SALEM, Ore. — An elderly widower living in Oregon lost his entire life savings after he was targeted by a fraudulent Floridian in a scheme that mixed romance and dubious business dealings, according to the Oregon Division of Financial Regulation.
The con artist stole a Florida woman's identity in order to woo the 80-year-old Oregonian man through an online dating service. Eventually, after many weeks of contact, the scammer persuaded the widower to send money for a "business opportunity."
"Over several months, the con artist convinced the elderly man that they were in a long-distance romantic relationship, and proposed an opportunity to support an art gallery in Florida," the Division of Financial Regulation said.
According to the agency, this con artist pretended to look for investors to cover $5 million in "transportation costs" to ship a 500-ton marble lion sculpture from China. The scammer promised that the full value of any investments would be paid back, plus a percentage of profits made by selling the massive statue.
To seal the deal, the con artist even sent fabricated official documents to the Oregonian widower, appearing to show a contract with the museum and various bank statements. Trusting in both the documents and his apparent love interest, the victim made a series of payments over the course of five months — adding up to more than $200,000.
The Division of Financial Regulation says that all of that money vanished, never to return. Investigators have yet to find the con artist.
“Romance scams typically target older individuals, gain their trust, then ask for money through social media and dating websites,” said Andrew Stolfi, division administrator. “Unfortunately, victims often wire funds overseas or to third-party transfer agents, making it difficult to track the money and identify the con artist.”
The Division gave a couple tips for consumers, such as doing your homework before making any investment. You can also better protect yourself from getting catfished or falling for an investment scam by following these tips:
- Do not send money to anyone you have not met in person, and be cautious about sharing personal or financial information.
- Do not transfer money to unknown people or intermediaries. If you need to use a third party to send money, use a licensed money transmitter.
- Keep copies of all communications with scammers and report them to the division, the online dating site, the local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Trade Commission.
"Valentine’s Day is almost here, love is in the air, and the Oregon Division of Financial Regulation warns, don’t get catfished," the agency said.