Valentine’s Day has come and gone, but romance scams continue all year long, according to various email warnings I received from the likes of the Better Business Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission and some guy named Rick.
I must be on a list of “most likely to fall prey to romance scams,” but I learned my lesson years ago when a girl in third grade sent a note reading: “Do you like me? Check yes or no.” I checked yes, she took my strawberry ice cream cup at lunch and then would not talk to me at recess.
I don’t think it seriously affected my future relationships, but it did ruin strawberry ice cream for me.
“Americans lost $201 million to romance scams in 2019, more than any other type of scam, and North Carolina had 422 victims, 12th most in the nation, though the numbers are likely higher,” said Rick, a public relations guy who was pitching a story idea about romance scams. At least I think he was pitching a story idea. He was rather flirty.
According to a story in the Detroit Free Press, even the AARP issued this warning to its members: Don’t send nude photos.
“Sure, it sounds a little wacky,” reads the Feb. 11 story. “The AARP advising its members ages 50 and older not to be flashing the flesh? But it's a new twist on the old romance scams that drive people to lose their shirts.”
So, how can someone protect himself or herself from falling victim to these conniving con artists? As the senior interim romance advice columnist and foreign correspondent for an award-winning publication, I will offer a few tips in a Q&A format.
Q: Hi, Scott. I downloaded a dating app, began messaging a swell gal with a beautiful smile and we hit it off like gangbusters. Why, I would say she’s the bee’s knees, all right. She’s from Ukraine, and we are planning to meet soon here in the States, but first she wants me to wire her $15,000 to pay off her sister’s gambling debt to Russian mobsters. Do you see any red flags here?
A: I do, in addition to those raised by your use of the words “gangbusters” and “bee’s knees.” Here’s what the BBB said in a news release: “Everything seems great, but soon your new beau has some unusual — but seemingly harmless — requests. They want you to receive money for them and wire it overseas. They may claim to be helping a loved one battling COVID-19, doing a business deal or representing a charitable organization. If you refuse, your amorous new beau may suddenly get hostile, threaten you or grow distant.”
Q: She did threaten to beat me with a hammer if I didn’t come up with the money. Before that though, she asked me to send her a nude photo of myself. I tried, but I accidentally sent it to an old Army buddy, Wally, instead. Should I make another attempt?
A: Absolutely not. The AARP warns that it could be part of a blackmail scheme. AARP’s message is clear: Don’t send nude photos.
Q: Wait a minute. I’ve been sending a photo into AARP magazine’s annual Mr. Nude Amateur Contest for the last 10 years.
A: AARP magazine doesn’t have an annual Mr. Nude Amateur Contest.
Q: Well, that’s the last time I listen to Wally. This has certainly been an eye-opening experience. It seems there are some red flags associated with my online relationship with a Ukrainian model 40 years my junior who has a sister with a severe gambling problem. One last question: Can I borrow $15,000?
Scott Hollifield is editor of The McDowell News in Marion and a humor columnist. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.