This story is courtesy of our sister station WIVB in Buffalo, NY.
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Linda fell in love. “I’ve been made a fool of.” Beth says she’s been left financially devastated. “I trusted. I shouldn’t have trusted.” And Patty borrowed from friends and family to send her online suitor $55,000.
“I was truly, truly ignorant,” Patty said.
These three western New York women have three similar stories that began with hopes and dreams of finding Mr. Right.
Jennifer’s story inspired them to come forward
All three came forward after an investigative piece aired the story of Jennifer (not her real name), who said she sent $50,000 to a man she met on Match.com. He promised to come to Buffalo to be with her and return the money but he never showed up. Jennifer asked not to be identified for fear that it would jeopardize her career.
She was swept off her feet and fell in love with the words and voice of a man she never met in person. “I just fell. I just fell,” Jennifer recalled about the seven-month relationship. “I made a big mistake. It’s embarrassing. I feel foolish that I did it.”
She says he even proposed. “It was like a dream come true. And I’m an idealist maybe that I really felt that he was made for me. Honest to God.”
Men posed as wealthy businessmen
Linda, Patty and Beth say they too were contacted by men on a dating website and struck up a relationship. The men suggested they move to private email. There was talk of love and a future together.
Soon the women drained their savings sending thousands of dollars to someone they had not met in person and knew only by a name and photo.
“My adult children are very bitter. And I can understand how they feel. You know that, how can I make such a stupid, stupid mistake?” Patty asks.
Through email exchanges, the men posed as wealthy businessmen who lived in the United States but needed to be abroad to close a lucrative business deal. They told the women they would come to meet them as soon as their deal closed. But then a problem surfaced, a snag that resulted in their funds being frozen and their need for cash.
“He’s so convincing. So damn convincing. It’s unbelievable,” Linda says. She spent four years communicating with the man she met online.
Three of them went on Match.com
Linda still has the painful messages on her phone. “I love you so much Lyn and I will never let you down,” one message says. She told News 4 Investigates that their relationship began on a dating website then moved to emails and talking on the phone.
Early on Linda received flowers and pizza. But shortly after, he claimed he was ill and needed money to eat. She started sending money totaling thousands of dollars from her meager pension.
“I’m taking away from myself to try and help him out because I truly believed that this was all honest. Four years of my life and he’s just made a fool out of me,” Linda says.
Patty connected with her would-be lover on the dating website, Match.com
She says there were promises of love and happiness. “It just felt so good, you know, to have somebody say these things to you.”
Patty says he claimed to be in the business of diamonds and gold, and had recently been in the Buffalo area on business. Like the other women, her would-be lover was wealthy, worldly and “saying the right things.”
She says he was trying get shipments of gold back to the U.S., but was running short of money.
He needed money, she says, to come back and have a life with her. Eventually, she sent him every penny she had totaling almost $50,000.
And while she never met him, Patty cleaned out her annuity, maxed out a credit card, and then borrowed from a family member and a friend with promises to pay it back.
Patty says she even lied about why she needed the money.
“I have lost their trust. People that mean the very most to me. How could I do such a thing?” She’s now begun to pay them back
She took on debt to send him $14,000
Beth thought she was helping someone in need. He was a businessman sitting on a $1 million deal. He had the money and would come to her soon to repay her.
She thought the man she first met on New Year’s Eve on Match.com was the missing link in her life.
Beth never met him in person but sent him $14,000 — money she got from bank loans. She works full-time and will now add two part-time jobs just to pay it back.
“I’m never going to see that money again,” Beth says, her eyes filling with tears.
All she has left is email messages from him which reads, “I love you with every beating piece of my heart… you’re my everything, a dream come true.”
“I cared about him. I loved him,” she says.
She knows some people won’t understand why she did it. “They’re going to think, ‘How could she do this?’. I am a smart woman. I am. I’m intelligent,” says Beth, who was recently divorced.
“You open yourself up and by doing that you make yourself vulnerable and someone like this comes in and they take advantage of that.”
They missed the red flags
Now looking back, all three women say the warning signs were there all along, but they didn’t see them.
“I’m just outraged at myself that I let this happen,” Linda admitted.
By going public, Linda, Patty and Beth hope to spare others from the heartache and financial loss they’re dealing with.
“I’m coming forth on TV because I want other people to know how horrible this is,” Patty said.
Beth says she wants the world to see them as women who have been hurt. “If I can save one person from going through this that would make all the difference in the world.”
Match.com says it patrols site for fraud
Match.com confirmed that three of the four women had profiles on their web site (the fourth used another dating site). The suspicious profiles of the men were all blocked within days of their arrival on the site and in the case of the one woman who did report a concern to Match, the profile had already been blocked before she reached out.
A Match.com spokesperson released this statement:
“Scams like this are rare but very upsetting. We have a dedicated team that patrols the site for fraud and reviews each and every member profile to block IP addresses from high alert countries, stolen credit card numbers, and red flag language in profiles. These are sophisticated criminals always trying to find ways around our obstacles, so we also rely on our members to take common sense measures to protect themselves. Never send money to someone you haven’t met. Beware of quick declarations of love or attempts to move immediately to personal email accounts. And if you see any suspicious behavior, report the profile immediately so we can take action.”
FBI wants victims to report all internet fraud
The center collects cases, looks for trends and refers them to law enforcement.
The hope is for investigators to build the biggest case possible with numerous victims. While the FBI works some of the cases – those involving the largest group of victims and the most money – many are handled by local and state police. The FBI says cases can be prosecuted even if the victim willingly sends money to the predator.
“There is theft by deception that occurs online when people willingly give money to somebody,” says Brian Boetig, Buffalo FBI special agent in charge.
If you think you’ve been a victim of a romance scam please contact WKBN at email@example.com or 330-788-2456.