TULSA, Okla. — It seems so innocent... at least in the beginning.
You strike up a relationship with someone online, on social media and it lasts for weeks, months, even years and then, you're crushed.
"You'll talk to them for months and months and months, and they'll break your heart." Debbie Jackson says more than one scammer used information from her social media, baiting her. "I've had so many people try to catfish me, pretending like they're someone else."
Women and men alike fall for those crooks pulling on their heartstrings.
One victim talked to 2 News Oklahoma, but didn't want to be identified, he shared how after a five-year relationship started on a dating site, he lost $15,000 to a woman who eventually asked him to be a go-between for her artwork. It ended up being a money-laundering operation.
"It's hard, I lost the money, it messed up everything in a financial way for me, trying to build my credit back, so much that was screwed up for me," he said.
The Federal Trade Commission and FBI say scammers tell all kinds of lies, to pry themselves into their victims' lives.
Signs of a romance scam include:
- Someone professes love quickly.
- They claim to be overseas for business or military service.
- They ask for money or claim to need it for emergencies, hospital bills, or travel.
- They may lure you off your social media or dating site.
- They plan to visit, but can't because of an emergency.
The stories, the FBI warns, are seemingly endless and it's an elaborate, painstaking scheme.
"They're very expert in identifying what levers there are that would move a person, whether it's hope or greed or fear and then they manipulate that,” says Keith Custer with the FBI.
Scammers know millions of people use online dating and social media sites. They are there, as well, hiding behind take profiles, pouncing on victims like Debbie Jackson, who wants to warn others, too, before their bank account, their trust, and their heart, are broken.
"I don't want anyone else to get hurt," she said.
If you or a friend or loved one is involved in an online relationship, it's important to:
- Slow down and talk to someone you trust. Don't let a scammer rush you.
- Never transfer or wire money from your bank account, or buy gift cards. It's nearly impossible to get that money back. Contact your bank right away if you think you've sent money to a scammer.
- Be careful what you post and make public online. Remember, that's where scammers get the details they need to target you.
- Beware of a person who tries to isolate you from your family and friends, or asks for inappropriate photos or financial information that could be used later to extort you.
- Do an online search for the type of job the person has, to see if others have heard similar stories. For example, search for "oil rig scammer" or "US Army scammer."
- Do a reverse image search of the person's profile picture, to see if it's associated with another name or with details that don't match up.
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