JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — More Americans are being tricked out of their money in a new wave of romance scams. Criminals are now taking advantage of the loneliness people face from pandemic isolation.
Rebecca D’Antonio remembers how excited she was when she met Matthew on OKCupid, an online dating website.
“Matthew was a single father of a 5-year-old, Evans,” D’Antonio said. “We developed a relationship from there.”
It started similar to most online dating encounters. The two text messaged back and forth. They spoke on the phone. Matthew even sent her photos of his son. The plan was to finally meet in person, once Matthew got home from his upcoming business trip.
Suddenly, there was a problem.
“His card stopped working,” D’Antonio said. “I’ve been on trips before where that’s happened even if you notify the bank. I’m a college-educated woman. I asked all the regular questions, like ‘is there someone else that can help you?’ because our relationship is new.”
D’Antonio said she felt conflicted because of his son. She decided to transfer the money, but it didn’t end at one payment.
“It escalated,” D’Antonio said. “I was floating them while he was completing the contract, and then while he was completing the contract, his work papers expired.”
What felt like an endless stream of bills began to pile up for D’Antonio.
“Discover Card is now suing me,” D’Antonio said. She was in love, but also was now over $100,000 in debt. “I said to him in our last phone call, I said, ‘you don’t seem to understand the state of things here, and I’m legit thinking about suicide because I just don’t see a way out of this.’ His words to me were, ‘Well, you have to do what you have to do.’”
It was in that moment that D’Antonio realized she had to cut ties with Matthew.
Action News Jax’s Meghan Moriarty spoke with David McClellan, president of a dating investigation site called Social Catfish. He said he hears stories similar to D’Antonio’s all the time.
“They’re too embarrassed to report it,” McClellan said.
The Federal Trade Commission said victims who did file a report say they lost $201 million in 2019. With more people online having more time on their hands, experts predict that to be much higher for the 2020 report.
“The more you’re aware of a trap, the better chance you have evading that trap,” McClellan said. He suggests doing some digging before you date. “Even Googling the person’s name or looking at the phone number.”
Some other smart dating tips include:
- Doing a reverse Google image search.
- Upload the photo into Google, and it will tell you any sites that contain the image.
- Never give money, no matter how legitimate the reason is.
- Do not give personal information; scammers can use that to defraud you.
- Meet in-person, in a safe place, or use video chat instead of over the phone.
As for D’Antonio, she shared her story in hopes of helping others.
“If I save one person from going through what I went through, that to me is worth it,” D’Antonio said.
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