On December 15, 2021

Attorney general’s office offers advice to protect Vermonters from ‘romance scams’

By Grace Benninghoff/VTDigger

Romance scams are spreading, and the Vermont attorney general’s office of consumer assistance has issued a series of videos and other resources to help Vermonters avoid the widespread and particularly devastating tactic.

Here’s how it works: A scammer creates a fake online identity — it could be on a dating website, social media platforms or even on a game app like Words With Friends.

Submitted
A new series of videos from the Attorney General’s Office aims to help Vermonters avoid online “romance scams.”

Over time, the scammer gains the trust of the target victim. Sometimes that happens in weeks or months, but other times it can go on for years. Once the relationship is established, the scammer claims they’ve run into financial trouble and need help. They often ask for a Visa gift card, access to a bank account or a wire transfer.

“We’ve seen entire savings lost,” said Charity Clarke, chief of staff for the Vermont attorney general’s office. “Honestly, it’s heart-wrenching.”

In 2020, Vermonters filed 5,021 scam reports, including business scams, grandparent scams and more. Romance scams were the fifth-most-reported scam in the state.

Romance scams fall under the larger umbrella of “impostor scams,” which are extremely common. The scammer pretends to be someone else — maybe a romantic interest, a grandchild or a religious leader. Particularly common is the “grandparent scam,” in which scammers call in the middle of the night, claiming to be a grandchild in trouble, asking the grandparents to wire them a large sum of money immediately.

In 2020, Vermonters reported losing $349,166 — “and that’s just the people who reported the scams,” Clarke said.

The scams are designed to be difficult to track.

“We know scammers are hard to locate. Very rarely are they in Vermont,” Clarke said. “So, they’re hard to shut down.”

She advises Vermonters to protect themselves against scams by taking precautions. Running a reverse image search, having a video chat or consulting with close friends about new online relationships are all good places to start. Above all, Clarke said, “Never send money to someone you haven’t met in person.”

As for romance scams specifically, Clarke stresses that “gift cards are for gifts. Nobody legitimate would ever ask to be paid in a gift card. They’d ask for Venmo or a check or something.”

She also recommends reporting scam attempts to the consumer assistance program, even by people who do not fall for them.

“It’s helpful for us to know the landscape of scams,” she said.

Do you want to submit feedback to the editor?

Send Us An Email!

Related Posts

United Way of Rutland County names new exc. director

May 22, 2024
The United Way of Rutland County (UWRC) announced the appointment of Tina Van Guilder as its new executive director, May 17.  Van Guilder officially assumed her role as executive director May 6. With over seven years of direct non-profit leadership experience in the Rutland County area, coupled with recent roles focusing on grant coordination, budget…

Gov. Scott vetoes bill that would’ve restricted bee-killing pesticide

May 22, 2024
Staff report On Monday, May 20, World Bee Day, Gov. Phil Scott vetoed legislation meant to protect bees and other pollinators from a widely-used neuorotoxic pesticide. The bill (H.706) would  eliminate most uses of neonicotinoid pesticides (neonics) in Vermont, which have been associated with alarming losses of managed and wild bee populations. Neonic insecticides are used on…

Health premium increases of 16%-19% projected for 2025

May 22, 2024
Vermonters are again facing steep upward premium growth for 2025 due to the cumulative impact of hospital costs, drug prices and state health care policy choices. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Vermont projects that these trends will continue and will require rate increases of 16.3% for individual health plans and 19.1% for the small group…

Sanders: weight loss drugs could bankrupt U.S. health care

May 22, 2024
As part of his investigation into the outrageously high price of Ozempic and Wegovy in the U.S., U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, released a stunning new report May 15 exposing the potential of weight loss drugs to bankrupt American health care. In the report, HELP…