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Thursday, Jul 27, 2017
Local News

Romance Predators Are Easy To Detect, Expert Says

TAMPA - While police in Tampa, Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire try to unravel the tangled path of Jordan Gann, who is accused of being a conman, a portrait of romance predators and their prey emerged today. "At best, he's anti-social," said Joe Navarro, a retired Tampa FBI profiler who has written five books and gives lectures around the world on criminal behavior. "At worst, he's a psychopath." Serial defrauders are much like serial killers and rapists, he said. They tend to be smart and articulate and can change their personae at a moment's notice. One thing is constant, Navarro said. The consummate conman, "repeatedly violates human rights and criminal law."
Navarro admits he has never met Gann nor has any knowledge of the case. But he has documented similar types of offenses and come up with a profile of the romance scammer. "They have a real ability to be chameleon-like," he said. "They can present themselves in any way to get people to do things for them." They are predators, there is no doubt, he said. They are not interested in forming relationships or taking care of people. They are in it either for the power, sex or money and they don't exhibit remorse or anxiety about their deeds, Navarro said. Tampa police on Sunday arrested Gann, 26, of Massachusetts, on a warrant charging him with felony organized fraud. A fraud warrant has been issued in New Hampshire also, and authorities in Washington are investigating a complaint made by a woman there who said Gann gained her confidence and then stole her money. Here, police say Gann swindled a Bay area woman out of $750 by offering to help her with financial difficulties if she first opened a joint online bank account. Tampa police Detective Curtis Smith said Sunday that he had fielded about 50 calls from people in Florida about the case but he could not say how many victims there were. Navarro suspects there are more victims than have stepped forward. Serial criminals don't get to ply their trade if they are not smart about it, Navarro said. "The brighter they are, the easier they can con people," he said. "They can assess a victim and become whatever that victim needs, within minutes. They can quickly adapt and use all exploitable weaknesses." Victims can also fall into certain personality profiles, Navarro said. Many are anxious to find a handsome, well-spoken, educated mate and the better looking they are, the more dangerous they can be, Navarro said. "We call it the halo effect." The victims are not always needy or clinging types. They can be professionals, well spoken, educated, he said. Whatever weakness they might have, a crafted romance predator can recognize and exploit them. People embarking on new relationships should be wary all the time, Navarro said. "They should be leery of any relationship that moves too fast. They should take a step back and evaluate it." Navarro said people entering relationships should introduce the new mate to as many friends as possible, "to get their assessments as well." Predators tend to try to keep victims away from friends and family as much as possible. "The more people they [predators] are exposed to, the greater chance they will be exposed," he said. People should verify prior employment or schools or neighborhoods of new mates, to make sure the person they are entering into a relationship with is who they say they are, Navarro said, especially if the relationship is moving fast. "I've seen people who spend more time researching what kind of refrigerator they are going to buy than the guy they are allowing into their apartment," he said. Potential victims should ask to visit and talk to the family members of the new person in their lives. Predators always deny family and don't talk about their past much, he said. Other telling behavioral traits include: The new mate constantly bringing up the subject of money and disappearing for periods of time and being unreachable. It pays to be cautious, he said. "You have to be suspicious," he said. "You are letting this person into your life. The con method is known as a romance scam, said Annie McGuire, head of the not-for-profit Fraud Aid organization in Washington state, which began eight years ago to address frauds of all shapes and sizes. "Romance scams," McGuire said, "are as common as dirt." They are used by bums in rural trailer parks, she said, as well as by sophisticated con artists in country clubs and high society. The victims in the Tampa, Washington, D.C., and New Hampshire cases, she said, "are lucky their accounts were the only things that got cleaned out. Usually the house and property and you name it are gone as well." Romance frauds are not limited to any social stratum, she said. "They come from all over the place," McGuire said. They can range from felons hiding under a fake ID who need a trailer to bunk in for a while to ones who go after the wealthy widows and divorcees. And they come at them from all over the world." She echoed Navarro's list of how to protect oneself from being defrauded by a potential paramour.
"People can protect themselves easily," she said, "But they often refuse to." Running background checks, she said, is a signal to the new mate that there is no trust between them, she said, and that's why many potential victims balk at doing that. "It's not a question of trusting somebody," she said. "It's a question of trusting somebody too quickly. It's a question of allowing one's desires, hopes and dreams to supersede a cold hard look."

Reporter Keith Morelli can be reached at (813) 259-7760 or at kmorelli@tampatrib.com.

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