My friend, I'll call him Nick even though it's not his real name, lives in one of those sprawling retirement villages in southern Florida. He's often sending me photos of nubile and often scantly clothed women. Excitedly telling me in the message that this one (like the previous three or four) is the woman for him.
I try to explain to him that, not only is the photo not of the person he's texting with, the person doesn't live where they say they do.
Notice I say ''they" - not because I'm trying to be politically correct. But because, for all "Nick" knows, he may be talking to a man. Man or woman, there's a good chance the person is in Ghana.
I say that with some degree of certainty because in Ghana there are computer banks where workers reach out to lonely men from developed nations. They send them ''their" photo. They profess their love. And then, they ask for money.
In 2013, Vice News visited one of these centers in Ghana and documented the work they do. You can see that story here.
I asked Nick if they ever asked for money. "Not at first," he replied. "Let me guess," I said. "It's usually on the fifth call that they ask for cash." He was amazed and asked how I knew. It's all part of the formula revealed in the Vice piece. Gain the guy's trust. Develop a connection with him. Don't mention money too quickly. But you can on the fifth contact.
Fortunately each time Nick parted company with the person before he parted with his money. But many people aren't so fortunate. They are so desperate for romance. And who'd have thought that such a lovely young lady would be interested in a senior citizen? They thank their lucky stars and go to a money transfer app and hit ''send."
This is what the FBI calls a romance scam. And according to the feds, it's big business.
According to the FBI, scammers often propose marriage and talk about meeting in person. But, according to the feds, "that will never happen." And eventually they ask for money.
The Federal Trade Commission says the romance scam tops the list of successful con games. The FTC says the median amount romance scammers walk away with is $2,600. That's about seven times higher than other frauds.
So what prompted me to write this?
I was sitting in a chatroom yesterday listening to people play music when I received a message from someone calling themselves "Clety." She (or he) tried her best to reel me in. She even quickly professed her love. So I decided to ask her some questions. The ones I asked about where she claimed to live were especially enlightening.
She first said she was in California. Then she said she was in Arizona. When I asked her which one it was, she told me she lived in the town of Arizona in California. So I suggested that before she claimed she's an American she should first know the geography.
It wasn't until after I told her I believed she was really in Ghana that she stopped responding.
I guess in Ghana $2,600 is a lot of money. But for senior citizens on fixed incomes in Florida it's a lot of money too.
You can learn more about romance scams and how to avoid them by visiting this site run by a watchdog group.