MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Mid-Southerners continue to hunker down during the pandemic, and so many singles are seeking someone to quarantine with.
Dating-site traffic is up and so are the number of scammers on those sites who say they want your love, but really want your money.
A few months after Cathy Gover lost her husband of 21 years, the COVID-19 pandemic hit and she went on lockdown so she went online to the dating website Plenty Of Fish.
“I was very lonely,” said Gover. “Vulnerable? Extremely vulnerable. Because I was looking for what I had with my husband.”
Gover thought she found what she was looking for in Marc, a 60-something from Atlanta.
“He said all the right things,” she said. “He said all the right things that I guess I needed to hear.”
She says Marc talked to her for hours every day and told her about his family and friends. He even introduced her to some of them through email.
Six weeks into their courtship, Marc said he needed help.
“He said ‘it’s my grandson’s birthday and I promised to buy him a PlayStation and I don’t have the money. Will you send the money?’”
Gover reluctantly sent him $750 through PayPal.
Soon after that, Marc said he was sick.
“Course I can’t sleep after that cause I’m worried he’s got COVID cause I’ve done fallen in love with this idiot,” she said.
The 65-year-old continued to send Marc money, she thought, for medicine.
When she started asking questions, he went away.
“He quit answering my texts. He ghosted me -- is what they call it," said Gover. “For days all I did was cry. It was just the most horrible experience of my life. I’ve never felt so much pain.”
Gover went back online and started looking into Marc’s identity.
She found the pictures he sent to her actually belonged to a Brazilian pastor.
By then, she’d lost over $3,000 and her newfound love.
“It didn’t have anything to do with the money because he was not real but to me he was real,” she said.
“These scammers start out with talking to someone every day -- just how’s your day, just general conversation,” said Daniel Irwin, with Research and Investigations for the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South.
He fields calls from scam victims, verifies each report and then places it in the BBB’s online ScamTracker tool.
The BBB has received 11 romance scam reports so far this year for a total loss of $19,000. In 2019, the bureau received five romance scams locally for a total loss of $22,386.00. An increase in reports but a decrease in dollars lost.
Irwin says seniors are particularly vulnerable to these types of scams.
“Because they’re lonely. A lot of times their families may not be around or they don’t have any family or don’t have any regular contact with their family and they just want someone to talk to,” he said.
Socialcatfish.com, an online dating investigation service, states romance scammers will often:
- Tell their victims they can’t see them because of the pandemic or that their WiFi is limited
- They claim they have a COVID-19 related emergency and need money fast
- They win you over by saying sweet things and use the extra time you have in quarantine to move faster in the relationship
Gover says she fell for it all.
“He played me good,” she admits.
“Do you think you’ll give love another chance?” asked The Investigators.
“Only if he’s real and I can touch him,” she said. “I hope so. I really don’t want to be alone for the rest of my life but I’m not desperate. I’d rather be alone than be scammed again.”
The Mid-South BBB has also seen a spike in sextortion scams.
So far this year, the BBB has had 18 reports of the sextortion blackmail scams for a loss of $3,051.
It had three reports in 2019, for a loss of $865.
The FBI defines sextortion as a threat to distribute private or sensitive materials if you don’t provide money or other favors.
One Mid-South woman wrote the BBB in April that she received an email with one of her passwords in the subject line.
“If I didn’t send them $2,000 in Bitcoins they would send a video of me pleasuring myself to my family and friends," she wrote. "I am almost 72-years-old and trust me, there is no video! What else should I do?”
Irwin says many Mid-Southerners targeted by these scams have paid the scammers.
“They know in this day and time there’s a stigma with that, with porn and that kind of thing so they’re trying to blackmail people,” said Irwin.
Plenty of Fish wrote The Investigators that it urges users to report suspicious profiles.
It also sent us the following tips from the Federal Trade Commission.
To protect yourself against false romantic intrigues:
- Never transfer money or send gifts to someone you haven’t met in person
- Slow down and talk to someone you trust - don’t let a scammer rush you
- Do a reverse image search or search for scammer by job they tell you they have