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Woman shares warning after being the target of romance scammers

When she realized the man asking her for money online wasn't really in love with her, she got out of the romance scam.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Monday marked Valentine's Day and while love is in the air – so are romance scams. 

The topic has been thrust into the spotlight with the new Netflix documentary “The Tinder Swindler.” The story focuses on women who say they were conned out of hundreds of thousands of dollars by the same man they all had met on Tinder

While many people may think they would never fall for a romance scam – the Federal Trade Commission reports incidents have skyrocketed over the past five years with 2021 seeing an increase of romance scam reports in every age group. The FTC says reported losses hit a record $547 million for the year.  

Yvonne Costales found herself as a target last September.

“I did not know what a romance scam was,” Costales said. “I’m not a stupid person. I’m not a desperate person. I’m just an average grandma. Still, they got me on the hook.”

RELATED: How to spot online romance scams

Costales said she met a man on Tinder and in hindsight realizes there were early red flags.

“In the beginning, he asked me if I had any savings and I said no," Costales said. "He said, 'Oh, that’s so unfortunate for you.' That’s one of the first questions he asked.”

Costales said over the course of four weeks he began courting her.

"He did send me flowers, he wrote me poems, and I'm sorry to say, that I sort of fell for it. I got hooked,” Costales said. "I guess I wanted it to be real."

Costales said he always had an excuse not to meet but asked to send her money several times for favors like buying him work equipment and helping with family matters. Eventually, Costales said he told her he was in love.

“He said he wanted to make a life together and wanted to buy a house together and he said let me send you some money and you can buy the house that you want,” Costales said.

Costales said while she did catch feelings, she never fell for any of his financial promptings after realizing something was off. For that, she said she considers herself lucky.

"I'm not being ageist, but women my age just kind of came from a different generation and we want to trust people," Costales said. "We want to be nice. We want to be honest and we think other people are the same way."

Costales went to SocialCatfish, a website that helped confirm the man she had been talking to was using fake pictures.

David McClellan, president of SocialCatfish, said Costales' story is a prime example of how con artists “bait the hook" and that receiving money can be worse than sending it.

“That’s money laundering. You can go to prison for it,” McClellan said.

McClellan said scammers know exactly what buttons to push to get what they want.

“Scammers have this playbook. They tweak it. They change the stories. They change the way they get money, and it’s a constant work improvement,” McClellan said.

According to the FTC, reports about romance scams increased for every age group in 2021. The reported median loss for people 18 to 29 years old was $750. People 70 and older reported the highest individual median losses at $9,000.

SocialCatfish conducted a State of Internet Scams study in 2021, and encourages online daters to educate themselves on the prevalence and methods of potential scammers.

Tip to avoid becoming a victim of a scam

  • Emotional appeal
    Any pitch that ratchets up your emotion will inhibit your rational judgment.
  • Sense of urgency
    You MUST act now, or else.
  • Request for unorthodox payment
    Gift cards, prepaid credit cards, wire transfers, etc.
  • Explanations that don't ring true
    If your new “landlord” can’t show you the inside of the house, that could be because they don’t own it.
  • You won, now pay up
    It’s not a prize if you have to pay for it. Taxes, fees, shipping, whatever.
  • Too good to be true
    That’s because it’s not true. Sorry, your long-lost relative didn’t die, leaving you millions. That car you bought online for a third of its blue book value doesn’t really exist. The son of a billionaire diamond broker didn’t “swipe right” on you and fall instantly in love. That work-at-home job paying you hundreds of dollars an hour for stuffing envelopes isn’t real.

Contact Lana Harris at lharris@wcnc.com and follow her on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. 

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