Imagine taking a call one morning from your recently widowed mother to learn of her professed love for a Florida man whom she has never met in person.
She and Richard, the love interest, have been talking online for months. Richard, you learn, is an international airline pilot who has been wrongly accused of a crime and is in a Malaysian jail. Your mother sent him $300,000 to pay bail and now the Malaysian authorities want another $500,000 to set him free. She is going to need to sell her house. So, maybe you've caught the scam in time to prevent your mother from losing everything.
An untold number of America's elders learn of the scam too late - too late to recover their life savings and maybe too late to bring the scammer to justice. The elderly are a target class for criminals. Elders, made vulnerable by loneliness, reduced mental cognition, health or isolation fall prey to a despicable group of criminals.
The criminals are often referenced as Sweetheart Scammers or Sweetheart Swindlers. Some elements are common in the sweetheart swindles of elders. We start with the obvious - the victim is an elder. The elder is often a participant in online dating - a billion-dollar industry that attracts con artists.
The truth is that whether we are an elder or a millennial, we don't know who's on the other end of the computer. The scammer pursues an online or telephone relationship with the target with the purpose of creating and exploiting an emotional connection. The target is preselected or carefully groomed - those elders with assets in bank accounts, securities, real estate or pension benefits are high-value targets.
The scammer will have a false online or telephone persona. Photos of other people are generally provided - the scammer's real image is rarely shared. Excuses are provided as to why the scammer can't face time or have an in-person meeting. Planned face-to-face meetings are always cancelled for some reason by the scammer - a stolen credit card, health issues, job or business requirements, family emergencies, taking caring of children, or multiple other emergencies that prevent travel.
Love is professed freely. The scammer has "a way with words." Requests for money start small - always with a promise of pay back. Money is supposedly stolen in transit to the scammer. The scammer needs money for cancer treatment, investment in a non-existent business, children's hospital bills, travel to see the elder, pay the police to escape a wrongful arrest, buy out a contract, pay for a funeral, or buy cars to help the scammer get back to work.
Con artists know how to con, and they have a lot of tug-at-the-heart strings stories. Online or telephone talks are long - they can continue for hours. There may be a request to use a credit card or an outright theft of the credit card. Postal inspectors say that the request for money is a huge red flag.
Finding and prosecuting the scammers is a major problem. The scammers use false identifications, are often out of state or out of the country, and virtually unreachable. Law enforcement agencies are also challenged by these scams. They deal with elderly victims - often with decreased cognition - or with family members of deceased victims who are also trying to piece together the convoluted pieces of the crime.
It is gratifying that at times, at least, a wrong can be righted. It is unfortunate that in many of these sweetheart scams and swindles that recovering that which was wrongfully taken is near impossible.
If you would like to speak with us about your case call us at 916 313-3030.