Romance scams increase during pandemic, FBI warns

Posted at 2:53 PM, Oct 14, 2020

BALTIMORE — BALTIMORE, M.D. - It’s Cyber Security Awareness month and the FBI wants to warn people about potential scams, especially while so many are working and going to school virtually.

One Montgomery County man, who wants to stay anonymous, was scammed out of thousands of dollars using a dating app and doesn’t want others to make the same mistakes.

"Emotionally, it’s like there are claws in you that you can't seem to get out," said D.

For years, the man who we are calling 'D' thought he was in a caring online relationship, but just last month, he found out it was all a scam.

"I was a little lonely. I was needing some attention or I guess I just wanted some," said D.

It started 5 years ago. Divorced, he had turned to date apps Skout and Meet Me to fill that emotional void and met Brandy Bowens from Canada. It seemed like an innocent relationship for a while, but then she started asking him to be the middle man for her "art business".

"By me already being invested in our conversations and our online relationships, I kind of felt it was okay for me to do these things that they wanted," said D.

So he started getting money transferred to his bank account that he would then send out in cashiers checks.

"I had received three wire transfers of over $150,000 and these monies they claimed were for their business," said D.

It kept adding up... and then she asked for his money.

It all came to a head last month when he got a call from the FBI saying it was all a scam; his $15,000 was gone.

"It's hard. I lost the money and it messed up everything in a financial way for me. I'm trying to build my credit back, just so much that that has screwed up for me," said D.

FBI Special Agent Jeffrey Reising said these scams are even more common now during the pandemic because criminals are taking advantage of government programs like unemployment and funneling the money through romance scam victims, like D.

"Just red flags, like 'Why am I getting unemployment in other people's names in my account? Why am I getting tens of thousands of dollars in my account'?" said Reising.

Other red flags to look for are if they can never meet in person, or even answer phone calls, if they don’t have a real voicemail or if they ask for your bank account.

"Why can I not talk to this person face to face using some of the technology available? Why can’t I interact? Why is all of our communication on a text?" said Reising.

It’s red flags D saw, but the scammer could explain away.

"Saying 'my phone is broke' or 'my camera doesn’t work'," said D.

Now he’s sharing his story, hoping that especially during this virtual time, he can stop others from falling victim.

"Be cautious. If you get that flag, if you don’t get the answer for that flag, then you need to leave it alone," said D.

If you think you might be a victim of a romance scam, contact your local FBI office or file a report online.

This story was first published by Abby Isaacs at WMAR in Baltimore, Maryland.