CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Some locals say they are broke after looking for love during the pandemic.
Numbers uncovered by 19 News Investigators show romance scams are on the rise in the state right now.
In a special report with the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad earlier this year, we explained the danger in sending money to a boyfriend or girlfriend you met online but never saw in person.
As the pandemic continues to keep people from going on in-person dates, we discovered a huge increase in the number of people losing money to scammers.
A 67-year-old we talked to on the phone says he was tricked into sending money to someone he thought he was dating in recent weeks.
The woman he met on Facebook was supposed to use the money he was sending to come visit him in Broadview Heights. He even took a day off work to welcome her, but she never showed.
“I told her, ‘You’re taking all my money. I’m running out of groceries to live on during the week,‘ ” the victim said. “My brother thinks that it’s a man that knows I’m a sucker for this stuff. I keep trying to prove him wrong, so I keep sending her money, so she can come, but every time she had a different story.”
Some of those stories used the coronavirus as a reason why she needed more money or couldn’t make it. That made the excuse sound more real, and 19 Investigates discovered that’s becoming a trend.
In all of 2019, a total of 57 complaints about romance scams were filed with the Ohio Attorney General’s office.
The AG’s office says from March to June of this year alone, 18 victims reported losing money to a romance scammer.
Not only were there fewer complaints filed during those same months last year, there were none.
That’s not surprising to the experts.
“Not at all, especially with stimulus checks coming out and different things,” David McClellen said. “These people’s mouths are salivating trying to go after this money.”
McClellen runs a company called Social Catfish. It’s mission is to educate and help people who find themselves involved with someone suspicious online. He and his partners have even put together a playbook the scammers usually go by, so people can spot the schemes more easily.
“The reason these romance scams work so well is they really pull on those heart strings,” McClellen said.
The victim we talked to says the person he was scammed by not only got his money, but also his personal information. He says they used it to file fraudulent unemployment claims, creating an even bigger mess for him.
Thankfully, he’s no longer holding out any hope that the woman will show up on his doorstep.
That’s why he filed one of those complaints with the Attorney General’s Office.
“Sometimes I’m slow to understand things, but I’m pretty sure she’s just a scammer,” he said. “I feel like a fool.”
Another victim in Akron told 19 News that she had to file for bankruptcy this month because of a romance scam. She lost more than $18,000, saying that there are limited resources for people in her situation.