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Rip-Off Alert: Social media lures victims in 'Sweetheart Scheme'

(News 3)
(News 3)
Reported by: Marie Mortera
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Updated: 4/24/2014 2:33 pm
LAS VEGAS (KSNV — They think they’re communicating with honest men who have ended up in a jam. But instead, thousands of women are being lured into online dating scams.
In this Rip-Off Alert from St. Louis, the end result is money lost and a lot of embarrassment.

Pictures on social media were used to lure women into a scam that cost them thousands of dollars.

“Often time the fraudsters will look for photos of men in the military, and they will play on the sympathies of the women they have for people in the armed forces,” said U.S. Postal Inspector Adam Latham.

Fraudsters steal the photos and then — pretending to be the people in the pictures — post them on internet dating sites where they troll for women.

“The typical victim that we’ve uncovered is middle-aged divorce woman in the U.S.,” Latham said. “They use stolen credit card to send flowers, teddy bears, chocolates. They literally groom them over months at a time; they chat with them for hours a day.”

After gaining their trust, the scheme begins.

“At some point down the line they are told there is a financial emergency, their credit cards don’t work overseas or there is some kind of business emergency and they are told to send money,” Latham said.

Many victims send that money, only to learn they’ve been scammed. Postal inspectors say millions of dollars have been lost in so-called “Sweetheart Schemes” across the U.S.

“The women were typically told to send several hundred dollars at a time,” Latham said. “That is a convenient amount to send through Western Union or Money Gram.”

The money is one part, but the psychological damage is another.

“There is a lot of trust involved with them thinking they were in love with the man,” Latham said. “They are embarrassed by the money they lost. They don’t want family members to know. They don’t want their employer to know.”

Postal inspectors say women need to be very careful about online relationships.

“This case is really just another variation of a fraud scheme that I have investigated for over 10 years,” Latham said. “Criminals are greedy. This is just another method for them to obtain money from vulnerable victims.”

Two of the women involved in the case lost thousands of dollars and were forced to file for bankruptcy.


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