June 16, 2024

A lady who lost a substantial amount of money in what appears to be an internet romance scam experienced continued harassment from fraudsters posing as federal agents. This arose after NBC10 Boston began investigating her case, and her substantial life savings remain unaccounted for.

The lady, who hails from Massachusetts, prefers to be referred to as Alice for anonymity’s sake. She states that after losing more than $150,000 in an online scam, she was contacted by online criminals pretending to be CIA operatives. These individuals threatened her with legal action if she failed to comply with their directives, which included refraining from speaking to anyone about the situation, including her attorney.

Alice expressed her discouragement at how it seemed the scam artists were able to execute their schemes unscathed.

In our previous report about Alice’s ordeal, she narrated her prolonged online interaction with a man she met on a dating platform. He portrayed himself as a diligent family-oriented man who found himself in trouble during an overseas oil pipeline venture. Alice provided financial assistance through wire transfers to help him manage the never-ending issues he communicated. Subsequently, she realized she had been manipulated.

The troubling development occurred a few months after the financial loss and roughly a month following NBC10 Boston’s contact with the individual Alice had been communicating with. Alice received an email titled, “THE CIA IN COLLABORATION WITH THE FBI.”

The email, which seemingly originated from the CIA, described the person Alice had interacted with and been swindled by. It stated that he was actually a terrorist impersonating people on social media and threatened Alice with legal action for supporting terrorism. The email also indicated that Alice was now being monitored by the CIA and warned her against discussing the situation with anyone. Failure to do this could result in her being charged with “negligent spillage.”

The email’s originating domain was from outlook.com, a deviation from the .gov domain from which the federal agency informed NBC10 Boston it would send its communications.

Alice’s predicament intensified further. She received texts from an individual claiming to be a CIA agent named Michael Donovan who was working on her case. Alice spoke to him on the phone several times. He even provided a photo of a CIA ID badge that can be found on eBay, down to the employee ID number.

A picture showing a counterfeit CIA badge that can be purchased on eBay.

An image of a purported CIA badge that was sent to Alice through a text from an alleged scammer.

Provided to NBC10 Boston

A picture of a supposed CIA badge that Alice received through a text by a seeming fraudster.

“It also mentioned that if I attempted to get in touch with a lawyer, I might not be able to recover my money,” Alice recalls about the communications received. “They insinuated that I might be implicated in this because I was financing illegal activities, and I might need to answer some questions.”

She states that she did not receive any more communication from “Agent Donovan” after she expressed her wish to meet only at a local police station.

A series of text messages by a supposed CIA agent to Alice

Provided to NBC10 Boston

A series of text communications from an alleged CIA agent to Alice.

We attempted to reach out to the email address that had contacted Alice but received no response.

Understanding Online Romance Scams and Fraudsters

Alice is not the only one to fall victim to online romance fraud.

In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission revealed that nearly 70,000 individuals reported being victims of a romance scam, leading to losses of $1.3 billion.

The agency highlights common deceptive narratives used by romance scammers to hoodwink their victims:

  • “Either I or someone close to me is ill, injured or incarcerated.”
  • “I can show you how to invest.”
  • “I am overseas serving in the military.”
  • “I need support with a crucial delivery.”
  • “Despite never having met, let’s discuss marriage.”
  • “I’ve recently come into possession of some money or gold.”
  • “I’m stationed on an oil rig or ship.”
  • “You can trust me with your private photos.”

“Among all the scams, romance scams are one of the most ruthless that I’ve ever encountered,” said Doug Fodeman, the Executive Director of online scam-awareness platform The Daily Scam.

A retired computer tutor, Fodeman dedicates a significant portion of his time to raising public consciousness about online fraud. He documents variant scam types by directly engaging with victims and even conducts his own tracking of cybercriminals abroad.

Fodeman observed that the most successful romance scammers are exceptionally adept at gaining a person’s trust, often by appearing remarkably kind, emphatic, and compassionate.

“Particularly when they target ideal victims who are undergoing emotional pain, perhaps due to a loss, a dissolved relationship or loneliness.”

Fodeman believes there need to be more resources made available to aid scam victims and holds the view that banks and tech companies need to do more to safeguard consumers.

“There is a pressing need for our government to do more to institute measures to safeguard its citizens against internet fraud,” opined Fodeman. “In the contemporary era, our lives are becoming more and more digitally entangled.”

According to Boston University professor Kyung-Shick Choi, a specialist in cybercrime and cybersecurity who develops training curriculums for law enforcement agencies-

“We lack adequate human resources in the area of cyber investigation,” he acknowledged. “We’re in the process of enhancing our capacity, but we haven’t achieved our goal yet.”

In the meantime, Alice has sought the services of an attorney and maintained that Chase Bank was negligent for permitting her to send large amounts of money with what she believes were too few spending restrictions.

Alice criticizes the bank for not providing ample oversight and questions, “They say, ‘You authorized the wire transfers,’ but at least there should have been questions raised about why the amount was so large,” she said. “This is especially given the noticeable reduction in the account balance to the point of