Greensboro, NC

NC: Are you being scammed? They say they love you!

Becky Roehrs
Man in a hoodie behind two computer monitors, while on a smartphoneMikhail Nilov/Pexels

I should have remembered that if it's "too good to be true," it's NOT.

Even though I have a computer background, when you're vulnerable and feeling lonely, you can make horrible online decisions that can cost you.

How much can it cost, you ask?

In 2020, according to the Federal Trade Commission, folks lost over $304 MILLION to romance scammers.

So don't be embarrassed if it happened (or almost happened) to you.

I'm lucky. I've had my feelings stomped on more than once but (so far) I haven't lost hundreds or thousands of dollars like other men and women.

The first time I ran across a romance scammer was on my very first Online Dating (OLD) site over a year and a half ago.

I picked a dating site that sounded more legitimate than others,

  • I was in no condition to date, I was grieving from the loss of my partner, but I needed a distraction.
  • I just wanted to date, nothing serious.

What could go wrong?

Almost as soon as I filled out my profile, I met the most charming man.

Now, this is a scenario I’ve heard many times since.

My new fellow said,

“I met the love of my life on, so I’m canceling my account. But as I was closing it out, my good buddy saw your profile and just HAS to talk to you. Here’s his email address. PLEASE give him a chance, he’s a great guy!

Of course, I was flattered (ah, pride goeth before the fall, and I'm so nice!)

So I emailed Jonathan, who lived in Greensboro, NC, and he sent me such lovely letters telling me he had lost his wife, was working in a nearby city, and was desperately lonely.

  • His mother-in-law took care of his teenage daughter (both of whom were in his pictures with him) in Texas.
  • He so needed someone to love and to cherish!

The love-bombing got worse day after day.

I thought it was weird that we lived an hour apart, yet he wasn't interested in meeting.

As I do computer problem-solving in my job, I started researching good ole Johnny boy.

  • I searched the web using his name and the town he said he lived in. I found no mention of the guy.
  • You'd think if not him, his teenage daughter would show up on social media, like Facebook or Instagram. Neither could be found. Not in "his" or "her" town.
  • I did a Google Image search on his pictures; that's when I found "him".

Who was "Johnny"?

The guy in the pictures was in a Texas prison!

  • I guess he wouldn’t complain about someone stealing his identity.

And guess what the guy was in prison for?

  • He defrauded people of millions of dollars using a Ponzi scheme!

I was wondering if the guy in the picture was my scammer’s hero or something.

Within a week of signing up, I blocked good ole "Johnny,"; canceled my account, and froze my credit at the three credit bureaus.

Did he ever ask me for money? Nope, he was patient.

Like many romance scammers, he was going to wait until he “needed” money for his “daughter’s surgery,” a “business loan,” or a “trip” for the two of us.

  • There are many different scenarios scammers come up with to get you to part with your funds.
  • They ask you to send them gift cards, money orders/wires, jewelry, and more.

These people have numerous scripts, or emails and texts, that they copy and paste and send to their “clients” or potential victims.

  • When I know I’m dealing with a scammer, I report them to the Online Dating site where I met them. It can’t hurt.

Did I tell “Johnny” how I figured out he wasn’t who he said he was?

Nope. I didn’t want him to be able to improve!

I’ve been scammed again, but usually, I catch on fairly quickly. But sometimes..not.

As a warning, there’s another type of Online Dating troll that is similar but far more deadly to your heart..not necessarily your pocketbook.

I’m not sure if this romance scammer was in it for some sick “kicks” or was lonely themselves.

I'll call this guy Mark. He said he lived more than two hours away (by the North Carolina/Virginia border) and seemed normal at first.

  • He didn’t ask me to go to another website, app or ask for my email.
  • I searched for his pictures and didn’t find any on the Internet, so that seemed odd.
  • And after a while, his stories just didn’t add up. Their job didn’t sound quite right.

They seemed very sweet and sincere, but something seemed off..and if it feels off, it usually is!

So I asked for a picture of the house they kept talking about.

  • By then, we’d progressed to texting.

When I got the picture of his house, my mouth dropped.

  • “Mark’s house" must have been worth millions!
  • I searched the web and found the house in a real estate listing, and it WAS worth millions.

I was like a bloodhound now.

If you know the county a house is located in, you can look at their property taxes and find out the owner.

  • I found the owner.
  • The homeowner was a lawyer, an assistant attorney general of the state! A northern state.
  • Of all the ironies.

And, of course, the lawyer looked nothing like the pictures in Mark’s profile.

  • I really liked “Mark”; I had no idea why he’d done this.
  • He never asked for money. He was always respectful, kind, supportive.

I even paid a company to see what his phone number was associated with, to find out who "Mark" really was.

  • Based on what I found out, I guessed that he was a teenager or young guy living at home who was getting kicks or who was lonely.

So the moral of the story is:

Sometimes they’re not grifting you for money, but they’re still lying.

What's a surefire way to find out if you're talking to a scammer?

  • Ask to meet them.
  • They may arrange it.

But right before you're supposed to meet, there will be an emergency, a car breakdown, a catastrophic illness, or a hurricane/typhoon/tsunami.

There will always be an excuse.

When I ask to meet someone I suspect is a romance scammer or when I refuse to go to another application, THEY BLOCK ME on the application!

  • So I can't report them.

But you'll often see them again; they use the same pictures or profile descriptions on numerous online dating sites or social media.

  • If they text you, they often use the same opening lines.
  • They tell you similar stories: they're in the military, on an oil rig, or are engineers.
  • They are often a widow, with one child, a daughter.

Lately, they've been telling me that they live in a neighboring town, so I ask them questions about their city, and sure enough, their answers are very vague..they have no clue what I'm talking about!

  • I did talk to one who had a Texas accent; he was very entertaining.
  • I figured if I talked to him, he wasn't bilking someone out of their life savings!

As a favorite TV actor used to say: "Be careful out there"!

Please share your stories of near misses with scammers, and feel free to share your tips on how to find the scammers and avoid them!

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I write about local events, politics, education, relationships, online dating, and humor. Sarcastic and silly. Loves coffee and canoeing. I've been a computer programmer, outdoor guide, and taught programming at Fortune 500s and community colleges. Now, I help folks teach online.

Cary, NC

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