A warning from the FBI about a scam in our area targeting people who find dates online. It’s called “sextortion.” Victims end up handing over hundreds sometimes thousands of dollars to scammers who prey on people looking for love.
This scam targets men on dating sites who often don’t realize they’re being targeted until it’s too late, and by then they have handed over cold hard cash.
“To be innocent and to have that feeling is horrible,” said one scam victim named “Rusty.”
“At some point she starts to send me some revealing pictures and she asks me for the same in return,” said “Rusty.”
Memphis attorney Claiborne Ferguson represents local men who have fallen victim to the scam.
“Once they got you on the line, they’ll just keep reeling you in,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson says the scammer then tells the man she’s really underage. From there, the victim is contacted by a man claiming to be the underage girl’s father, and he says his wife is angry.
That’s when the scam kicks into high gear. The fake father says if the victim pays up, he won’t call police. Then the victim gets a call from someone pretending to be the police.
The “The Daily Scam” website says it’s received more than 400 emails and calls from men this has happened to. Victims have shared their stories and phone messages with the website, hoping to get the word out. The scammers’ calls can sound pretty convincing.
“They will look at each potential victim and craft a scenario they think can extract money,” said Agent Michael Gavin, FBI – Memphis office.
Gavin says victims fear they have done something wrong, so they’re hesitant to report it.
“You know you are a victim when someone is trying to get something of value in exchange for not releasing some sort of information,” said Gavin
“The key to this is once you start sending money, it’s never enough. They are going to keep asking you,” said Ferguson.
Ferguson dealt with the scammers first hand after several of his clients were lured in to their trap. “Actually, I will take on the text messaging and I’ll just start trolling them right back.”
Ferguson usually replies sarcastically to the scammers’ demands to aggravate them. But here’s what he recommends if this happens to you: “Shut it down. You don’t have to change your number, just block the phone. Don’t respond and it goes away in about three days,” said Ferguson.
The FBI says there are active cases throughout the Mid-South and across the country. Catching the culprits isn’t easy.
“They are using things to evade detection. They are anonymizing their electronic footprint. They are trying to make it difficult for us to track them down,” said Gavin.