This is a true victim’s account of an online Romance Scam.

My name is Jane Doe. I am not dead but I almost died last year. I was a victim of a “romance scam” by a man I met on e-Harmony and who scammed me out of over $1 million last spring.  I am going to tell you what happened and who I am today as a result of this financial reversal.

“I am not dead, but I almost died last year.” Jane Doe.

I am 63 years old and live in Los Angeles, California. I have a daughter in college; I have worked for over 35 years and I had a 401K-retirement account.  Five years ago, I lost my husband to cancer. Before my husband died, he made sure that we would be taken care of after he passed away. We were set financially.  I had no worries. I am a smart woman with decades of successful working experience.  I have made mistakes in my life but nothing like this. Ever. This was probably the worst and most devastating thing that has ever happened to me. The ripple effects have been so devastating and I have to deal with them almost every day of my life. However, my story doesn’t end when I realized I was scammed. It was actually the beginning of a new life.  A story of survival and hope had emerged since then.  I am here to tell this story and I am grateful to be alive to tell it. My hope is to help men and women to avoid being scammed this way, and to help them get their lives back if they have been a victim already. It’s not the end of your life if you have been scammed; you can survive. If you haven’t been scammed and you are doing online dating please beware, take precautions and be careful. You see, I didn’t even know that there were scammers on these sites. How would I know being married and not dating for over 20 years?

After my husband passed away, I made sure that I was available to my daughter.  I spent the next couple of years helping her navigate her way through her grief and her last two years of high school. When she went off to college, I finally decided that I would start to get out there, so I started going on dating websites. Actually, the first dating site I went to was E-Harmony. I was only on the site for a short time. Maybe a couple of months and then I met the scammer

I was with my husband for 17 years and we dated for about three years.  So I was out of the dating scene for a long time and from what I had heard, on-line was the way to go so I thought I would try it out.

While I was vacationing in Hawaii with some girlfriends, around April 24, 2015, I received a message from a very handsome man from Beverly Hills stating that he wanted to chat/or message me.  We messaged a few times and, within the first 24 hours, he asked me for my email address.  He emailed me a few times and then we exchanged phone number. He said he was from Paris but moved to Beverly Hills some time ago and was an engineer/consultant. We started communicating very quickly via phone and email and everything was moving very fast. At first, I could hardly understand him because of his thick accent. I even asked him to speak slower so I could understand more clearly and he would do that for me. I thought he was French but my niece, who later heard his voice, thought he was Nigerian.

When I returned from Hawaii, we were continuing to talk several times a day on the phone and email. He would send me long emails about his life, his business, and his daughter. He said that his wife died of cancer 5 years ago but cheated with his best friend prior to her getting sick and they divorced after the affair. His emails and description of himself were so real. He even constructed an email to me from his daughter who was supposedly studying at Cambridge University in the UK that was completely believable.  She stated how happy she was that we met and that now her dad wouldn’t be alone in that big house in Beverly Hills. She also told me that her dad thought I was so wonderful and that our relationship sounded so promising and that she was so happy we had met.  Of course, this was all a lie.

“Scammer often push to get their victims to communicate off dating website in an effort to isolate them.” Strat Maloma, AARP Fraud Watch Network.

As time went on, I couldn’t believe that I had met this wonderful man that was so kind, understanding, successful and very handsome.  We also had so much in common too. Or so I thought. He knew exactly what to say and brought things up with identical experiences. Little did I know that he was looking at my social media to learn all about my daughter and myself.

After several weeks of communicating, we started making plans to meet, but each time, something came up. He was sick with a terrible cold, he had to go to a meeting, he had important business to conduct and he got sick again. I thought to myself, well, it’s ok. I can wait. He’s not going anywhere.  Then, about 2 weeks after we had met, he sent me an email in the middle of the night saying he couldn’t sleep and something terrible had happened. He was very upset with his bank. He said that they had frozen his bank account because someone had sent him a payment for work he had done in Europe and they sent fraudulent money and they had to close/freeze the account. He said nothing like this had ever happened before and that he was beside himself. I replied to his email saying I was sorry to hear that and that it was terrible. A few days later, he informed me that he was going to Miami on a business trip and that we couldn’t meet but he would be back very soon and we would meet then. I was fine with that because I was working and traveling to. I didn’t think much of it. When he reached Miami, he told me he was in high-level meetings with some telecommunications leaders from Trinidad and he was attempting to secure a deal that would be great for him to get. He said that if he got the contract, it was going to be the last big job he was going to do and that retirement would be very soon.  The contract was for about $1M to replace an electronic cell phone service dish

While in Miami, he asked me for $7,500 because he couldn’t get access to his frozen bank account.  He said that the $7,500 was for purchasing some type of equipment to test the dish. I thought that it would be okay to send him the money to help him out. Several days after I sent that money, he asked for additional money and then more money and more money! Each time increasing the amount stating it was for this part and this piece and glass screws that cost $100K. While this was going on, he was professing his love for me, several times a day, stating that he couldn’t wait to come home so we could meet and start our lives together. I would send wires to what I thought were legitimate businesses in China and London. The payments were to electronic companies that reconfirmed that this was okay.  Between May 10 and July 10 I had sent over $1M to this man! He kept telling me that he was coming home but he wouldn’t.  In June, he sent me a promissory note stating that he would pay me back the money at 10% interest, in it; he listed his address and name in Beverly Hills. The letter seemed good and reassured me.  I even checked Been-Verified and his name and address matched.

“Don’t date a fictional character. Verify that the person is real. Do an online search to see if the things you read match up with his/her claims.” Sarah Barnard, Wise & Healthy Aging.

By the middle of June, I had sent him most of my money for his project in Trinidad. He was in the process of finishing the job of installing the glass screws, replacing the dish and programming the system. He would even tell me that he had a driver take him to the job site every day and how the government had him staying in an apartment and how they brought his meals to him. The lies just go on and on.

In, mid-June, I was laid off from my job and he told me not to worry because when he came back, he was going to retire too, and that we would be together. He said he would take me to France for a vacation and we could stay in his home there that was on the market.

Meanwhile, every day he would send me notes professing his love for me and I would be waiting anxiously for his calls and emails. I was totally brainwashed by this person. I can’t really explain the feelings but I was deep in this. I was losing weight, not eating or sleeping because he would call at all hours of the day and night. I started to become a physical wreck. There were times when I thought something was not right.  I would question him and he would start wooing me more and more and my doubts would go away. Once a week he would say that he was coming home and then he wouldn’t – something would go wrong with the project and he became delayed again. Then he said that the government was holding his passport because he owed some money to them for finalizing the job. By July 10, I sent him my last $110K from a retirement account. I had a very bad feeling that day and it wouldn’t go away. He knew it was the last of my money but he kept pushing and pushing me.  After he received the $110K, he started asking me for more money saying he had to pay for his apartment rental because the government wasn’t covering for the entire time. He said as soon as he gets home, he was going to his bank to get his account opened and that he had over $2M in the account and he would pay me back immediately. I started to get really frightened and drove by his house in Beverly Hills. I even took his picture with me. I got out of my car and asked a neighbor if they knew him. They said they just moved in and didn’t know him.

Romance scams start with fake profiles on online dating sites. The scammer, who is conveniently working abroad, quickly builds a relationship with the targeted victim, exchanging photos, romantic messages, or even talking by phone. Then they will make a request: money needed for an emergency or maybe to plan an in-person visit. The target sends money, and then never hears from the love interest again.

On July 14th, I went to my best friend’s office and closed her door. I told her that I think I completely messed up and sent this guy all of my money. I told her what happened from beginning to end.  We went on Facebook and found the name of the person that the scammer was impersonating, we also found his address.  It just so happened that the person he was impersonating was a prominent attorney in downtown Los Angeles.  I picked up the phone and called him and asked him not to hang up and to please listen. I told him that I had a promissory note from him stating that he would pay me back $872K. I knew at once that the note was not real and I had been sending money to someone that was not real. My heart sank and I became completely numb. I couldn’t think straight. My friend called a Sheriff she knew and she told him the story. He said to go to the Beverly Hills Police Department immediately and report the crime. When I told the Beverly Hills Police Department, they said they wouldn’t handle this type of crime because of the amount of the loss and I should go directly to the FBI office. While I was driving to the FBI office, my mind was racing 100 MPH and I was shaking. I knew that I wouldn’t be getting the money back and that it was gone. He was not real and I had been scammed! When I reached the L.A. FBI office, they would not let me in and I had to call them. I sat in the parking lot and made the call and spoke to an agent. I gave them as much information as I could over the phone and they told me to go home and complete a report online – an IC3 form on their website www.ic3.gov. I did that immediately.  After I reported it to the FBI, I was a complete emotional wreck. I had no feelings anymore for this person – they completely went away. I was in survival mode. I contacted my niece in Portland and she flew down to help me. I could barely function. Meanwhile, the scammer kept calling me, asking for more money to pay for his apartment bill and I just kept putting him off. The FBI said to stay in touch with him to see if he was going to fly in. They even said they would go to the airport to meet him with me but of course, that never happened. Now I know that I should have reported my case as soon as possible to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, www.ic3.gov. The IC3 website allows victims or their family members to file an online complaint on any Internet-facilitated crime, including romance scams. These complaints are available for all sworn law enforcement investigating a crime.

I spoke with the FBI almost every day for about two weeks and then they just stopped contacting me. I wrote a narrative about what had happened but they did say you will most likely never, get your money back, which I pretty much knew and accepted. I did call the FBI every month for about six months and did not even get a return phone call.  Their lack of response really upset and angered me.

About mid-August, I spiraled down emotionally into a very deep depression. I wanted to take my life. I remember sitting on my computer on a Saturday night, looking at the suicide prevention website and not wanting to live.  I had so much shame and guilt, it was unbearable! Only three of my friends knew what had happened, plus my niece, my daughter and me. I felt so alone and so depressed. I completely stopped talking to my friends because I didn’t know what to say to them. I didn’t want or need their judgment. I found a therapist and went for a couple of sessions and he helped me minimize what was going on. Telling me I was okay and helped me move forward.  He suggested not telling anyone for now because it would just traumatize me. There was so much to do. How was I going to pay for the lease on my car, credit card bills, doctor’s bills, my daughter’s college tuition and everything else!! I was completely overwhelmed.  I got a little part time job and then started to look for full-time work in September. I was hoping to go back to my old career but that did not happen.  Being 63, it’s not easy getting back in the job market but I kept trying. I looked vigorously for six months to no avail. I am still working part-time and making $11.75 per hour. My dreams of retiring and traveling have been smashed and are now gone.  I am adjusting to the new normal.  I have had to plea for financial aid for my daughter’s tuition, turned my leased car in and plead with Ford Motor Credit not to penalize me, plead for assistance with the doctor’s bills and changed everything in my life. I even have a roommate that helps pay the mortgage. Everything is different now. I have learned that, despite everything, I am a very resourceful woman and that I am strong. I also have learned that I can help other people that have been scammed by educating them about the potential danger of scammers on dating websites, what to look for and how to be careful. If I only knew what I know now, I wouldn’t be in this position. I have become a much humbler person and I believe in being more kind to others.  My priorities have completely changed and I am not the person I was. I try not to think too far ahead and stay in the present or I can get really frightened.

Last April I saw on the local nightly news that the FBI office in Los Angeles had started a romance scam task force. After I saw the news clip, I was infuriated.  I sat down and wrote the Director of the FBI a letter telling him my story and how I called once a month for six months and no one called me back. I told him that I wanted to take my life and that there was no support for victims like me. Let’s just say, I let him have it! Three days later I received a call from the special victims’ unit.  The lady that called me was a wonderful woman that wanted to meet with me and introduce me to another woman from the Wise Foundation.   I said yes and they came to my home and we talked for a long time about my story. The woman from the FBI apologized that no one called me back. She said that they are overburdened with these types of cases and someone should have referred me to her. We talked about setting up a support group for people that had been scammed like me and that we would do weekly calls lead by the Wise Foundation. It has been amazing to be on these calls and talk to others that have been scammed financially as well. It’s not about how much you have been scammed for, it’s about feeling completely raped and violated.  It’s about the manipulation techniques that they use. It’s the shame, the loss, the feeling alone and isolated and grieving.  On our support calls, we talk about how you can recover from this and how to move on with your life.  We talk about being targeted by these scammers and how would you have known this was the case if you had never been on a dating website like in my case.  We talk a lot about the huge shame that comes by being scammed and how to overcome this.  We also talk about being selective in who you share your story with because people can be so judgmental and say things like, “how could you be so stupid” when you didn’t even know what a romance scammer was.  I have personally experienced such comments.

I was very lucky to find a wonderful church last August that has helped me tremendously and has given me a safe place to go to. This has helped me as well.

Through the FBI and the Wise and Healthy Aging and our support group, we are all slowly healing. The kindness and love within our group is amazing.  Helping and supporting others through the most difficult and life-changing time in our lives has helped me heal and I will continue to do that as long as I live. I still have a long road ahead of me and I don’t know my future. I always thought that I would retire and travel but that is not really an option for me anymore. One thing for sure that I have learned is there are no guarantees in life. I am stronger than I thought I was and that I am a survivor.  Every day, I thank God for all of my blessings in my life and I am grateful for everything thing that has happened to me.

P.S – I have started going back on the dating websites in the past few months and have started to date. I pick out the scammers and report them immediately. There are about 50% that are not real profiles, I believe.  I have a lot more knowledge than I did a year and a half ago.

Per The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) if you, or if you suspect anyone you know, to have been a victim of an Internet crime scheme, file a report first and as soon as possible with FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, www.ic3.gov. The IC3 website allows victims or their family members to file an online complaint on any Internet-facilitated crime, including romance scams. These complaints are available for all sworn law enforcement investigating a crime

Contact the AARP Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork for more information on fraud prevention.