Several Tucson-area seniors who thought they’d found love online had their hopes crushed when their sweethearts turned out to be foreign scammers who only wanted their money, Arizona’s attorney general says.
Nine Pima County residents aged 65 to 90 — seven from Tucson, one each from Sahuarita and Oro Valley — were on the verge of wiring thousands of dollars to online lovers when state investigators swooped in to prevent the wire transfers from going through.
The con artists — all based in Ghana, a West African nation described by Arizona authorities as “a hot bed of internet-based fraud” — used a combination of sweet talk and sob stories to win over the lovelorn locals.
The ruse is known as a “romance scam” in which “fraudsters pretend to be romantically interested in their victims, only to lure them into sending money overseas,” Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich’s office said in a recent news release announcing the takedown.
“The scammers will often spend weeks building a relationship with a victim before asking for money for something like a medical procedure or a trip to meet in person.”
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A common feature of romance scammers is that they move in quickly, professing love or proposing marriage soon after initial contact is made.
The nine locals who were victimized didn’t realize they’d been had until they tried to send money to their online lovers.
The wire transfers wouldn’t go through because authorities had already obtained a warrant to block them after figuring out what the scammers were up to.
Victims then were redirected to a call center staffed by state investigators who broke the unhappy news.
In total, state authorities intercepted $14,000 on behalf of the nine local victims and six others around the state.
This isn’t the first time local seniors have been targeted by romance scammers.
“It is, unfortunately, prevalent,” said Rae Vermeal of the Pima Council on Aging, which has been working with law enforcement, financial institutions and other agencies on ways to combat the problem.
Older people typically feel “deeply ashamed and embarrassed” when taken in by love scams, she said. Some balk when real-life friends and relatives try to intervene to stop the payments.
“It’s very sad because this impacts older adults more than just the loss of money,” Vermeal said. Scam victims often go downhill afterward and suffer from depression and higher mortality rates, she said.
Brnovich said: “Scammers who prey on people’s emotions are using these online dating scams more frequently. You always need to be cautious when you meet someone online, particularly if they’re from another country.”
Pima County residents can report suspected scams online at www.azag.gov/complaints/consumer or by phone at 628-6504, the attorney general’s Tucson office.
Contact reporter Carol Ann Alaimo at 573-4138 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter: @AZStarConsumer