Kim Novak as a fraudulent apparition in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo.”

When AI meets romance fraud, the man or woman of your dreams is an apparition that steals more than your heart

Jeff Elder
2 min readDec 21, 2019


Deepfakes who resemble exes or one night stands may be the leading men and ladies in the next level of crimes of the heart

More than identity theft, more than ransomware, romance fraud and other con games steal from the vulnerable people of the world. The FBI says the cost in 2018 was $363 million — behind only business email fraud as the costliest cybercrime.

The culprits often pose as a suitor on dating sites, and slowly drain the bank accounts of victims whom they charm but usually never meet. The FBI says one Houston woman sent her online lover “Charlie” $2 million — even though he didn’t exist except in the messages from two fraudsters now serving three years in prison.

FBI Special Agent and fraud investigator Christine Beining said many victims just want to be loved, and overlook clues or even warnings from actual loved ones.

The Houston victim told the FBI she came forward “because I don’t want this to happen to anybody else. I not only invested money in this man but there is a big, huge piece of my heart that I invested in him,” she said. “It’s not just the finances, it’s the emotional part, too — being embarrassed, being ashamed, being humiliated.”

The smoke and mirrors of fake dating site profiles are nothing, experts say, compared to the “deepfake” artificial intelligence personas coming to the world of romance fraud.

Maria, the robot beauty of “Metropolis.”

Researchers say scammers could recreate an ex-lover online and manipulate a victim’s lingering affections, or pose as a rejected lover from a one-night stand to extort money from the wealthy. Or create a person from what victims have described as their dream lover.

Gaslighting has been part of the human tragedy forever — at least since a gigolo named Lao Ai in the third century BC tried to con the widowed queen of China (and was executed). But it may have never been so sophisticated, mind-bending, or cruel.

Fraud researchers say victims of deepfake romance fraud suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome and lose faith in humanity upon discovering that the love of their life is an apparition run by a criminal.

The FBI says one basic rule can cut through almost all romance fraud: Insist on meeting your suitor in real life and with family and friends present before getting serious – or exchanging money and information.



Jeff Elder

Former WSJ reporter and syndicated columnist now writing crypto and cybersecurity. The Paris Review praised my Johnny Cash post.