Lost at Love: What to Do When Someone You Know Is a Victim of a Romance Scam
Hearing the victim stories of individuals who’ve fallen prey to romance scams is a terrible thing.
They’ve lost money, they’ve lost their dignity, but even worse, there’s a genuine sense of loss for a relationship that felt very real, even though it was only one-sided. It’s like having someone break up with you without any explanation, only this time they’ve taken your life savings and told the world you’re a gullible fool.
As bad as that sounds, there’s another victim in many romance scams: the friends and family members who spot the scam but can’t make the victim see it for themselves. These bystanders are just as powerless and they hurt almost as much, and like the actual victim, they can be left with anger and frustration. In some cases, the silver lining is that they are standing ready to support the victim after it’s over, but other times they’re cut off due to the victim’s anger and embarrassment. Some victims might even blame their family members and friends for “running off” the only good relationship they thought they had.
So what do you if someone you care about is a victim of a romance scam? How do you make someone see what literally everyone around them can spot from a mile away, knowing that they’re blinded by love?
1. Show them the red flags
There are a number of common denominators in most romance scams. They start anonymously, the conversation quickly escalates to declarations of lifelong feelings for each other, and in many cases, the scammer has a very specific type of job that makes it difficult for him to communicate regularly with his victim. This is intentional, as this strange job—like deployed active duty military, off-shore oil rig worker, humanitarian aid worker, or deep sea fisherman—also leads to the excuse for needing to ask for money later on.
2. Profile pictures tell a lot
Romance scammers use stolen profile pictures to create fake social media accounts. Try to do a reverse Google search on the image in order to show your friend or relative genuine information about this person. In the case of active duty military scammers (meaning people who pose as US soldiers, NOT actual soldiers who are scamming citizens), many of the profile pictures were stolen from soldiers who were killed in action. In other cases, the name on the account doesn’t match the name on the soldier’s uniform patch.
3. If the victim is unwilling to accept help
It’s so hard when the person you care about refuses to see reason, even with evidence in front of them. But think about it this way: would you? Would you be receptive to an outsider telling you that your entire relationship—and your future plans—are based on a criminal’s lies? You must tread carefully when trying to show the victim what information you’ve found online or from other sources. Remember not to lose your temper or ridicule, and be aware that the first emotion the victim may feel upon understanding the truth is embarrassment.
4. Contact the authorities
There are task forces around the country for this growing type of crime. Even if your local law enforcement agency doesn’t have a specific internet crimes unit, they can point you in the direction of resources that might help.
5. Just be there
Whether the victim realizes it sooner or later, eventually this scam will come screeching to a halt. They may feel humiliated at being so gullible, depressed at losing something that mattered to them, and of course, angry at the money they lost. Some victims, especially senior citizens, even experience fear of being seen as incompetent. Make sure the victim understands that you have no feelings of judgment whatsoever and that you are there to help them mend a broken heart and repair their lives.
Seek legal help if the situation is dire enough – In some extreme cases, romance scams have led to the victim becoming wrapped up in criminal activity such as trafficking stolen property or money laundering. If you have reason to believe that your friend is involved way over her head, contact the police immediately. It may cost you the relationship in the short term, but you will rest easy knowing this person is now safe and no longer involved.
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