Relationship Fraud: The Truth Behind a Devastating Crime

February 12, 2024 by Debby Montgomery Johnson

Photo: Debby Montgomery Johnson, Fraud Awareness & Victim Support Advocate

Relationship fraud and other confidence schemes exploit people in their most vulnerable moments. Motivated by greed and perpetrated through deceit, the truth is that these scams deeply affect victims and their entire support system.

Romance scams, a form of relationship fraud, are a case in point. After surviving a $1 million romance scam, I felt this trauma firsthand—from the financial loss to heartbreak and weight on my family in the wake of a scam that lasted over two years of my life. After this harrowing experience I found a new passion—supporting victims, building awareness of the threat from online scammers, and advocating to help others avoid being drawn into these unconscionable crimes.

I’m thrilled to contribute to this blog in collaboration with Verafin as part of that aim—to discuss the impacts of romance scams for victims and their families and underscore the important role of financial institutions in the fight against relationship scams.

Beyond Financial Loss: The Impacts of Relationship Fraud

Relationship fraud is often perpetrated by criminal organizations located overseas with vast networks. Their members are well-trained, undeterred by the consequences of their actions, and will take extreme measures to deceive their victims, even feigning crises to add urgency to their scams. As the fraudsters pursue profit at all costs, victims are manipulated until they have nothing more to give, often turning to family or friends once their funds have been depleted. I borrowed over $100,000 from my parents—and slowly started to isolate myself from others, even my sons, as I grew to trust the scammer I thought was my new family.

Beyond monetary loss, the repercussions of these frauds are immeasurable—from psychological and emotional distress to a cycle of self-blame, and even physical harm. Victims often struggle with denial and anger as they come to terms with the gross violation of trust that these scams represent, and that their relationship with the scammer was a fraud. When my scam experience ended, I felt alone—and with my trust in people challenged, I needed support on the road to recovery.

Recovery & The Role of Financial Institutions

The journey to recovery can be lengthy and challenging—and is only hindered by the burden of shame that victims feel all too often. The financial industry can play a key role in empowering victims of relationship fraud and their recovery by uncovering instances of potential exploitation at the earliest opportunity, and helping victims regain financial control.

If you suspect your online relationship is a scam, cease all contact and report the incident immediately to your local law enforcement, your financial institution,, the FTC at and the FBI at

I’m excited to explore this important topic further in an upcoming webinar with Verafin expert Colin Parsons, Surviving a $1M Romance Scam: A Personal Perspective for Financial Institutions. You can register for this event here.


More About Debby Montgomery Johnson 

Victims Advocate, Founder of The Woman Behind the Smile, Inc, Director.

Debby Montgomery Johnson, #1 Best Selling Author, International Speaker, Entrepreneur, and a Podcast host, is a woman on a mission. In her book, “The Woman Behind the Smile” she shares her personal experience with a “love” that turned into betrayal and financial disaster, and she removes the mask of shame and shows others how to do the same.

Debby’s background is diverse from working as a paralegal and senior bank branch manager to being a U.S. Air Force Intelligence Officer serving at the Pentagon and with The Defense Intelligence Agency. She is regularly called upon for expert commentary about relationship fraud.

Debby encourages anyone who has been a victim of a relationship fraud to contact the Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams (SCARS) for support.

Nasdaq Verafin provides cloud-based Financial Crime Management Technology solutions for Fraud Detection, AML/CFT Compliance, High-Risk Customer Management, Sanctions Screening and Management, and Information Sharing. More than 2,500 financial institutions globally, representing more than $8T in collective assets, use Nasdaq Verafin to prevent fraud and strengthen AML/CFT efforts. Leveraging our unique consortium data approach in targeted analytics with artificial intelligence and machine learning, Nasdaq Verafin significantly reduces false positive alerts and delivers context-rich insights to fight financial crime more efficiently and effectively. To learn how Nasdaq Verafin can help your institution fight fraud and money laundering, call 1-877-368-9986.