The (ODFR) Oregon Division of Finance is warning people about art market catfish scams. (A “catfish” scam lures a victim into an online relationship using a fictional online persona.)
Recently, the ODFR reported that an 80-year-old widower was catfished out of $200,000. An unidentified fraudster stole a Florida woman’s identity to befriend the widower through an online dating service and persuaded him to send money for a business opportunity.
Over several months, the con artist convinced the elderly man that they were in a long-distance romantic relationship and proposed an opportunity to support an art gallery in Florida.
The scammer pretended to seek investors to cover $5 million in transportation costs to ship a 500-ton marble lion sculpture from China. The con artist promised that investments would be returned plus a percentage of the profits from the sale of the sculpture.
The widower even received fabricated documents detailing the contract with the museum and bank statements. Relying on the documents and his romantic relationship, the victim made a series of payments over five months to various individuals and overseas bank accounts totaling more than $200,000.
The widower lost his entire investment, and investigators have been unable to locate the scammer.
“Romance scams typically target older individuals, gain their trust, then ask for money through social media and dating websites,” said Andrew Stolfi, division administrator. “Unfortunately, victims often wire funds overseas or to third-party transfer agents, making it difficult to track the money and identify the con artist.”
The ODFR encourages consumers to do their homework before making any investment and recommends following these tips: do not send money to anyone you have not met in person, and be cautious about sharing personal or financial information; do not transfer money to unknown people or intermediaries; if you need to use a third party to send money, use a licensed money transmitter; and keep copies of all communications with scammers and report them to the division, the online dating site, the local police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Federal Trade Commission.
Originally published in the April 2020 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2020 Maine Antique Digest