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Online Romance Scams Escalate, Triggering Suicidal Tendencies and Financial Ruin

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NEW YORK, USA – Internet romance scams are rapidly increasing in severity, extorting millions of dollars from victims and leading to a disturbing rise in instances of self-harm.

The consequences are far-reaching for victims like Norm Jones, a 54-year-old Silicon Valley professional who lost his life savings and retirement fund of $250,000 to such a scam.

Norm Jones at his friend’s house in Gilroy, Calif., on June 16. | Clara Mokri/NBC News

Online fraudsters have been exploiting the allure of quick wealth through cryptocurrency, using it as bait in their schemes.

According to an FBI report, Such scams, sometimes called “pig butchering” scams, induced losses amounting to $3.3 billion in 2022. This figure marks a more than twofold increase from reported losses in 2021.

The nature of these scams is emotionally devastating, as the scammers spend weeks or even months cultivating a fraudulent romantic relationship to gain their victims’ trust. Once trust is established, the victims are convinced to invest their savings into bogus schemes.

The Federal Trade Commission recorded a staggering $496 million lost to romance scams last year, a number believed to be an underestimation due to underreporting by victims.

Amy Nofziger, director of victim support for AARP’s Fraud Watch Network, regards the situation as a “public health crisis” that is not receiving sufficient attention.

The AARP is increasingly having to refer victims to suicide hotlines, she said.

Erin West, a deputy district attorney in Santa Clara County, California, expressed concern over the evolving nature of these scams.

“We describe it as a spell being cast over these victims. Despite hours on end with their banker, their children, or a law enforcement official, they can’t be talked out of this,” West said.

Victims, often experiencing feelings of intense desperation and humiliation, are increasingly resorting to self-harm.

Cases such as Jones and Joe Bleibtrey, who committed suicide after losing roughly $500,000 to a scam, exemplify the grim consequences of these schemes.

These alarming incidents coincide with what U.S. Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has labeled an “epidemic of loneliness and isolation.”

Heidi Kar, a senior mental health and trauma advisor, noted that romantic relationship dissolution and the threat of financial ruin are two major triggers for suicide, and as romance investment scams increase, more suicides are likely to occur.

Victims like Jones are now focused on recovery and spreading awareness about these scams to prevent others from suffering the same fate. “I’d be happy to help just one person in the world never go through what I went through,” he said.

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