In a previous 3 On Your Side report, we introduced you to a valley woman who was duped out of $37,000 in the romance scam. With that said, you might ask yourself "how could someone fall for this?" Turns out, there's a scientific explanation.
"He said he'd treat me like a queen the rest of my life,” says Marna Daugherty fighting through her tears.
Daugherty shared her story of how she was scammed out of $37,000 by a man she found online. She cried as she explained.
"How much I was so in love with him I wanted this. It was gonna be the romance of all times, this guy and me. I'm very hurt.”
Daugherty says she never actually met the man and knew him only through pictures he sent her, phone calls and email love letters that he would write.
"Oh the love letters. I have 75 pages, every single day written by like a romance novelist or a poet.”
Daugherty says she actually fell in love. And she was so head over heels, that she agreed to make several different deposits into his bank account. Deposits that eventually totaled $37,000.
But it was all a scam.
"There are a lot of hormones that change and neurotransmitters that get altered when you start falling in love."
Athena Aktipis is a psychology professor at Arizona State University and says there's actually a scientific explanation as to why people like Daugherty lose their judgment and fall in love with an image without even meeting that person.
“They were falling in love with their idea of who that person was not actually who they are.”
In this case, those pictures are most likely of some innocent guy whose photo was stolen off the internet somewhere and used by the scammer.
Take the picture and add all those love letters, and you have a “romance scam” to lure in vulnerable victims like Daugherty.
“It's a full-on physical change that happens to us when we start to trust somebody deeply it's not just in our head, it's in our whole bodies.”
But what about the criminal side to all of this? Matthew Boyden is a supervisory special agent with the FBI.
“The fraudsters are incredibly talented in what they do and they're relentless. These scammers find weaknesses and for some people, it's loneliness or having that void in life so the scammers will prey on that,” says Boyden.
And, Special Agent Boyden says the romance scam is hard to stop.
Published reports estimate victims have been duped out of nearly $230 million and that's just from the victims who reported the scam. The dollar amount is actually much higher.
“Once they've stolen their heart, pardon the cliché, they go after their pocketbook.”
And, he says these con-men, like the one Daugherty was dealing with, could be anyone, anywhere.
In fact, published reports suggest that criminal networks are using the romance scam to fund terrorist operations.
“It could be solo practitioner in his parent's basement overseas or it could be part of a criminal enterprise where you have multiple co-conspirators that are doing this but they can be absolutely ruthless and relentless.”
As for Daugherty, intellectually she knows she's been duped. However, emotionally she still feels attached.
"How do you think I must feel. Of course I wanted him to be real.”
According to the FBI, victims are usually women who are over 40 and are either divorced or widowed. Last year alone, the FBI heard from 15,000 victims who were duped in this scam.
It's estimated that 85 percent of victims are too embarrassed to even report the crime.
Common Fraud Schemes: https://www.fbi.gov/scams-and-safety/common-fraud-schemes
File a Complaint with IC3: https://www.ic3.gov
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