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Moving forward after a romance scam

Romance scams are surprisingly common: In 2022, some 70,000 people reported they were a victim of a romance scam, according to the Federal Trade Commission, with reported losses totalling $1.3 billion. And those numbers only include those who reported being scammed; many people are too embarrassed to admit it.

While the caller on The Ramsey Show can at least talk about what happened, he now has to find a way forward. Both he and his wife are retired and in their mid-70s. While they have retirement savings, their annual household income averages around $69,000.

The first step, according to Ramsey, is to write a check for the smaller “credit card mosquitoes” and close those accounts. That’s a gesture on the husband’s part “towards the healing that you’re searching for,” says Ramsey.

While this helps to avoid accrued interest, it’s also better for the husband’s mental state, since every time he writes a check to cover his wife’s debts, it “picks at the scab” and reopens the wound of discovering an emotional affair.

But Ramsey recommends holding off on paying the two larger loans while the couple goes to therapy, because “somehow you’ve got to get some checks and balances and start to incrementally rebuild trust.”

In situations like these, you’ll always be wondering in the back of your mind if it’ll happen again. “You’ve got to know that this is solid going forward before you write any more big checks,” he says.

While it’s a conversation the couple needs to have with their therapist, Ramsey recommended that the wife go back to work — if she’s in good health — to pay off the two installment loans.

While most retirees don’t exactly want to go back to work in their mid-70s, this isn’t just about coming up with a financial solution. Rather, says Ramsey, it’s about taking responsibility for the emotional affair and earning back her partner’s trust.

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How to spot a romance scam

Elderly divorcees and widows aren’t the only ones who fall prey to romance scams. Anyone who is lonely or vulnerable can be a target, including people experiencing marital problems.

Romance scammers typically use social media platforms to gather details about potential targets. Then, they create a fake online identity. It’s the online version of a con artist, who uses the illusion of love or romance to manipulate the victim into sending money (or, in some cases, sending compromising photos which could later be used to blackmail the victim for money).

While some romance scammers use online dating sites, most scams start with unsolicited private messages over social media platforms. Oftentimes, the scammer will ask to move the conversation to a messaging app like WhatsApp or Google Chat.

They often tell their prey that they’re currently out of the country. “That makes it easier to avoid meeting in person — and more plausible when they ask for money for a medical emergency or unexpected legal fee,” according to the FBI.

For example, they may claim to be stationed at a military base abroad or working at an offshore oil rig. Or, in a newer type of romance scam, they may claim to be a cryptocurrency investor, manipulating their prey into investing with cryptocurrency like Bitcoin or Ethereum (which is untraceable).

Generative AI like ChatGPT will make it even easier for fraudsters to juggle multiple victims, even writing personalized scripts.

However, there’s a common thread in all of these scams: The fraudster makes plans to meet the victim in person — and may even propose marriage — but always has an excuse for why that meet-up can’t happen.

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Tips for preventing a romance scam

More than 60% of reported scams involve either by cryptocurrency or by bank wire, according to the Federal Trade Commission, but gift cards are the most frequently reported scam. Coming up with this money could mean taking out a loan — as was the case with the wife of the caller on The Ramsey Show.

While the husband “didn’t see the warning signs,” there are ways you can protect yourself (or a loved one) from romance scams:

  • Don’t post too many personal details online. Scammers can use that information to target you.
  • If a stranger sends you a private DM, proceed with caution.
  • Do a reverse image search of the person’s profile pictures to see if the details match up.
  • Be wary if the person always has an excuse for why they can’t meet in person.
  • Don’t provide your bank account information, wire money or send cryptocurrency to anyone you meet online.
  • If you suspect you’ve been defrauded, your bank may be able to cancel a transfer before it happens — otherwise, you’re on the hook.
  • File a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).

In the case of the caller on The Ramsey Show, it will be more complicated if your marriage partner falls prey to a romance scam and you only find out about it after it’s too late. But that’s a bigger issue that may require a therapist — or a divorce lawyer.

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Vawn Himmelsbach Freelance Contributor

Vawn Himmelsbach is a journalist who has been covering tech, business and travel for more than two decades. Her work has been published in a variety of publications, including The Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, National Post, CBC News, ITbusiness, CAA Magazine, Zoomer, BOLD Magazine and Travelweek, among others.

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