He had taken $23,000 of her life savings and made her hock her jewelry.
But even now, 83-year-old Kathy thinks a civil engineer from Washington named Fred, who chatted her up online and promised marriage as long as she wired money to Malaysia, loves her.
“To this day, she does not consider herself to be a victim,” said Kathy’s son Dave Weil. “To this day, she thinks this guy is real.”
Weil described how his mother was part of an online dating scheme during an FBI press conference Monday in West Los Angeles, which was held to warn the public about an increase in financial scams targeting the lovelorn.
Dubbed by the FBI as “Operation Romeo and Juliet,” more Americans of all ages who subscribe to online dating services are being lured to give their hearts, then convinced to part with their money, said David Bowdich, assistant director in charge of FBI’s Los Angeles Field Office.
“These arrangements only end up in heartbreak,” said Bowdich, who was flanked by officials with the Internal Revenue Service, the state Attorney General’s Office and several investigators with local law enforcement agencies.
Bowdich said anyone can be duped, from older people such as Kathy who just want companionship, to young men who fall for photos of pretty girls to people in the LGBT community. But unless online dating users recognize the warning signs and come forward quickly, the crimes are hard to stop and the perpetrators difficult to catch.
Bowdich said the FBI is in contact with dating sites but the agency is more interested in educating the public with some advice:
•Do not send money to someone you have not met and have no reason to trust.
•Never provide your personal information, including your bank account information, to someone you do not know or trust.
Online dating schemes are part of several increasing trends online, Bowdich said. Another is called the “Business Email Compromise” or BEC scams where hackers target businesses that typically conduct wire transfers.
“Victims range from large corporations to tech companies to non-profit organizations,” Bowdich explained, and there are all kinds of ways online predators do it. Sometimes, businesses are asked by those who they think are their typical vendors to wire money to an alternate, fraudulent account. Another scam involves mimicking a CEO’s e-mail address, which is then used to fool an employee in the company responsible for processing wire transfers.
From October 2013 through February of this year, there were more than 17,600 victims amounting to $2.3 billion in losses, according to the FBI. Other scams include fooling human resources staff to e-mail employee W-2’s to a CEO asking for the information. In this case, the CEO’s e-mail has been hacked. Nationwide, 11 companies already have been victimized, five of them in Los Angeles, said Anthony Orlando, acting special agent in charge for the Internal Revenue Service Los Angeles office.
Bowdich advised if fraud is suspected, members of the public should call the FBI right away at 310-477-6565 or go to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.
Sometimes, online dating schemes and B.E.C. scams intersect. Tim McMurray, a 61-year-old Gardena man, said he almost became what’s called a “money mule” when he met a woman on Match.com in late December.
She charmed Tim, but luckily for him, the FBI stepped in. The woman wanted to marry McMurray and that made him suspicious.
“I’m a man. I appreciate good looking women,” McMurray said. “But I’m a simple guy. I get simple-looking women. When the most beautiful woman in the world wanted to marry me, it was too good to be true.”
McMurray said he worked with the FBI and sure enough, the woman wanted to deposit $53,000 into his bank account, and have him send it to an address in Georgia. The woman, if she was a woman the FBI said, was part of a B.E.C. ring that had taken money from a Beverly Hills company and wanted to use McMurray to help them.
McMurray said he went online to meet a nice lady as a promise to his dying mother, but he learned a lesson.
“I’m looking for ugly,” he said.
This article originally appeared LA Daily News.