NASHVILLE, TN (WSMV) – The Tennessee victim of a romance scam is speaking out about the experience and giving other people tips to avoid this fake love fiasco.

Romance scams already top the list as one of the costliest types of scams. People lost about $201 million dollars last year.

With many people feeling lonely because of the COVID-19 pandemic, many believe that number is going to grow soon.

"I cried for days. I mean, it was like, I know he's not real now, but at the time, he was very real to me," Cathy Gover said.

Cathy Gover felt the loneliness many experience after losing a spouse. She wanted to love again and logged onto the site Plenty of Fish.

"I met this gentleman," Gover said

He told her his name was "Marc."

"There were no red flags at all," Gover said.

They started texting.

"And then suddenly he had to go overseas for a contract in Singapore. When he got to Singapore. He got sick," Gover said.

"Marc" told her he tested positive for COVID. She says she sent him money for medicine.

"And he ends up in supposedly an ICU in Singapore. On life support. The friend needs to fly out there. He's short of money to get there. So, I sent him money to pay for the ticket," Gover said.

Gover says Marc and his friend suddenly disappeared.

She started getting suspicious and did some digging. She says she got a shock when she found his photo online.

"I clicked on his picture. Clicked on an alias. And that's when my world came crashing down," Gover said.

Marc wasn't who he said he was. Turns out he was using a photo of a different man who lives over 4,000 miles away.

“He was a pastor in Brazil!!!! And his best friend’s picture was of an evangelist in Brazil!! These people had no idea that their pictures of them and their family was being used in a romance scam," Gover said.

"With the pandemic going on and with everybody at home, it's like the perfect storm for scammers. And so, they're at home too. They're contacting people all different ways this year," David McClellan, President of socialcatfish.com said.

Socialcatfish.com is a website to help those in Cathy's situation.

https://socialcatfish.com/

“The amount of times that they’re being contacted in a day, has increased dramatically. And these are like the prime demographic. 45-65 years old. Tend to be females. Some of them are widowed or divorced--and they tend to be that breeding ground that scammers go after," McClellan said.

Gover just wants to warn others how to protect their heart and not get caught up in a fake romance.

"I wanted to speak out and let people know what's going on, because it's not getting any better. It's getting worse.

McClennan also says the others who lose out in all of this are those who have their photos stolen, so make sure you also protect your social media accounts.

Here are a few tips from the FTC that you need to know so that you're not caught up in a fake romance:

Number 1: Slow Down and Talk to someone you trust.

Number 2: Never transfer money from your bank account, buy gift cards or wire money to an online love interest. You won't get back.

Number 3: Contact your bank right away if you think you've sent money to a scammer.

The FTC recommends that consumers file complaints with both the FTC by clicking here and the FBI by clicking here.

For more information on Romance Scams, click here

The Better Business Bureau also conducted a thorough study on Romance Scams in 2018. To view that report, click here

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