Does Hell have a special place for scammers who bilk widows out of their savings by offering online romance? Normally I am pleased to get a new senior client, but last week a senior widow who could hardly talk through her emotions called to engage my services to help her file a complaint. Her story was difficult to piece together. She had been communicating with a man she met online. After she became romantically involved (i.e. after the hook was planted), he told her he had been robbed and beaten. He asked for money. In summary, he took her for $30,000. She is certainly not alone. Other women have fallen prey to similar scams.
I have no idea what fraction of her net worth that constitutes. She lives in a modest condo and drives a modest car. Her only computer is an old Toshiba laptop. She is not wealthy. That was money needed for retirement.
She wanted me to help sort through their online conversations (which she had saved simply because she did not know how to delete them!) to find the places where he asked for money and she agreed to lend it to him, and he agreed to pay it back. Again, she was not clear about the status of her official complaint, but it seems that he had responded by claiming she had given him money with no strings attached. She cried when telling me this, and said she was only crying because she was so embarrassed. Then she took a deep breath and said, “Let’s do it.”
So we set to work making .rtf files of the conversations by downloading and pasting them into WordPad. Her five-year-old laptop had the unactivated trial version of Microsoft Office that came with it and no other word processing software. (By the way, I asked what anti-virus software she had. She said whatever came with it, but it had expired.) This busy work allowed us to fall into a working relationship, and she caught on quickly. As we progressed, she slowly got over her embarrassment and essentially treated me like a physician with whom she could discuss private affairs. It became obvious she was an intelligent, caring, person who was lonely and would like a man in her life. She was an ideal candidate for scamming.
At one point in our initial session, she showed me a photo he had sent her of his passport to help verify his story. She had been impressed by this gesture until after the scam. She showed it to an investigator. He told her it is fraudulent.
After we memorialized about six days of communications, I suggested that this might be more than the authorities wanted or could use. She got emotional again: “They don’t want anything. I don’t know what I will do with these files, but I need to do something. My money is gone. I will never see it again, but I want to stop him from hurting other people.”
“But you said you had reported it to the FBI.”
“They said that they would not investigate it because the amount is so small.” That surprised me, but maybe there is more to it. The FBI has a site devoted to senior fraud. It lists eight areas of concern such as investment schemes or telemarketing fraud, but does not mention romance fraud. One thing the FBI site does say is that seniors who have been scammed are often too embarrassed to report it. They would rather eat the loss of money than the loss of face. That report made me more proud of my new client. She was fighting back.
By the way, I do not mean to assume that only senior women are scammed like this. Men get scammed, too. Sometimes it is crass, like a man seeking a younger, attractive woman from a third-world country to be a sex toy comforting his old age. But other times it can be a man honestly searching for a soul mate to share mature years. Men get just as embarrassed as women.
When we finished that first session, my new client had taken many notes and said she would try to do some herself, but we did schedule another session. Before leaving, I installed Malwarebytes and did a quick scan.
At our second session, I switched to tutor mode and said this time she would operate the computer with me monitoring and giving hints, but not touching it. She rose to the challenge and soon we were making progress on building her paper trail of the rip off. Just doing the work put her in a better mood. She said that not only the FBI, but the sheriff had given her a run-around. She did not know who to turn to. I told her that my role was to help with the computer, but perhaps she would be well advised to seek legal aid. There are several places where she could get advice cheaply or even free, given her circumstances. She was quiet at that, and I did not probe.
After our second session, she was beaming. “I have learned a lot. I want to learn more.” So we scheduled a purely tutorial session at which I promised to download and install LibreOffice for her so she could have something more powerful than WordPad.
Next week, with her permission, I will present the steps that led to her being scammed and what she is doing to help stop the creep from doing further damage to other vulnerable women. If you know of anyone who has been scammed like this, please share. Maybe we can help stop some of the scum.
Image from Nosferatu