Looking for Love in all the Wrong Places: Romance Scams Expected to Swindle, not Swoon

Rihonna Scoggins

ACFE Community Manager

Valentine’s day is here, and that means we can expect flowers, chocolates and $800 million in romance scams. A recent study conducted by Comparitech estimates that nearly 100,000 Americans will fall victim to romance scams this year, losing approximately $800 million. In the past few years, more people have taken to dating apps and websites to find love, and swindlers seek to make victims of them.

Here are some of the latest news stories where dating led to defrauding:

The Tinder Swindler

In what may come to be one of the most high-profile romance scams of the decade, “The Tinder Swindler,” a newly released documentary on Netflix, tells the story of a man named Simon Leviev (born Shimon Hayut) who lured women in with an extravagant lifestyle of private jets and fancy hotels before eventually conning them into giving him money via credit cards and loans. Leviev was never convicted of defrauding his victims, or any other financial crimes, despite some of his victims losing as much as $250,000.

Silver Fox or Gold Digger?

A woman based in Tampa Bay fell for a “silver fox” named Robert Wilson on Match.com. Over a few weeks, they grew close; Wilson told stories of a successful career at Microsoft and appeared well traveled. Throughout the next six months, she emptied her 401(k) to loan Wilson $204,000. However, “Wilson” turned out to be a team of criminals running a romance scam out of Nigeria.

Google Chat to Google Cash

On February 3, 2022, a 69-year-old Rochester woman reported to local police that she had been the victim of a romance scam. She told police that she had begun speaking with someone over Google Hangouts, where the relationship quickly blossomed into hours of long conversations. From early November through the end of January, the woman lost $57,000 to the scammer after sending him gift cards. The scammer would plan a trip to see the victim and then suddenly run out of money for gas, or become ill, and would ask for more money for travel expenses. She realized the relationship was a scam when she sent the funds and he never showed up.

Heart Broken and Account Empty

In early 2019, Anna, a finance professional in her 50s set off to find love on the dating website Zoosk. After virtually meeting Andrew, a food importer living in London, Anna quickly found herself falling for the handsome businessman. They made plans to meet in person, but Andrew had a work emergency and had to go to France. Five weeks into the relationship, Andrew made his first request to “borrow” money — a small amount at the time. The requests began to snowball as Andrew began to ask for more and more loans, and he always had what seemed to be legitimate receipts to show Anna. The stories took a dark turn when Andrew told Anna he had been taken hostage by loan sharks, sending her photos of his broken arm and other injuries. Anna took to Facebook asking if anyone had seen him, which is when a woman told her that the photos of “Andrew” were actually of an Argentinian-Mexican actor. By the time Anna accepted the reality of the situation, she had already lost £350,000.

While one would like to hope that love can be found around every corner, these stories show that fraudsters are willing to abuse that hope to take advantage of victims and leave them not only heartbroken, but penniless. Use these stories of deception to share with friends and family that, while love can be blinding, it can also be costly.

Looking for tips on how to protect yourself from falling for a romance scam? Check out a previous post we shared, 4 Signs Your Online Crush Is Scamming You.

SOURCE: ACFE Insights – A Publication of the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners