NORTH DAKOTA (KXNET) —One North Dakota woman thought she was falling in love — instead, all of her retirement savings, her 401k, and $24,000 of her insurance policy were taken.
According to the FBI’s most recent statistics, romance scams are on the rise with a little more than 19,000 victims reporting losing $739 million in the United States.
A Bismarck woman reached out to KX News wanting to share her story, but at the same time wanted to remain anonymous due to everything that’s happened to her already. And the fact that she wasn’t just scammed once, but a total of three times.
After her husband of 20 years died, she says she got lonely and started online dating, and it wasn’t too long before she started getting a response. “We’re here to help you create the same magic online that you would in real life,” is what Plenty of Fish, a common dating website, has listed on its home page prior to creating an account. This is where it all started for her.
“This attractive man came up, introduced himself and said he was a Godly man, and he was hunting for a woman,” she recalls. In her words, he was perfect, said all the right things and it was all at the right time.
“And then he said, ‘You know what would really be nice?’ and I said, ‘No, what?’ He said, ‘If you could get me a $200 gift card,’ and I said, ‘Well you know, money is kind of tight,” but I got him a $200 gift card,” she recalled.
When asked why she felt comfortable in sending him the $200 gift card, she said, “Because he confessed that he loved me, and he wanted to come to the United States and be with me, and I was extremely lonely and that’s how he got me.”
She says he said things she hadn’t heard before or hadn’t heard in a long time, creating that strong desire for affection.
“I gave him my banking information, my Social Security Number — I literally had to change banks, I had to get a new Social Security Number, everything! I don’t even use my legal name anymore because of the fact of that,” she notes.
Why did she give him her Social Security Number? “He said he needed that for his insurance policy in case anything happened to him; I was gonna be a beneficiary,” she explains. “We just don’t think of the little things they con us into doing. To me it sounded legit — if you have a insurance policy and you want to add a beneficiary, they’re going to ask for your Social Security Number.”
She also says she kept sending funds due to the negative feedback she would receive when she didn’t send money. They would call her names and, overall, make her feel unwanted and abused.
After this initial incident, the woman was then scammed two more times before she deactivated her online dating account. After the first time, why did she allow herself to be taken advantage of two more times?
“I was hoping that maybe the next person wasn’t a scammer,” she says. “You’re not thinking clearly because you’re still, you know, lonely. I mean, it’s not fun being lonely.”
Parrell Grossman of the North Dakota Consumer Protection Division says this can happen to almost anyone.
“Honestly, victims are across the board from young to old, from teenagers to the elderly,” Grossman explains. “Teenagers maybe not as much because they don’t really have the financial resources so, the scam artist, the con artist doesn’t want to waste as much time with them. But, by and large, it’s people with significant funds that are being victimized and it’s often the elderly because they have a retirement account and maybe their homes are paid for and they have substantial bank accounts of savings and checking accounts.”
Grossman adds one of the best ways for avoiding the scammers and con artists is simply trusting your intuition. “So many times, consumers after the fact say, ‘I knew something was wrong, I just wasn’t sure and I followed through and I sent the money and I lost it all.’ Trust your intuition.”
And the Bismarck woman who was scammed three times by scammers and con artists? She says she’s now searching for love in the right way and has joined a support group.
If you or a loved one has been victimized by a scam or you’re unsure about an ongoing situation, reach out to the North Dakota Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at (701) 328-3404.