Introducing: Romance Scam Prevention Videos

By Crystal Baldwin

Anyone who has overheard the conversation of online streaming video game players on opposite sides of the globe knows that real and true friendships can form online between parties that have never met before. As shared in the following open letter, this is how scam prevention advocate Pat McCarty’s online relationship began just two years ago.  

:30 – Avoiding the Romance Scam video. Hear the whole story at ago.vermont.gov/cap/romance-imposter

From Pat McCarty:
Until it happens to you, it’s impossible to understand; a man or woman freely sending money to someone they’ve never met in person. But I’m here to tell you, even the most cynical, worldly, educated, and discerning person can, and does, get scammed!  

There are hundreds of different scams out there, I got caught up ‘catfished’ into a ‘Romance Scam’ that crippled me financially, undermined my self-confidence, and ended up breaking my heart. I was a 58-year-old, recent divorcée after a 30 year marriage, living on my own for the first time in my life. I’m a college graduate, fairly bright, cynic, who doesn’t suffer fools gladly. But, I’m also a Christian woman, who tries to help those in need, and THAT is what my scammer preyed upon—my compassion for others.  

I was not out looking for a mate, date, or companion on some dating site. I was playing Words With Friends online, which I often did. And that is where this scammer targeted me. The conversation was very generic at first, but slowly, over weeks, developed into an online friendship. From there, it took a turn into a private chat room, and then he had me right where he wanted me! It’s a long twisting story, but ended with me selling all my gold jewelry, sending every spare cent I had to him, as these scammers are polished and sophisticated, they have a plausible story for EVERYTHING! At the point I actually sold my car, my only transportation, to “help” him. I knew I’d ‘jumped the shark,’ and started doing some digging myself!  

What I found was heartbreaking, infuriating, and devastating.  

:60 – Avoiding the Romance Scam video. Hear the whole story at ago.vermont.gov/cap/romance-imposter

That was 2 years ago. After some time, good therapy, and scam-specific education, I no longer see myself as a victim, but as a SURVIVOR! My life is mine again, my finances are healthy again, and I’ve taken back my power by volunteering at a Fraud Watch call-in center, advising others how to get out of scams like mine and so much more. With literally hundreds of scams out there, and new ones popping up daily, I’m so honored to help others get out of their scams and find THEIR power again. And, if I’ve learned anything, it’s that literally ANYONE can be scammed! I hear stories every day of those who thought it would NEVER happen to them. Knowledge is power. Learn all the red flags and warnings….BEFORE it  happens to you!  

As Pat relays, enlisting in a scam-specific education to learn more about scams in order to stop them, is the best defense against scams. Today, our office announced the release of the Avoiding the Romance Scam prevention video (embedded throughout this post in varying lengths), an effort produced here in Vermont, based on true accounts of scams experienced by our neighbors like Pat. Help protect yourself and others by taking time to watch the video. Review the information on our website and encourage those you care about to learn more about scams and prevention strategies to stop them.  

Avoiding the Romance Scam video. Learn more at ago.vermont.gov/cap/romance-imposter

Learn more at ago.vermont.gov/cap/romance-imposter

Read more blogs about romance scams

Report Scams:  
If you or someone you know has encountered a scam in Vermont, report it. Use CAP’s online scam reporting form.   
 
Help us stop these scams by sharing this information with those you care about.  

Imposter Scams: Take Steps to Verify. Video Scam Prevention Project

By Crystal Baldwin

My fellow Consumer Assistance Program (CAP) colleagues and I have heard hundreds of personal stories from those who have experienced loss due to scams. The effects of scams are devastating and overwhelming. We understand where you are coming from when you reflect, “This just isn’t me,” after having sent thousands of dollars. We feel your confusion when you say, “I don’t know where I went wrong.” We band together to rally your call to action to “do something,” because we too “don’t want this scam to happen to anyone else.” 

In chasing the call to do something, in 2019 we applied for a grant through the Sears Consumer Protection and Education Fund to produce three scam awareness and prevention videos with a uniform message for consumers to “Know Your Relationships: Take Steps to Verify.” We were awarded this grant in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, which slowed, but could not stall our efforts in completing this important project. 

Me in character on the Twincraft Skincare set.

I wrote each script, calling on personal accounts of courageous Vermonters, who were willing to share their stories with one goal in mind: to help prevent scams from happening to others. We drew up character breakdowns, hoping for a diverse cast and put out a casting call for volunteers. In the end, we had two professional actresses, Ruth Wallman and Chloë Clark, donate their talent and expertise to the cause. For the remaining roles, we relied on our personal network of generous souls, including our Assistant Director’s son, Lars Jensen, and neighbor, Dave Saraceno. The remaining roles were brought to life by CAP personnel, Cameron Randlett, Charity Clark, and me. Without any formal acting experience, I was not first in line to fill the role, but when our casted actress relocated as our filming deadline encroached, I stepped up. We finally had a concrete filming date with a spectacular set, thanks to the kindness of Twincraft Skincare to offer up their space. I couldn’t let them or this project down.  So, I put on my actor-in-training hat and broke a couple of legs—so to speak.  

This experience, from start to release date, has reinforced my commitment to providing compassionate service to the people of our state. In completing this project, we have compiled so much more than videos and information. The videos, packaged with our online resources, equip consumers to be aware about imposter scams and apply specific mechanisms to stop scams in their tracks. I am proud of my team and the final product we present to you now. 

Throughout the month of December, we will be showcasing the three produced videos, which highlight three very common scams with dollar loss: the romance imposter scam, the family emergency/imposter scam, and the business email imposter scam. It is our hope that as each video is showcased, it will be shared widely by you. As I hoped to instill throughout this work—this information is best in the hands of everybody. Please share it

:30 – Avoiding the Romance Scam video. Hear the whole story at ago.vermont.gov/romance-imposter
:30 – Avoiding the Family Imposter Scam video. Hear the whole story at ago.vermont.gov/family-imposter
:30 – Avoiding the Business Imposter Email Scam video. Hear the whole story at ago.vermont.gov/business-imposter