BRATTLEBORO -- A Townshend woman has lost more than $8,000 in an online dating scam, prompting police to warn that such fraud is becoming more frequent and more sophisticated.
Police also noted a recent Dummerston case in which an older woman stopped just short of wiring more than $3,000 to a con artist who claimed the victim’s grandson needed help.
"These scammers are very clever people. They’re very inventive," said Sgt. Christopher Buckley of the Vermont State Police Brattleboro barracks.
"As fast as law enforcement tries to keep people notified, there’s someone new coming up with something better than before," he said.
Buckley has extensive experience with such cases. But the online dating angle was new to him.
Police said a Townshend woman had for months maintained an online relationship with a man who, at some point, began to request cash.
"The male subject convinced the female to send money via Western Union to a subject in Maryland," police said in a press release.
The victim initially sent $1,900 and then parted with larger sums, police said. Her losses exceeded $8,000, and Buckley said that fits a common scam pattern.
"They kind of warm you up," he said. "They start with small amounts, and then they work up."
Buckley also noted that many dating sites make an effort to keep scammers out. The Townshend case shows that such measures are not always successful.
The Dummerston case was a more traditional phone scam: A woman received a call from a purported attorney claiming that her grandson needed help after a car crash.
"The caller stated that the family member needs money for legal expenses and to repair the other person’s vehicle," police said. "They ask to have the money wired to them."
Buckley said the victim almost went through with the transfer.
"She went into the Price Chopper to send the money, and an alert clerk advised her to call her grandson," Buckley said.
Buckley said such cases are widely varied - he said Craigslist.org users are a frequent target - and are difficult to investigate. He mentioned a previous case that led to a dead-end address.
"One of these I tracked to Florida, and it was a burnt-out warehouse," Buckley said.
He added that, because scam victims often feel ashamed, they may not notify police.
"The unfortunate thing is, a lot of these go unreported," he said.
Buckley recommended a website - www.IC3.gov - for the Internet Crime Complaint Center. It has an extensive list of tips to avoid becoming a victim of online fraud, and the site also allows victims or third parties to file a complaint.
Buckley also recommends consumer protection information on the Vermont attorney general’s website: www.atg.state.vt.us.
Information is the best weapon against online and phone fraud, Buckley said.
"You’ve got to really know who you’re talking to," he said. "You have to research each specific issue."
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.