When it comes to romance scams, Patrick Wyman, a 13-year veteran of the FBI, has seen it all. He’s investigated, helped on or supervised about 300 romance fraud cases.
Wyman, a supervisory special agent in the Washington Field Office, says two things are critical to preventing a smooth-talking criminal from breaking your heart and emptying your wallet:
- Whether you’re on dating sites or apps or a social-media platform such as Facebook, don’t fall in love too fast.
- Never send money to a romantic interest you’ve never met in person.
Romance fraudsters excel at building rapport, and try to isolate their supposed loves from relatives and friends who could smell a rat and derail their schemes, Wyman says. A crook might say that since he’s younger, the victim’s relative would never approve — so don’t tell them.
Painful truths emerge
His most memorable case? He was called in by local police to the home of a never-married, 60-something woman in Manassas, Virginia, who, by then, had given her fake, faraway suitor $75,000, even though the two had only exchanged texts and calls. The offender, believed to be overseas, also had her working as a "money mule" to launder the ill-gotten gains of other crimes.
Showing her his FBI credentials and badge, Wyman delivered some painful truths. “I had to explain to her this person was not someone she was ever going to meet in person, and that she was the victim of a scam.”
Wyman says he left feeling “pretty confident” that he’d broken through and the woman would stop communicating with the scammer. Within a couple of days, though, she phoned the agent to say she was coughing up $20,000 more.
What happened? The con artist told the woman that Wyman was lying, that he was not really an FBI agent and that he only wanted to “keep the two of them away from each other,” the agent says.
For her, soon reality sank in. The crook had wired the woman even more money to launder, but she refused and the FBI stepped in and seized the cash. Now the bad guy wanted "his" money, so he sent another one of his victims, who traveled from New Jersey to Virginia by cab, to knock on her door and demand the loot. At that point “she was actually very, very scared,” the agent says.