Even smart people get taken for a ride
I think of myself as a smart guy — at least I am most of the time. I guess I’m halfway intelligent when I don’t open my mouth before I have thought about what I am going to say. I mean, I got good grades in school and can do my own taxes — that has to mean something.
But, believe it or not, I was scammed online.
Back in 2010, I was a broken and lonely shut-in. I rarely left the house after my divorce. I made sure I had everything I needed so I wouldn’t have to interact with anyone. I was frightened to go out because my mental illness had me convinced I was no longer part of the world around me.
My only window to the world was the internet.
I was a completely different person on the web. I had several websites and blogs. I was active on Facebook and I chatted with people on Yahoo! Messenger.
That was where I ran into trouble.
One day, someone sent me a “Hello!” I don’t usually speak to people I don’t know, but for some reason that day, I responded. Her name was Sally, and from her picture, I could tell she was a beautiful woman.
(I know what you are thinking, but you have to understand two things: back then I wasn’t as savvy as I am now. I was a little more naive and expected people to be honest. And. second, I am in fact an idiot, if that explains anything.)
Throughout that day and the next, we talked back and forth. I found out Sally was from London and stayed with her mother, who she took care of (she was unemployed). We exchanged email addresses and sent pictures to each other. She was quite a bit younger than I, but she didn’t seem to mind, so neither did I.
At this point, you have to understand this situation from my side of it. I was a 40-year-old guy who never left his house and hadn’t flirted with anyone for years. I was incredibly lonely, and when you are in that position, you are more than willing to believe anything someone tells you, especially if she is a beautiful woman.
I had no idea that there were people on the internet who become romantically involved with suckers like me and scam money from them. I didn’t know these people could be so good at what they did that they could convince a grown man that a young lady from London was interested in a relationship with them.
I had no clue that something was wrong. As far as I knew, I was in a long-distance relationship with a delightful woman. We chatted almost daily and became very close.
At least that’s how I thought it was.
One day, I had the urge to speak to Sally on the phone. I wanted to hear the voice of the woman who had stolen my heart in such a short time.
When I brought it up, she made an excuse about not having a phone. I asked if there was a payphone nearby, and she said there wasn’t. I was confused, but the warning bells didn’t go off — I thought she was making excuses because she was shy.
Sally (or whoever was posing as Sally) must’ve started to worry I was getting suspicious because this was the point when the scam took a turn. The next day, Sally sent an email asking me to send some money so she could pay her electric bill.
This request was the first time I had an inkling something was amiss. I didn’t feel like I knew Sally well enough that she could ask me for money. I didn’t respond right away, so she quickly contacted me on chat. She had a compelling story about why she didn’t have the money to pay her bills and how she had no one else to turn to right now. You see, her mother was sick, she needed medication, and she would have to use the money for her electric bill to buy it. If I could help her this time it would mean a lot to her.
Despite my misgivings, I sent her $100. It was all I had.
The next few days she was talkative and loving. She kept thanking me for helping her out, and for the first time, professed her love for me.
Any doubts I had were gone because Sally loved me. All was right in the world. We chatted every day, but never spoke on the phone. I wasn’t worried because she explained how shy she was.
Evidently, I must have passed whatever test scammers use to decide if you are a sucker because a few days later she asked for more money. Her mother had taken a turn for the worse and was in the hospital. She needed $500 right away because the hospital was demanding payment for expensive medication.
Immediate warning bells went off in my head. I was sure that healthcare was free in London, but I thought maybe this was a unique situation. She was in constant contact with me all that day, pressuring me to send her the money as quickly as I possibly could.
The main problem was I had no money. It was probably a good thing too because if I had the money, I might have sent it to her.
She was distraught, but I was firm. I had no money to send her. As sorry as I was, there was nothing I could do.
At this point, I think the scammer may have realized that they hadn’t picked their mark well because as they just found out, I had no income and no savings. But, not giving up, they decided to change tactics and try one last thing.
She didn’t contact me for a few days. I thought she was upset with me for not sending the money. You have to understand I thought I was in a relationship with Sally and that she loved me. It was very upsetting for me that I couldn’t help her, even if I was having some doubts about her.
These scammers know exactly which buttons to push.
A few days passed and I received a message from Sally. Her mother was dying and needed to be taken to a hospital in Germany. She needed $10,000 immediately, or her mother would die.
Sally (the scammer) was putting all her chips in the pot.
I put aside my feelings and started to think about the situation — small things I overlooked started to become significant. Parts of her story that I ignored because I was in love now started to fill in the missing pieces of the puzzle.
I don’t know why I hadn’t done it before, but I turned to Yahoo and Google. After a few hours, I knew everything I needed to know.
I wasn’t the only one being scammed. Sally was just one of the names these scammers used to trick unsuspecting men. The mistake they made was that they used the same pictures with all of us, so we were able to make the connection. They also used the same story. They had to keep the woman in London because if we (the targets) had to send the money to Nigeria (where they were based) we would have been suspicious.
When I sent Sally the money, I sent it through Western Union to an address in London, so they must have someone who lived there to collect the money. It was a very neat scam, and it had worked for quite some time.
I was lucky - I only sent her $100. Some of these poor souls lost thousands.
I made a statement to the lawyer handling the case for this group of men I met, and they handed all the information off to the FBI. During this whole time, they failed to tell me not to talk to the scammers again.
I had one last conversation.
I told “Sally” that I knew this was a scam, but until the very end, she (they?) denied everything. She cried about how she loved me and wanted to marry me, and I was just mistaken about her. She begged me — please, please, send her the $10,000, because her mother needed it. She held on to her part, and I finally logged off and blocked her in chat and on my email.
That was the last time I heard from “Sally.”
I haven’t told many people about this event in my life because I was and am still ashamed I could be stupid enough to fall for something like this. I found out that many people who fall for this sort of thing don’t even report it.
I understand why.
The other reason why people like me don’t talk about this is we truly are in love with the person who was scamming us. When feelings are high, there are no lengths we wouldn’t go to please the one with who we think we are in love.
What’s most amazing to me is that I didn’t become jaded. A year after this, I met the love of my life on the internet, and if I had let this scam ruin me, I never would have.
Thank goodness I learned my lesson.
It was a hard one to swallow.