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Elder Abuse

Romance Scams Targeting Arizona Women

Why do people fall for romance scams?  Romance scams have been around for a long time, and everyone is aware they exist.  Just this winter there was a television show called “The Imposters” about a woman who targets men, romances them, marries them, and then leaves a few months into the marriage with all their money.

Older Arizonans may remember the case of Giovanni Vigliotto, a con artist who married 105 women over the course of his career.  He never divorced any of them.  Vigliotto would woo a middle-aged woman with assets, marry her, and convince her to give him control of her finances.  Then, he would disappear with all the money.  He was finally caught in the early 1980’s, when a Mesa, Arizona woman was so angry at being victimized that she tracked him across the country.  She finally ran him down in the southeast where he was engaged in selling her stocks and assets.  Vigliotto was extradited to Arizona where he was convicted of 28 counts of fraud and 6 counts of bigamy.  He died in prison.  Stories abound, both real and fictional, about romance scams.  Yet, people continue to be victimized. I guess lonely people everywhere want to believe in love.

Recent Arizona Scam Originates in Ghana

Recently, an internet romance scheme popped up in Arizona targeting older women.  An investigation led to Arizona Attorney General, Mark Brnovich, issuing a warning to the public to be on guard against this latest scam.  The warning came after the Attorney General’s Special Investigation and Fraud Sections obtained a seizure warrant from the Maricopa County Superior Court on May 21, 2018.  They used the warrant to stop money transfers from Arizona to Ghana.  The money came from nine Pima County victims, aged 65-90, wiring money to romantic partners they met over the internet.  The investigation team set up a temporary call center to inform the victims that they were the targets of a scam and to return their money.  The Arizona Attorney General’s Office was able to return almost $14,000.00 to the victims.

The scam works like this. The scammers troll dating websites.  They look for older women who are seeking a romantic partner.  They choose older women because they are more likely to have money and assets.  The scammer spends weeks building a relationship with his victim before asking for money.  He professes love and a desire to further the relationship.  At some point, he proposes marriage.  That’s when the money part of the scam kicks in.  The scammer wants to come to the U.S. to meet in person, but he has a medical issue or family problems and needs a short-term loan.  He is expecting an inheritance and will be able to repay the loan in a few weeks.  The victim sends money for a visa or a plane ticket, but, somehow, our con artist never leaves the country.  He gets in a car accident, or he is detained by immigration officials, or there is some other excuse.  He needs more money to clear up the problems and get on that plane.

Tips From the Office of the Arizona Attorney General

The AG warns that you should never send money to someone you meet online, particularly if that person lives in a foreign country.  Alarm bells should go off in your mind if:

  • You meet a friend/fiancé online.
  • You have never met face to face.
  •  In a matter of days or weeks, your correspondent declares his love.
  • Your correspondent has short-term financial problems and needs a loan.
  • He promises to pay you back when an expected inheritance comes through.
  • Even though you send money and a plane ticket, he can never quite make it out of the country.

The Better Business Bureau reports that across the U.S. and Canada, people have lost more than $1 billion dollars to online romance scams.  These scams can be devastating to the victims.  They feel foolish, embarrassed, and deeply hurt. They become seriously depressed. Older people often go downhill after being victimized.

Many people find romantic partners through online dating, but caution is always indicated.  A request for money is a red flag that can’t be ignored.

Resources

www.azag.gov/sites/default/files/docs/seniors/scam-alert/Senior_Scam_Series_Online_Dating_Final.pdf

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