Routing Number | 255077370

Financial Wellness

A Day in the Life of a Potential Fraud Victim—Part Two

The following story is based on a true case of fraud. The name of the victim has not been revealed for privacy, and the story is the second in a series to convey a day in the life of people who experience fraud. Click here to read the first story.

The day my son and daughter helped create my Facebook account, they showed me how the app would change my life: I could share precious pictures with my grandchildren, keep in touch with friends and stay up to date with family news.

What we didn't anticipate was falling victim to fraud.

One day, I received a friend request from a serviceman on peacekeeping duty in Afghanistan named "Jim." Despite never meeting, I accepted after he sent me a direct message, sharing loneliness and seeking companionship during his service in the middle of nowhere.

Soon after befriending him, Jim shared that he had lost his wife to cancer, and his story of caring for her during her final days was similar to my own experience losing my husband to cancer three years earlier.

He mentioned being deployed to Nigeria, nearing the end of his U.S military service. Over the following weeks, he inundated me with daily photos of him overseas, which I now know were fake. He constantly expressed his eagerness to meet me, and he even said he eventually wanted to marry me.

Jim also shared with me his passion for collecting gemstones and his vision of opening a jewelry business when he retired. He claimed Nigeria was ideal for this venture because it was close to where the precious stones were being mined, and he could buy them at cheaper prices.

However, he told me he was having trouble with his bank card in Nigeria, keeping him from paying an export tax on his gemstones. Feeling obliged after a few weeks of discussion, I wired him the money to cover the tax, which he insisted was just two percent of the gemstones' value, totaling $15,000. Trusting him as an honest serviceman, I envisioned a future together—unaware of his deceitful intentions.

Everything seemed fine until Jim's layover in Malaysia. Customs officials seized the gemstones and demanded payment to have them released. This time, he informed me they needed $20,000.

I explained it would take some time to get the money and that I had to borrow from the family home. I wired the money to Malaysian officials, only to later learn that Jim was now in jail for smuggling and that I needed to contact a lawyer.

Jim claimed he knew a good lawyer through one of his friends. He sent me his number, and the lawyer said he needed to get an Anti-terrorism and Money Laundering certificate. This would be another $10,000 I needed to pay for Jim, in addition to another $5,000 for his court fees.

The costs didn't end there, either. Almost daily, I received requests for more money. They sent me official-looking certificates, forms to fill out, and invoices for it all.

In a matter of a few days, I had spent over $100,000 trying to help Jim.

Initially, I didn't care about the money. I just wanted to help Jim, who kept saying he would pay me back once he returned and we could sell his gemstones.

However, after so many payments, I began to feel hopeless. I was running out of all my money—and needed more help to stop Jim's situation, so I contacted the police. What they said next was gut-wrenching.

They revealed to me the harsh truth: I was a victim of a scam. Jim was fake. So was the lawyer and the gemstones—and the goals I had of starting a new chapter of my life when Jim returned home.

The authorities explained that the actions the scammer took against me were all typical of a romance scam, and it was very unlikely I would ever receive my money back.

Signs this was a scam

The scammer:

  • Professed intentions of marriage to the victim.
  • Claimed he was working overseas.
  • Always had reasons why he needed to borrow money urgently.
  • Made excuses for why he couldn't visit the victim.

Avoid this type of scam:

  • Run a reverse-image Google search of your prospective partner's profile photo to help verify its authenticity.
  • Refuse requests to buy gift cards or make up-front payments. Avoid any arrangement with a stranger that asks for immediate payment via money order, wire transfer, international funds transfer, pre-loaded card, or Bitcoin, as it is rare to recover money sent this way.
  • Be careful about how much personal information you share on social network sites. Scammers exploit such details and images to create a fake identity or target you with a scam.
  • Use discretion when sharing personal pictures or videos with individuals you've never met before. Scammers are known to blackmail their targets using compromising material.

Report any suspected cases of fraud to Tower immediately.

Check back next month for the last of our three-part fraud series. To learn more about how to protect yourself against fraud, visit Tower's Fraud & Security Center.

Resources: eFraud Prevention