Romance Scams: What to look out for, how to protect yourself and loved ones

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WICHITA, Kan. – A woman will receive five years probation for her role in an online romance scam.

A judge sentenced 68-year-old Kathy Heistand on Monday for helping swindle a Wichita-area widow out of more than half a million dollars.

Court records show that in 2020, the 74-year-old victim was approached on the social media platform Facebook as to when and where the online romance commenced. The suspect then asked the widow for money which was then funneled through Heistand. Heistand pleaded guilty back in May.

The Better Business Bureau said victims in the U.S. and Canada had lost nearly $1 billion in the last three years due to online romance scams. One expert said that as many as 25,000 fraudsters are interacting with their victims at any given moment, half of the victims are over the age of 50.

The Better Business Bureau said the biggest red flag is when someone online asks you to send them money. It’s also important to note that Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennet says anyone is at risk of getting scammed.

“I don’t think we have any evidence that she benefited at all. In fact, she got cleaned out by the same guy herself,” said Bennett.

Bennett said online romance scams are on the rise all over the country, and there are victims in Kansas.

“We can move heaven and earth to try to go after the people who are perpetrating these scams, but the money is, for the most part, going to be unattainable,” said Bennett.

With scammers using multiple accounts and getting money into other countries, money often becomes impossible to trace. One of the other warnings for online dating is that after having had a few engagements with somebody and getting to know them, they immediately want you to start communicating off of that platform.

BBB said a company that screens profiles for dating apps said 500,000 out of 3.5 million profiles scanned each month are fake. These fake profiles or “catfish” will often work to get the trust of victims for months before asking them for money.

The BBB said you could verify if a profile is real by video chatting with them or Google search their profile pictures to see if other profiles exist.

“Spend time with people, ask them what is going on who they are talking to make that effort to see what’s going on with them,” said Chief Attorney Robert Short with the DA’s Economic Crime Divison.

Bennett also recommends talking to your loved one’s banks to see if notification could be possible if they make a large withdrawal.

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