INDIANAPOLIS, Ind.– Imagine this scenario: you meet a man online that shares several common interests with you and it seems like he is the one you’ve truly been waiting for. Through pictures, internet chatting and phone conversations, you fall in love. But then, you realize the whole thing is a scam and you’re out thousands of dollars and left with a broken heart.
A local woman is believed to be right in the midst of a romance scam and Fox59 is taking action to help her understand what is going on and how to get out of it.
The scam is actually quite common, but victims are often too ashamed to come forward after realizing they fell for and gave money to a person who doesn’t exist, said Barb Sluppick, owner and counselor for RomanceScams.org.
“He looks like the lead singer of Rascal Flatts, oh gosh he is so cute,” said Debby Day about a man she met online.
Day met Dempsey Selden when he approached her through an online chat on her Facebook page. She said he’s an Arizona mining contractor who does diplomatic work for the World Health Organization.
“He can make me smile faster than anybody and according to what he says, I do the same for him,” Day said.
But does Selden even exist? Her friend is worried she’s a part of an international romance scam.
“She’s going to get hurt badly,” said Debbie Nester.
After courting Day online for two months, Selden asked to borrow $10,000, saying he couldn’t transfer money for business in Australia.
However, the only sign he lives in America is that he has an Arizona cell phone number.
“This week I tried to find him through his high school and the university he went to and I can’t find him,” Nester said.
Barb Sluppick, owner of RomanceScams.org spends every day counseling victims nationwide. She has an entire staff of counselors who volunteer as peer counselors as well.
She said the scammers are professionals at getting people to believe they’re in places they’re not.
“They get victims to send them cell phones and the cell phones will have U.S. phone numbers on them so they might say they’re in Indianapolis and they might have an Indianapolis phone number,” Sluppick said.
She said most romance scams originate in West or South Africa, Malaysia or Canada.
The criminal steal identities, so their background checks come out clean, Sluppick said.
“They’re getting smart about U.S. tracking IP addresses so they’re doing a lot of masking too,” Sluppick said.
To further prove Selden is “real”, Day even called him on the phone while we were there and he answered the call.
However, as soon as she asked when he was coming to visit, after he got the money, he said the signal was breaking up and he hung up.
Seldon has done several things to make her believe their romance is true and that he has plans to come see her and take her with him back to Arizona. He even sent a driver to her Indianapolis apartment and paid for it, so she could get a passport. Sluppick said that is a clue that he might try to steal her identity. However, Day said on the off chance that he’s real, she can’t let go.
“Oh yeah, I am totally in love with him right now,” Day said.
The U.S. Army has issued three alerts warning people about these types of scams, as the criminals often use service members’ photos and identities as a front.
“I’ve seen victims all over the world come forward looking for a method to try to recover their money but it is almost impossible,” said Chris Grey with the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.
The FBI and the U.S. Treasury are investigating, Grey said.
“They use cyber cafes and those cyber cafes don’t keep records at all. They move their operation around, so to be able to investigate, find and extradite someone back to the U.S. for this type of crime is very difficult,” Grey said.
Sluppick said the problem is so vast that more than 60,000 people from every walk of life have joined her support group since 2005. She said it is a misconception that the people who fall for it are middle aged women who can’t get a date.
“We have doctors, we have lawyers, we have law enforcement agents. I had the head of a loss prevention department, she said if you ever would have told me this would happen to me, I would have never believed you,” Sluppick said.
Of the the 1,813 people who have reported on her website that they’ve been scammed out of money, the combined loss is more than $25 million. That’s about $14,000 per person. She also said many victims are also men.
“This is a really dirty secret for people. People don’t want others to know this is happening to them or has happened,” Sluppick said.
Sluppick counseled Day for more than seven hours, trying to explain how the scam works and to prove to her that this relationship has all the signs of a scam. Still, Day maintains that Selden might really be her chance at love.
Sluppick said it isn’t uncommon for the victim to be very hard to convince. Day said she can come up with the cash, she’ll consider sending it to Selden.
“I honestly believe he is who he says he is,” Day said.
The scam often isn’t over after the money is sent, Sluppick said. That’s when the blackmail begins.
During the course of the relationship, the scammer entices the victim to perform for them sexually on a webcam, saying it’s the way they can show their love. They record that webcam performance. Then the scammer tells the victim that unless you send more money, they’ll send that video to your family and friends, Sluppick said.
If you’ve been taken advantage of, there are things you can do. However, getting your money back is very unlikely, Grey said. The information is very important to authorities, however, as they tackle this as a larger, international crime.
1. If you transferred money via Western Union, report that you’ve been scammed so they can flag the account
2. Report it to the Internet Crime Complaint Center run by the FBI through this link
3. Report it to local law enforcement.
4. Report it to RomanceScams.org.
You can also get free counseling and join a support group at RomanceScams.org.