rotolo said.

Rotolo turned to social media for help and the situation got even worse

She turned to some of the romance scam support groups popping up all over Facebook. That's where Rotolo found people saying they worked for the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center and could get her money back.

"No upfront fee of any kind," Rotolo said.

But eventually, in her desperation, she says she sent them money, too, only to later realize they were also scammers.

"I wish I had the person in front of me. I would really ... bad things would probably happen. I would be arrested," Rotolo said.

CBS New York Investigates took a look at online romance scam support groups. Many we found were full of people making other questionable promises of recovering funds.

A spokesperson for Meta, the parent company of Facebook, told McNicholas, "Scammers use every avenue available to them to defraud people and constantly adapt to evade enforcement. Content that purposefully intends to deceive or exploit others for money violates our policies, and we remove this content when it's found. We continue to invest in detection technology and work with law enforcement to prosecute scammers."  

How to avoid falling victim to a similar scam

Experts say after you fall for a romance scam, the money is often long gone.

"Oftentimes, people come to us and because they have used a wire or they've gotten gift cards, or they've gotten Bitcoin, we can't get the money back and sometimes the actors are not even in the United States," said Jeanine Launay, of the Manhattan District Attorney's Office.

That was the case back in December, when a Bronx woman was convicted of laundering more than $2 million for romance scammers based in Nigeria. Meanwhile, Rotolo says she has no idea where her alleged scammer is based.

Still, Rotolo is hoping investigators can track down whoever scammed her so they can't prey on the brokenhearted anymore.

"This guy [made] promises of love, and all kinds of things that, at a bad time, you are hearing and it feels good to you. It's like an addiction, really," Rotolo said.

The Manhattan DA's office says it's important to spot the warning signs and then cut off contact with the scammer, adding if someone takes immediate, overwhelming interest in you, and later urges you to send money, for example, that's a red flag.

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