11 Call For Action Special Edition: Victim loses thousands to romance scam

Thinking she found love, the victim purchased thousands of dollars in gift cards at the...
Thinking she found love, the victim purchased thousands of dollars in gift cards at the scammer's request.(KKTV)
Published: Nov. 26, 2021 at 8:10 AM MST
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - More people than ever are turning to the internet for a love connection.

Unfortunately, scammers are right behind.

The Federal Trade Commission says so-called “romance scams” surged right alongside COVID in the couple of years, with consumers losing more than $304 million to these scams just in 2021 alone.

A Colorado Springs victim fell for this cruel scheme.

“Like a fool, I kept sending him money, kept sending him money.”

She shared her story with 11 News Call For Action investigator Julie Martin in hopes of preventing others from being duped by crooks.

“He started telling me how beautiful I was.”

Her tale began when she met a man online claiming to be a soldier.

“He was stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan, and he wanted to come back to the state so that he could come and be with me.”

She told Martin the “soldier” reached out to her on Facebook, and they would chat on Google Hangout. Within a month, he was requesting money to fly to Colorado to visit her. Believing he was who he said he was, the woman started purchasing the gift cards he asked for.

“I have borrowed from my friends, my children, I’ve actually pawned jewelry that my mother who has passed, pawned my jewelry, just sent him money.”

She believes she purchased about 15 cards over the span of six months, which she would then take pictures of and text to the “soldier” at his request.

Martin reached out to Fort McNair, where the man claimed he was. The post told her they don’t have a soldier with that name in their command -- and said they believed this was a scam.

At that point, the woman says she had spent more than $8,000.

“I told him, ‘You’re nothing but a scam artist, I’m done with dealing with it, and I’m not going to do it anymore’.”

Colorado Springs police detectives told Martin money sent through gift cards is the hardest to recover.

“If they had done gift cards, or sent cash, or Bitcoin, any of that stuff, that money is not coming back. The only chance that we have, and it’s still a very slim chance, is if they do a bank-to-bank transfer,” said Detective Matt Hulette with CSPD’s Cold Fraud Unit.

This year, CSPD has taken a dozen reports of romance scams totalling more than $861,000 in lost money.

“The average I have seen is $2,000-$3,000. I’ve seen some people lose hundreds of thousands of dollars,” Hulette said.

The Cold Fraud Unit has been able to recover more than half a million dollars. Hulette says that’s the unit’s focus: recovering funds, rather than prosecution.

“Being able to identify someone and bring them to justice: It most likely isn’t going to happen, because chances are they’re in Nigeria or Ghana where this stuff runs rampant.”

Martin reached out to the supposed soldier, who emailed her back. He claimed he was a real service member and promised to pay back all of the money that was sent to him. He did not answer Martin’s questions about not being stationed at Fort McNair or what he did with the money.

The victim says she has cut off all contact with him -- but he continues to reach out asking for more money.

If you believe you or someone close to you has fallen victim to a similar scam, look for these red flags: Did the person randomly message you online? Are they asking for gift cards? Are they changing platforms to chat?

If you notice these warns signs, contact local law enforcement.

Click here to watch the 11 Call For Action half-hour special edition: Top scams and consumer issues of 2021.

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