A 76-year-old woman was tricked into giving $125,000 to a man who pretended to be in a romantic relationship with her, New Jersey police said.
The victim, who was not identified, believed she was in an “online dating relationship” with a man whom she met on the app OurTime. The man allegedly asked her to pay him $125,000 to cover fees to enter the United States, become a resident and continue his relationship with her, the Evesham Police Department said.
The woman secured a loan through her bank and gave the man access to an account where she deposited the money.
Evesham investigators tracked the suspect down using ATM cameras. Sulaimon Kadelu, 30, of Old Bridge Township, was charged with 2nd-degree theft and 2nd-degree money laundering.
OurTime did not respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission warned consumers that romance-related scams have surged recently and generated more losses than any other consumer fraud reported to the agency last year.
The number of these romance scams reported to the agency jumped from 8,500 in 2015 to more than 21,000 in 2018. And the amount lost by victims has quadrupled over that period — reaching $143 million last year. The median reported loss for victims was $2,600, about seven times more than other fraud tracked by the FTC.
Romance scams vary but criminals typically find their victims online, through a dating site or social media. Scammers create a phony profile, often building a believable persona with the help of a photo of someone else and direct communication. They woo the victim, building affection and trust until they see an opportunity to ask for money, according to police.
The reason for the request can run the gamut but money to pay for a medical emergency or travel costs for a long-awaited visit are common. Some victims report sending money repeatedly for one false crisis after another, according to the FTC. The money is often wired or given as gift cards, which allow the criminals quick and anonymous access to cash that cannot be easily tracked.
Anyone can be a victim, experts warn. But FTC data found romance scams happened most often to those in the 40 to 69 age group. Those 70 and older paid out the most to scammers, with median losses per person of $10,000.
If you suspect you’re communicating with a so-called romance scammer, police suggest thinking twice before sending money. Stop communicating with the person immediately, talk to someone you trust and report any suspicious activity to the FTC or local authorities.