By Estrella Ramirez | Medium

Photo by Fausto Sandova on Unsplash

If there is one thing that’s predictable about a world in chaos, it’s that there will always be people, ready and willing, to take advantage of the vulnerable.

Over the past year, people have lost jobs, their homes, and an entire way of life at alarming rates. We, the people of humanity, are in an unpredictable and incredibly vulnerable state.

Any opportunities to make quick cash or give us a sense of security we jump all over, even when it may be illogical under other circumstances. Unfortunately, it isn’t a surprise that romance scams reached a record high in 2020.

Per the FTC —2020 reached a record $304 million, up about 50% from 2019. For an individual, that meant a median dollar loss of $2,500.

I don’t know about you, but $2,500 is a lot to me.

A common misconception about the women involved in romance scams is that they are older women. Perhaps an elderly wealthy widower or a more mature divorcee looking for a partner to spend the rest of their days with.

The facts are the most frequently targeted age group are 20 to 29 year-olds, and the age group who stands to lose the most financially are 40–69 year-olds.

Regardless of your age, we all have moments of vulnerability when scammers are most likely to strike. During my career in banking and risk compliance, I’ve seen it all. No, really. I hate to rain on your parade, but when something seems too good to be true, it usually is. Pause and ask important questions.

How do you know this person?

Meeting online is the new normal. Even before the pandemic struck, swiping right, of left, on a possible new companion wasn’t unheard of. [Forgive me. I know nothing about Tinder besides you can swipe on people you don’t like].

When you’re first getting to know someone, maybe they ask to go half-and-half on dinner, and you use an app to split the bill. Totally normal.

Or you buy the first round of drinks, and they say the second round is on them, and they’ll cash app you the difference. I get it. Hardly anyone carries cash.

But when someone you just met asks if they can transfer money to your account, then subsequently asks you to send it to them in another manner. Red flag alert.

They normally would never ask. It’s just they’re having a problem with their account. Yes, I’m sure they are. Maybe it’s because they’ve been caught committing fraud one too many times and now have been banned from being able to open a bank account.

If this is a new acquaintance, friend, or romantic interest and something seems off, but you just can’t quite put your finger on it, pause. Talk to someone you’ve known for a long while, share the situation with them.

It’s easier for an uninvolved party to see things from a different perspective.

Why are they sending you money, but telling you what to do with it?

*Van and I met online. He’s such a great man. He sent me $2,000 and told me to buy something nice for myself since he’s overseas right now.

How generous of him. Except, he made it a condition of the gift that you send on only $200.00 to his friend, *Sam, who he owes money. He’d do it himself if he weren’t overseas, so if you don’t mind. After all, he is giving you $1,800.00. But it would probably be best if you bought a Visa gift card with the $1,800.00 or took it out in cash to make sure you avoid any fees.

This might not seem too bizarre a situation.

*Van explained why he was asking you to do what he was asking. It could make sense. And that’s what he’s betting on. Now *Van has your account information. When you go to withdraw your $1,800.00 and splurge a little, your entire account is not only empty but overdrawn.

Let’s take a moment to ask a few questions.

  1. You just met and haven’t expressed a financial burden. Why is he gifting you a couple thousand dollars?
  2. Why isn’t he sending *Sam the money? If he’s able to send you money, why can’t he send it to *Sam as well?
  3. Why is he dictating what you do with your funds? I thought he told you to buy something for yourself. Why does it have to be in cash?

What do I do now?

By the time the rose-colored haze lifts, you’ve already been swindled.

You feel embarrassed because you should have known better.

After all, you’re an educated woman. How could you possibly have gotten caught up in this situation? I am here to tell you, the problem is not you.

Victim blaming does not hold the people committing the fraud responsible for their actions. It is not your fault that they targeted and manipulated you.

There is no shame in asking for help after being the victim of financial fraud.

First, go to your financial institution and be completely honest about everything that has occurred. Let them know any information you’ve given out to the fraudster or that may have been compromised (account number, card number, passwords, sensitive information about your life that you may have used to formulate your passwords).

Next, file a police report. There is no guarantee that they will catch the person in a week, a month, or even the same year as the fraud occurs. But, do not fear people like this eventually get caught.

Even in a world where so many people are already suffering, there are always a few people who seek to manipulate the situation for all it’s worth.

Remember, always pause and ask important questions. When you’re asking yourself or someone who knows you well, take the explanations this person has given you with a grain of salt. Finally, if you suspect you’ve been a victim of financial fraud, or may be, there is no shame in asking for help.

Being a victim of financial fraud is no less serious a crime than being a victim of a physical crime or anything else of the sort.

*Van and *Sam are the names of fictional people. None of this is meant to take the place of legal advice. If you feel like you’ve been the victim of financial fraud, speak to your financial institution to determine your next steps.