Heartbroken & Broke: The Devastation of Online Scams on Seniors

The Wall Street Journal (Feliz Solomon) 06.02.24, published an article titled “She Hooked Me: How an Online Scam Cost a Senior Citizen His Life’s Savings.” It’s the true story of a man who fell victim to online seduction and paid a significant price. We want to think that such online scams are few and far between; however, our law firm has seen too many familiar cases of financial elder abuse.

Our team stands firm in fighting against such cons, and ultimately, we hope to see a reduction in this abuse. To bring more attention to cases like this in the hopes of helping more people recognize and prevent them, we’d like to summarize the story this article tells. Please keep in mind that this man’s unfortunate circumstance is that of many others, and it’s up to all of us to raise awareness about such online scams to help prevent them from happening to our loved ones and community members.

online scams

The Story Begins on Social Media

It started with a simple notification: an attractive LinkedIn user named Violaine expressed interest in connecting with the victim by complimenting his profile. Intrigued by her polite and appealing demeanor, the 75-year-old professional residing in the American Midwest responded. Little did he know, this interaction would spiral into a months-long ordeal in which he lost more than $715,000, which depleted his retirement fund and pushed him to the brink of suicide.

After photos and messages were exchanged on WhatsApp, the victim believed he was forming a true connection with the person behind the screen. In these cases, the person behind the screen is not who they say they are; it is usually men from dystopian compounds in parts of Southeast Asia and West Africa known as “scam dens.” Many scammers are facing their own extensive abuse, as they are often trafficked in, given scripts alongside fake profiles, and forced to commit fraud under the threat of violence. It’s truly a nightmare for all involved.

The Next Phase Unfolds

In just 48 hours, ‘Violaine’ initiated the scheme’s next stage: persuading him to invest money. She detailed her supposed wealth accumulation through trading gold futures, attributing her success to her uncle’s stake in a trading platform called FX6. She claimed a team of expert analysts could predict when values were about to jump. Further, she claimed to use an app called Fuex to trade in the market. Violaine capitalized on the victim’s lack of tech knowledge. She guided him through setting up a Fuex account and explained how to add funds to his digital wallet. She instructed him to chat with a Fuex agent to initiate the deposit, advising him to inform his bank he was transferring money to a friend. With Violaine’s persistence, he made his first deposit of $1,500 to a stranger’s bank account in Hong Kong.

The Scam Is Intensified

Romance and finance merged as Violaine introduced the “romantic plan”: jointly investing in a shared fund on the platform to enable the victim to leave his partner. They envisioned purchasing an RV and embarking on a California road trip together. Then, he began slowly transferring money he thought he was investing, each time increasing the amount. The victim’s bank staff warned him they saw signs of a scam, but he trusted Violaine, who told him exactly what to tell the bank to get them to carry out his transfers. The scammer even coaxed him to sell his mutual funds. Each time he deposited money, the app showed a similar deposit that he believed Violaine had made. By mid-July, their combined investments had grown to almost $1.5 million.

The Victim Is Heartbroken and Broke

Violaine intensified her deception by suggesting they purchase a house in her uncle’s Los Angeles neighborhood, signaling impending marriage. She convinced the victim to withdraw half of their trading account funds for a down payment, promising reimbursement upon her return to the U.S. When he attempted to withdraw $700,000 from Fuex, the scammers blocked the transaction, initiating the final phase of the scam. Unfortunately, victims are coerced into paying fees to reinstate their accounts, often resulting in further financial loss through loans or abandonment of their accounts.

At this point, the victim realized the scam, but he remained convinced of Violaine’s authenticity, even considering the possibility that she was coerced into deception due to human trafficking. Communication dwindled, but now and then, Violaine reemerges to ask for more money. Of course, the victim has stopped responding. He’s yet to trace where his money has gone. He said that every day, he tries again to access his Fuex account, but it remains locked.