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Romantic Scams

Updated: Feb 28, 2022

One of my readers, a widow, just came close to being financially scammed by a man, if i understand correctly, that she met on an internet dating service that she joined. She asked me to address how widows and many single women are victims of romance scams. As she said, "I just dodged a bullet".

i am not an expert on scams. As a lawyer, for some 56 years, my specialty is "loopholes". Widows and single women are not the only individuals who are victims of scams, and dating services, although by their very nature, very conducive to scams are not the only way to be scammed.

The bottom line is that there is no absolutely foolproof method to avoid being scammed. My best advice is that if something does not compute, if the dots are not connecting, move on. There are some really clever and devious con artists in the world, and some of their cons are really elaborate.

I have two "war stories". The first involves me. This year i was conned by a client whom i worked almost full time for a month. Every single thing he told me was a lie. i did smell a rat. i had the private investigator i have used for decades, one of the best in the world, in my view, check this man out, and he concluded that the guy was legitimate. He was not.

I regard myself as a reasonably sophisticate person, and i was taken in even thought i had done more than a modicum of due diligence. Without intending to be too obnoxious, if i can be scammed as i was, almost anyone can be a victim.

What is should have done and did not do is what i do when i have a question as to whether something is legally ethical or is a violation of the Code of Professional Responsibility. If it is even a close call, i do not do it. Not only to i never want to cross the line, i never want to see chalk on my shoes. Often i call an ethics expert to discuss the issue. My Wife Barbara concluded way before i did that this client was a total fraud.

My second story is about a very smart sophisticated woman that we met a few years ago on the around the world cruise we took to celebrate my 80th birthday. She was traveling with another friend and had been single for a long time--a totally independent smart lady.

i do not recall how she met this man but they had quite the courtship. As we cruised around the world, he would fly to several distant places to see her and to spend some time on our ship. Just getting to these faraway places cost a considerable amount of money.

This man told our shipboard friend all about how successful he was, all the properties he owned, and that he even flew his own plane. i counselled her about having a prenuptial agreement. She knew to exchange full financial disclosures, that each party needed independent counsel, and that she needed to protect her assets which were not insubstantial.

All of that happened. The parties executed an Agreement and got married. it turned out that everything the man represented under oath in his disclosure turned out to be false. He had deceived this woman in every possible way including the fact that he was flying his plane when he was medically disqualified from doing so putting at risk everyone's life. They got divorced in less than a year. Fortunately, the only damage was the emotional hurt that i am confident will dissipate reasonably quickly.

The moral of these stories is not rocket science. Anyone can be scammed. So, what i advice do i have?

1, Be careful and follow your instincts.

2. Do not give money or sign papers of any kind for anybody you do not know to be absolutely legitimate.

3. Seek the advice of a lawyer and/or an accountant if you have any questions. if you are given written financial representations, do some due diligence. Do not just accept what is written even if it is under oath.

One simple example. if a man tells you he is divorced, it is not usual to then ask "for how long?" or "where were you divorced". Most court filings in most places are online and it is not difficult to find the divorce papers if, in fact, they exist.

4. Consider hiring a private investigator to do a complete background check or anyone you are considering have a relationship with. You would be amazed at what a good investigator can find out just having someone social security number.

5. If possible talk to people and/or retain someone else to talk to friends and neighbors. One of my partners was being considered for a very important position at the United Nations. Before the President appointed him, a really deep dive was made into my partner's background. i received more than one call from the Secret Service and others.

What i have written is just plain common sense, but smart people do stupid things all the time. People who are alone, for whatever reason, are often particularly vulnerable. it is important to realize that vulnerability. it is nothing to be ashamed about. If you dodged a bullet, thank your lucky stars. If you did suffer some loss, try to move on as quickly as possible. One way of doing that is to think about how fortunate you are in so many other aspects of your life.

Be particularly careful about dating sites. Anyone can post a picture of anyone, say anything they want about themselves whether truthful or not, and take all the time in the world to set up their next victim.

Many times a client would cry to me, literally or figuratively, about a problem that i assessed as no big deal. if would find myself saying something like, "why don't you go over to Memorial Hospital, it is just a few blocks away, walk through the pediatric leukemia ward, and then come back and we discuss your problem".

Just as i have no answer to so many other issues, i have no answer on the issue of scams. However, i hope there was a nugget or two in this post that could come in handy someday.

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I added the definition of "catfishing" to this post on Facebook. It's a widely understood term for scammers who did what your widow friend did -- usually to widows and other lonely women with money. Ah, the hidden dangers of wealth!

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