Cybercrimeshacking, phishing, ransomware and the like – are well-known to every user of the internet. We are bombarded weekly with emails and texts claiming that we need to update our passwords, personal profile, and the like. Now comes the rise of what has been called “romance scams”. The typical scheme starts with a fake dating profile on an online dating site. Fake name, picture, background, likes and what the alleged person is looking for in a mate is established. Once selected, the fraudster starts a series of on-line communications that lure the unsuspecting victim in with attention, romance and affection. The fraudster then sets out a story about why s/he needs money – lost their passport and credit cards while on a trip; a co-worker was injured and it was the fault of the scammer; needs money for a sick relative – always with the promise to return the money.

In 2021, it was reported that victims were scammed out of at least $547 million, an 80% increase over 2020. This figure is likely conservative since many victims of romance scams are too embarrassed to report them or the amounts are too small for law enforcement to actively investigate. Not unexpectedly, recently divorced and windowed women are frequent targets of romance scams.

Federal law enforcement has discovered that many of these types of scams are run out of Nigeria by organized groups, a well-known hotbed for cyber fraud and money laundering schemes. Many others, however, are simply con artists here in the United States looking for easy marks by preying on someone’s kindness, loneliness and vulnerabilities.

While older woman are common targets, the government reported that people between the ages of 18-29 are increasingly targets resulting in a tenfold increase from 2017 to 2021. Netflix documented one such scam in its documentary “The Tinder Swindler”. The film recounted the exploits of Shimon Hayut who held himself out as the son of a famous Russian-Israeli diamond scion. He lavished his victims with first class travel, jewelry and clothing using the proceeds from prior victims. His promotion of his lavish lifestyle on social media – private jets, yachts, expensive watches and clothes – was one way he recruited his victims. Once he lured a woman in, he then fabricated tales of being in danger and needing money for his safety.

These types of schemes are particularly heinous. They not only deprive the victims of often limited resources, they prey on their vulnerabilities, often leaving the victims psychologically scarred and feeling deeply violated. Victims are often too embarrassed to tell family, friend or law enforcement. Some are even left believing that the person who romanced them was genuine and something bad must have happened to him after they lose contact.

Recently, U.S. Attorney’s Offices, FBI and other federal agencies have been aggressively investigating and prosecuting these hideous schemes as often there are multiple victims totaling substantial losses.

Stahl Criminal Defense Attorneys actively and aggressively protect clients’ rights. To contact Mr. Stahl, call 908.301.9001 for the NJ office and 212.755.3300 for the NYC office, or email Mr. Stahl at rstahl@stahlesq.com.