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June 13--  Some area citizens are being victimized by what is being called a "Sweetheart Scam."

Lisa Strickland is the branch manager of Ameris Bank in Vidalia, "I would venture to say that ninety percent of them are in the senior citizen category and the majority we seem to have dealt with are widows," she said, and added  "It can reach into the thousands of dollars.  I would say in our local area it's more than $100,000. It's so sad for someone who has worked all their life and their money is just flying out the window.".

According to Strickland, the victims have been contacted on-line or via telephone and are drawn into a relationship over a period of time, "Obviously they're not going to start out asking for money or asking for help.  They carry on these communications and it develops and once they know they've got them emotionally invested, it's very hard to deter anything.  You try to persuade them that this person is not being honest, but they're already invested emotionally or they're embarrassed that they could have been the victim of such a scam," she said.

Strickland says the bank is alerted to possible scams when a large withdrawal is made from an account or when money is wired overseas, "The scam is usually when that person is out of the country or they tell the victim they are out of the country  and they need to get home or their luggage is out of the country and they need to get it home.  There are different scenarios and it may start out as a small dollar amount and then it just adds up," she reports.

The branch manager estimates up to ten of their customers have been scammed in the last year, "It was so on our hearts here at the branch.  We're just so saddened by the victims who have fallen to this because they have worked all their life and what they thought they had was this relationship," she said.

And she has some advice if you have family members living alone, "If you have a loved one or know of someone who is computer savvy, I would caution them about on-line relationships, period!"



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