After Kate Kleinert lost her husband in 2009, it took her over a decade to get back into dating. Then the Pennsylvania woman received a friend request on Facebook from "Tony" and quickly found they shared similar interests, from pets to gardening.
He had Kate download an app to chat on the phone and explained that he was a surgeon working in Iraq and had two children. She remembers he became romantic pretty quickly. Soon, even his kids started contacting her through email, calling her mom.
But then, the requests for money began — first, his daughter asked for small amounts of money for feminine supplies that she was "too embarrassed" to ask her dad for. Kate sent a gift card. More requests followed, including "emergencies," until Kate had used up the last of her late husband's life insurance and was living on credit cards. Tony swore he'd repay her when he was back in the States, even sending passwords to his accounts, which displayed over $2 million dollars.
Kate realized Tony was a scammer when his "lawyer" called, asking for $20,000 for bail for Tony. She couldn't do it and had already sent a total of $39,000. Even to this day, she is still paying off that debt.
She lost everything, but she notes that nothing compares to the loss of the love she thought she had, and the family she thought she knew. Kate reported Tony to the police, but they were unable to get her money back. Now, she serves as an ambassador and national spokesperson for AARP's (American Association of Retired Persons) fraud division, where she hopes to help others avoid this life-changing disaster.
Kate is far from alone in her battle with romance fraud. This Valentine's Day, it's a good time to brush up on the red flags that can signal foul play. The FBI released a warning about romance scams around the holiday last year.
In 2020 alone, complaints filed with the FBI showed victims lost a total of $281 million to scammers. Tinder, Match, and other dating apps are moving toward in-app education to help protect users as well.
Charles McClafferty, Senior Manager of TD Bank's Fraud Risk Management, reveals his top tips below for keeping yourself safe from the heartbreak of romance fraud.
It's often an emergency
With scammers, there's typically a problem or emergency that they need you to save them from — someone's sick, dying, in jail, stranded, and more. But it doesn't always start with big amounts, such as "Tony's daughter" asking for feminine products. They also use the urgency of this emergency to make you act fast before you have time to fully consider it might be a scam.
They attack your emotional weak spots
Kate loved the idea of being called mom, especially since she didn't have children of her own — an emotion that "Tony" preyed upon. Scammers use your empathy and best intentions against you, attacking you where you are most vulnerable emotionally, because they've often taken the time to learn those weaknesses.
Don't fall for false photos
Tony was actually using photos from a Chicago-based doctor. To determine if someone is using real pictures, you can try a reverse image search in Google, which can help with the feeling of denial, especially if you do have some suspicion of fraud. Scammers are often scamming many people at once, sometimes reusing these same images. Alternatively ask for a "specific picture" (a unique pose that you suggest) which most likely they won't be able to produce or send immediately. Also, plan for or expect their response to be, "Oh you don’t trust me?"
Seek emotional recovery
Scamming doesn't just take your money — it can take the promise of an exciting love life or relationship along with it. Take care to recover emotionally as well as financially, by working with a therapist, reaching out to a trusted friend, or starting with your own healthcare provider. You are far from alone in your journey of loss, and recovery from romance scams.
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We hope you found this helpful. This article is based on information available in February 2023 and is subject to change. It is provided as a convenience and for general information purposes only. Our content is not intended to provide legal, tax, investment, or financial advice or to indicate that a particular TD Bank or third-party product or service is available or right for you.
For specific advice about your unique circumstances, consider talking with a qualified professional.