DENVER — It appeared to be a developing relationship for many Coloradans, but it turned out to be all a lie — a very expensive lie.
According to a new Federal Bureau of Investigation report released Friday, more than 200 victims within Colorado and Wyoming lost over $32 million between October 2021 and January. Roughly 60% of the victims are over 60 years old, according to the FBI.
"He was so into me. It was really cool, and we talked for hours on the phone," Sam, a Colorado resident who believes she was being baited into a scam, said.
That's usually how the romance scam starts, according to the FBI. The scammers meet their victims on a dating app or social media, then spend time building trust and accessing personal identifying information and financial assets.
"I asked him, you know, 'Would you like to meet? Just for a quick meet in-person?' And he was very offended that I had suggested this," Sam said.
She tried to meet with him several times, but he refused.
"So I thought, okay this is pretty clearly not a real thing," Sam said.
According to the FBI, scammers often claim to live or work in other parts of the country or world to avoid meeting in person.
Romance scam victims' losses have risen to over $605 million. "These account for one of the highest amounts of financial losses as compared to other crimes facilitated by the internet," the report read.
Sam cut contact with the scammer immediately, something many others wish they did with their scammers in hindsight.
"It doesn't surprise me at all. It's so well put together," Denver resident Steve Belcher said. "The psychology and the social engineering and everything behind it is designed to drain you financially of everything that you have."
Belcher is speaking from experience. He was a victim of a "romance-investment scam" dubbed the Pig Butchering scam, losing his life savings of $1.6 million in November.
He met a woman on a dating app who convinced him to invest his money in a fraudulent app, which posed as a cryptocurrency exchange.
"It's devastating, emotionally, physically. There were days that I didn't want to get out of bed. I mean, it's just draining," Belcher said.
Denver7 News aired Belcher's story in December. Sam was lucky to be tuning in to the coverage that night.
"It was your story in December that went on the air right at the time that I was dealing with trying to figure out whether or not this man was legitimate or not," Sam said. "That's when I ... deleted his contact information, blocked his phone number. I never heard from him after that."
The FBI urges victims of romance scams and similar scams to file a report on the FBI's Internet Crimes Complaint Center.