This brings new meaning to “catfishing.”
An 80-year-old Oregon widower lost his life savings to a swindler who posed as a woman in love with him and convinced him to spend a whopping $200,000 to ship a massive lion sculpture from China.
The long-distance-romance scheme began when the unnamed scammer stole a Florida woman’s identity and befriended the elderly man through an online dating service, reports Oregon’s Division of Financial Regulation. The con artist convinced the man to invest in a Florida art gallery, seeking to raise $5 million to ship a “marble lion” from Wuhan. They promised that he would see his investment returned as well as reap profits from the statue’s sale.
The grift was a textbook romance scam, in which someone “typically targets older individuals, gains their trust, then asks for money through social media and dating websites,” said Andrew Stolfi, a commissioner at the DFR.
The fraudster was particularly meticulous with this scheme, sending forged bank statements as well as documents outlining the contract with the museum.
Over five months, the lovesick senior made a series of payments to various accounts totaling $200,000 — his entire live savings. Go figure: Both his money and his fauxmance disappeared without a trace soon after.
To add insult to injury, the “marble lion” in question is actually a 47.5-foot-long wooden sculpture in a Wuhan square that’s not slated to be shipped anywhere, according to the Statesman Journal.
It’s highly unlikely the widower will see his money again. “Victims often wire funds overseas or to third-party transfer agents, making it difficult to track the money and identify the con artist,” Stolfi said.
The widowed senior isn’t the first to fall prey to a love swindler’s siren song. According to a 2019 report by the Federal Trade Commission, romance scams are the most costly forms of online fraud, skyrocketing from $33 million lost in 2015 to $143 million lost in 2018. This past fall, a New Jersey hustler was busted for swindling dozens of women out of $2 million by posing as a service member stationed overseas looking for stateside love.
The Oregon consumer-protection agency hopes to prevent future frauds ahead of Valentine’s Day. To safeguard against Cupid-channeling dupers, the DFR advises the public to “not send money to anyone you have not met in person, and be cautious about sharing personal or financial information.”
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