Special Agent Christine Beining Describes Romance Scams

Christine Beining, a special agent in the FBI's Houston Division, describes how scam artists use Internet sites to prey on lonely individuals to get to their money.

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Romance schemes usually involve a perpetrator assuming an online identity, and it’s for the purpose of tricking victims. So what they do is, they search out vulnerable women, generally speaking. Men can be targets as well, but it’s generally women, usually above the age of 50.

Anyone is subject to this. If you’re online, if you’re using the Internet, as long as you have money and you’re willing to give it, then you could be a target.

They’ll hunt through these various networking sites, and they’ll find somebody who may be a good target, and they use what the victim has put on their profile page. So you have to be very careful about what you post because they’ll use that to manipulate the victim. They’ll develop a relationship very quickly. They’ll try to endear themselves to the victims. They’ll say whatever the victim wants to hear.

And they will often propose marriage quickly. So they develop this intense relationship. And they do seek out people who may be divorced or widowed. So they’re people who are vulnerable, who may be desperately looking for love.

And again, they will manipulate that victim and endear themselves and gain their trust. And then they’ll start asking for money. The perpetrator will state that they have an emergency, that they need money for a job—maybe overseas—that they have some type of medical emergency, and they need funds. So they promise that they’ll repay the victim as soon as the victim sends the money. But the victims never receive their money back.

From what we can tell, these are usually criminal organizations that work together. And once a victim becomes a victim, in that they send money, they will oftentimes be placed on what’s called a “sucker list.” And their names and identities are shared with other criminals. And they will be targeted for future recruitment.

I always tell people, when we try to spread the word, if you don’t know somebody, don’t send them money. Try to research that person’s profile that you’re getting involved with, and try to do some due diligence. But, you know, we’re all human. We all make mistakes. And I just hope victims who have fallen prey to this can learn and hopefully not enter into another scam. We have seen victims become victimized again. So I just ask that victims try to learn from the experience and try to share their experience with others so that other people can learn from their experience and not become victimized as well.

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