Constable: Love scams in the air as we long for pandemic connections
You, or maybe someone you know, possesses a head for figures. Nobody has a heart for figures.
When faced with the financial question -- Does this investment make sense? -- we can plug the numbers into equations and use the answers to justify our decision. In matters of love, there are no formulas, no rules, only hunches and feelings.
Finding that special someone during normal times is tricky enough, but pandemic restrictions add a degree of difficulty.
"Something isn't right," a 61-year-old Facebook friend from Des Plaines posts as he publicly ponders his online relationship with a woman from Russia. "I asked you many questions on my last two letters to you, and you answered none. You just keep pounding away at me regarding the money."
When he told the woman he couldn't send her the $493 she requested so she could buy an airline ticket and live happily ever after with him, she looked elsewhere.
"How do you even know if it's a woman who is writing to me? I would get sent these pictures of beautiful Russian women, but no other way to communicate with them, other than via email," says the Des Plaines man. "I am wise enough to know when they are trying to scam me."
Plenty are not so wise.
In 2020, when the pandemic made it more difficult to meet people face-to-face, romance scammers targeted more than 23,000 victims, who reported a record loss of more than $605 million, according to the FBI. That's a substantial increase from 2015, when 12,500 victims reported losses of about $203 million.
Evidence suggests the pandemic restrictions and hardships are helping people commit fraud. Many scammers use the pandemic to explain why they can't meet in person. Some steal money from good-hearted victims by saying they need money quickly to help a loved one stricken with COVID-19.
With people spending more time online during the pandemic, scammers have an easier time getting background on us. In our boredom, we post lists of our favorite movies, songs, bands, books, sports teams, foods and vacation spots. We literally give crooks a plethora of personal information they can use to cozy up to us. And, with it being more difficult to date people in person, that online intimacy can seem more normal.
Illinois Congressman Adam Kinzinger of Channahon has been fighting romance scammers for more than a decade. A lieutenant colonel in the Air National Guard, Kinzinger was a pilot serving in Iraq in 2008 when he first realized he was one of thousands of military personnel who had their photos and profiles stolen by swindlers impersonating them to woo unsuspecting women. He told The New York Times in 2019 that dozens of women had contacted his staff to say they were in a relationship with him, when they really were communicating with impostors. One woman from India said she had sent an impostor $10,000.
Until the government and social media companies can figure out how to stop such scams, there are some things you can do to protect yourself. First, research the person flirting with you. Many times scammers use photographs plucked from a magazine or pretend to be someone else. If a search on images.google.com shows the photo of your good-looking suitor is actually from a magazine ad for vitamins, you should suspect the worst.
Never give your financial information or send money to people you've never met, the FBI warns. Just helping a stranger transfer money could make you part of a money-laundering scheme.
If you are a victim of a romance scam, or believe you have been victimized by an online fraud, file a complaint with the FBI's internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov and call the FBI's field office in Chicago at (312) 421-6700.
Be smart. Ask questions. And be ready to realize that love might not be in the air.
"Sometimes in life," says the Des Plaines man who is still looking for love, "things are not meant to be."