It’s happening all over the country, but especially in the black community. Gullible, kind-hearted African and Caribbean American women with hopes for a future filled with love, commitment and children are having their hearts and bank accounts drained by financial criminals posing as potential life-mates. Some lose tens of thousands of dollars in savings. Some lose houses. All are left feeling violated and with their emotional and financial lives in ruins.
Like me, many of these women meet their assailants through Internet dating services. They read about someone who might be the man of their dreams and take the time to date him and to get to know him, but all the while they are being systematically conned. Like me, too, many of these women work in nurturing professions but know little about the financial world. Many are nurses, pharmacists, or physicians’ assistants. A sister nurse in New York told me that she had met a man in church with whom she eventually married and had a son. She owned a house when she met this man. He encouraged her to sell the house so they could buy a new one as a couple. Once the house was sold the money was placed into a joint account. What she did not know was that her husband had opened a separate account with the same bank. He then linked the two accounts online and transferred the entire balance into his name. So the whole time they were out looking at new homes he was really preparing to run away with her money. One morning she woke to find him and her life savings gone forever.
What can be done to prevent these crimes? First of all, women must be more careful, wherever and however they meet their potential partners. They must learn to recognize telltale signs such as when a new partner appears to have no family and perhaps claims that they are all dead. Men in their 30’s or 40’s who claim that they have never been married and deny having any children may be telling the truth, but they may be looking for their next victim. Also, the con artist lover tends to be very generous at first and to talk passionately about social issues to gain his victim’s trust. In my case, the thief spent half his time on his cell phone taking phony “investment calls” and the other half telling me that my savings were earning too little return. I didn’t allow myself to consider that his other “investors” never appeared in person and probably never existed. I was too afraid of appearing “paranoid” or “untrusting.” Like thousands of other women, however, I learned that it is better to be overly cautions than to suffer devastating emotional and financial harm.
Secondly, legislators should work with banks and investment firms to establish more effective authorization procedures for account transactions, particularly where joint accounts are concerned. These days more and more investment accounts are managed online, and bank officials many never see their clients or be able to personally verify their involvement in transactions. Thus, many procedures that may presently require authorization from one party to an account should probably require authorization from both, and the mechanisms for verifying authorization need to be made as nearly infallible as possible.
Finally, both civil and criminal procedures for bringing the perpetrators of these crimes to justice and for recovering the assets they have stolen need to be strengthened. Police and prosecutors must abandon the attitude that financial crimes are not crimes and must stop hiding behind the conman’s excuse that “she gave him the money.” This way of thinking has neither moral nor legal justification and simply plays into the hands of thieves. Granted, the legal system requires evidence before justice can be done. However, district attorneys must accept the responsibility to act on victims’ claims and to actively assist them in assembling the financial records and other evidence they need to back up their testimony. They must prosecute these criminals aggressively, and legislatures must provide them with strong penalties that will give teeth to their actions. Similarly, civil courts must become more responsive to the evidence and testimony presented by these often otherwise helpless victims. The courts cannot erase the hurt that these women have suffered or teach them to trust again (within reasonable limits), but they can and must help these victims to recover their assets and their dignity so that they can restart their shattered lives.
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