Mary Ann Stone learned that the hard way. It all started during a simple game of online Scrabble, Stone said a man who claimed to be in the military overseas took it a step further than just gameplay.
"At first it was very casual and then he wanted to know if I wanted to be in a romance. I said I'm 71-years-old... no," said Stone.
Stone declined the man's approach and said he persisted with the conversation online by befriending her, even calling her mom during the messages back and forth. This went on for weeks while playing the game online and then out of the blue asked Stone to send him a Netflix gift card.
"He said, 'Well can't you just take a hundred dollars and get me a card and send it to me?' I said, look I'm on social security," said Stone.
Stone continued to talk to the man, he even sent her a picture of himself so she could get to know him more.
"Well I have a special place in my heart for soldiers because I've worked with soldiers," she said.
The two continued chatting back and forth online and the man asked Stone if she could help him out as he wanted to send her a check for $20,000.
"He told me that he had done some computer work for these people out in California and he wanted to know if they could mail the check to me for $20,000 because he didn't have access to his bank," Stone said.
In her gut, she knew something wasn't right but kept playing along, "I said I'm going to catch this guy. This guy is a scammer."
The check arrived and he instructed Stone to cash it and then send the money back to him. Thankfully, she didn't do that, as if she would have, the bank would have eventually told her the check was bad and she would have owed the money back to the bank, money she could have already sent back to the scammer.
"It's hard to tell how many women he has scammed. Women need to know there are scammers out here. That will take advantage of your emotions," a frustrated Stone said.
Stone is not the only one targeted in scams like this. These scams are known as romance or friendship scams.
According to the FBI, romance scams result in greater financial losses to victims when compared to other online crimes. In 2019, almost 20,000 complaints involved romance scams, about 1,000 more than the previous year, and the losses associated with those complaints exceeded $475-million.
The FBI says the criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do.
Here are the Troubleshooter Takeaways to remember so you don't fall for a romance or friendship scam:
- Watch out for the emotional stories when they claim they're overseas or in the military.
- Sending pictures to you doesn't really mean it is them. Scammers can steal pictures very easily off of social media sites. Research the person's photo and profile using online searches to see if the material has been used elsewhere.
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to go "offline."
- Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can't. If you haven't met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
- Don't send any money, gift cards, or give the person access to your banking information.
- Don't cash a check they send you as it could be a fake check.
As for Mary Ann, she hasn't let this bad experience stop her from playing games online as she has her guard up. She has reported the scammer to the bank and FBI.