Instead of finding love, many online daters are left deceived and heartbroken. The FBI’s San Diego branch stated it deals with more than 1,000 “Catfishing” cases a month. Here’s a candid account of one such scam.
By Judi Curry
For months I have been experimenting with “on-line” dating. As each of the paid sites have finished, I have not renewed my membership. However, there are two dating sites that I still frequent, because there is no money needed for membership. I want to talk specifically about OK Cupid.
Loneliness is getting the better of me. There are days that I am so blue I wonder why I should ever get out of bed. I am so close to completing my third cookbook, yet I have not completed a chapter in it for more than 11 months. I have missed deadline after deadline. The book I am writing about on-line dating is waiting for its “final chapter” – which I thought I had just hours ago. But, alas, I have been had, and I don’t like that feeling either.
I was sent a message from Tom on OK Cupid. He said he was a widower; both his wife and his daughter were killed by a drunk driver more than five years ago. He had not dated since, but felt it was time to begin his life again. I commiserated with him, because I had lost my husband four years ago and know the emptiness that widowhood brings. Thus began daily, sometimes hourly conversations, with Tom.
He was excited because he had written a proposal to an oil company to deliver gas that would not harm the environment to different countries. He was one of 18 that had made the proposal; and was in the top five to be awarded the contract. He told me he was going to go to Las Vegas where the contract would be awarded, and that if won he would have to leave the country for 6 months to deliver his product. Three days later he called me from Las Vegas telling me that he won the huge contract ($5.8 million), and that instead of flying back to San Diego, where I was going to pick him up at the airport, he would have to fly directly to New York and sign all the necessary contracts. Once in New York he called me to tell me he would be flying directly to Nigeria and would not be coming back to San Diego until May or June. Dumb me. I fell for it, and when he called me with a Nigerian telephone number, I never gave it another thought. (When the phone rings, a voice tells me that I have reached Nigeria and to press buttons for different selections.)
I was so enamored with Tom. I was so sure that what he was telling me was true. He sent me letter after love letter, and they were so wonderful that I shared them with many of my friends. He told me he had a home in Imperial Beach, and when we got married upon his arrival back here we would live in both houses, his house and mine. After all, he has a jacuzzi in the master bedroom, and I have a pool outside mine.
The pictures he sent me were of a handsome, handsome man. Beautiful blue eyes; well manicured beard and mustache; and such a way with words. They were beautiful. Sometimes we would chat back and forth for hours on Yahoo messenger; sometimes we would talk on the phone for great lengths of time and his knowledge was electrifying. His vocabulary was beautiful, and as my friends and I read some of his writings we all remarked that he should have been an author and not a oil salesman.
Sure, there were little red flags blowing in the wind. But they were so easily tamped down. He couldn’t Skype with me because the internet was so poor in Nigeria; he couldn’t send me a picture of him in Nigeria because his camera was stolen; he couldn’t give me an address to send a card to because there were not post office boxes available.
We talked of the days that we would be together; I cleaned out Bob’s side of the closet so that when Tom came back to San Diego there would be room for his things. There are double medicine chests in the master bathroom – one that is now empty awaiting his return to San Diego in May. Did I ever meet him? Hell no! But we talked and talked and talked.
My wonderful friends tried to tell me he was too good to be true. But I kept telling them that he never asked me for anything. He told me he was sending me diamonds for Christmas and I told him that I don’t wear jewelry, not to bother. I asked him what he wanted for Christmas and he told me that “ … I like gold Rolexes.” I laughed at that; told him I couldn’t even afford the box a Rolex, let alone gold, would cost. He was so romantic, so convincing.
And then, one day, I received a beautiful love letter telling me the things we would do together, and he said, “I can hardly wait until I am with you, Paula!” I immediately wrote back to him and asked him, “Who the f*** is Paula.” He was so apologetic. Paula, he said, was his deceased wife’s middle name. He said that he always called her that when she teased him; it was his way of teasing her. For the next three letters he kept apologizing. I let it pass. I sometimes call my friends a different name; he could do the same thing, too.
Until three weeks later when I received another letter from him that said “Oh Paula, I love you so much.” I called him in Nigeria and asked for an explanation. “Paula was my deceased wife’s name,” he said. I told him he was lying and he said, “Don’t you trust me?” “No” was my emphatic answer. Then he said that someone must have hacked into his account and he had no idea how Paula’s name had come up.
Although I had asked him to “friend” me on Facebook, he did not do so, but I still could see who his friends were, and I am sure you are not surprised to find out that I found Paula. I told him that dead wives don’t usually have Facebook accounts that are active. So I did the thing that everyone would expect me to do. I called Paula.
Paula had, on her Facebook account listed that she was in a relationship. I introduced myself to her and apologized for taking her time. I only wanted to verify whether her relationship was with Tom or not. I am sure you will understand the sinking feeling that I felt when she verified that the same Tom I was in love with she was also in love with. He told her almost the same story he had told me, except she was under the impression that he had been in Nigeria since April. I was under the impression he did not leave for Nigeria until November.
We compared notes, and except for calling me Paula – he never called her Judi – the pictures and stories were pretty much the same. She, it turned out, was two years younger than me, a redhead, a professional woman. And … she had sent him money – twice! I told her he had not asked me for money, but she said they were in their “relationship” for two months before he asked her to send him some.
It may be hard for you, the reader, to understand my feelings. I really thought that I was in love with Tom. Loneliness is very difficult to bear day after day after day. Paula told me that she was in love with him, too. She said, “I guess I did the things I did because I am very lonely!” But the story doesn’t stop here. Oh no. That would be too easy.
I mentioned to Paula that I tried to get Tom to send me pictures from Nigeria but he had one excuse after another for not sending them to me. He gave her the same excuses. Whose pictures had he been sending us from San Diego? He swore to both of us that he had not dated anyone since his beloved wife died. In fact, he was so devastated by her death – and his daughter’s death – that he spent 3 months in ICU because he wouldn’t eat, wouldn’t talk, etc. He told me he had very few friends and although he was the owner of his company and would attend social gatherings, he preferred being by himself until lately, when he knew it was time to start “living again.”
There were several friends that really supported me in this love affair. Although ALL of them warned me it could be a scam, they all wanted my happiness and we enjoyed the subsequent discussions about Tom and I – together.
My middle daughter – Lynn – was the most supportive of my three children. But she always felt that something was not right and decided to do some sleuthing on her own. And what she found out blew me away. She used a photo recognition program and discovered that the identity that Tom was using was that of a very important educator in the California. In fact, this man – we will call him “Dino” – is the president of one of the oldest education organizations in the state. And every picture that Tom sent to Paula and I were lifted off of Dino’s Facebook page! Every single one. And the picture he has posted on his Yahoo account – the one he told me was his deceased daughter – is none other than Dino’s daughter, and she is very much alive. Although he has taken Dino’s pictures, he is not using Dino’s name, so he has not assumed Dino’s identify.
I called Paula and told her what I found out. I also told her that I have been working with a San Diego Police officer on another case and asked him what to do. And then … I called Dino’s office, and talked to one of the rudest females this side of the Rockies. She wanted me to give her information; I refused. I told her I would give it to Dino. She told me he would not call me. I said then he can read about it in the papers. I wrote an email to Dino telling him that I could not believe that a man of his caliber would not respond to my call for two reasons: I am a member of the organization he presides over, and that women are sending money to a man they think is him. I did get a response from him apologizing for his secretary’s rudeness, but he said that he gets so many letters and emails that he has staff members that take care of those things for him. (Must be nice.) I was still upset with him, and sent him a few pictures that Tom had sent me with the question, “Are these pictures of you?” He wrote me back and said “Yes, they are.”
My next step was to contact OK Cupid, where I encountered a similar situation as with Dino’s office. There was no telephone number listed for this organization so I was forced to send an email. I got a answer back from a woman telling me to give her the name of the man in question and she would check it out for me. I told her I didn’t want to do that; I wanted to make sure that she checked into Tom and his information that was on HER website. She wrote back and told me that they were a very small office and could not afford the time to call me, but if I would give her some information she would check it out. That is what I did, and her subsequent answer to me was that his profile was obviously a fake, that she had removed him from their bank, and he will not be able to correspond with any subsequent women. Am I satisfied with this? No. I want to know how she realized it was a fake.
Then I talked to Paula again. We are still reeling from the news that Tom is not who he said he is,but she is still writing/talking to him.
I was not finished yet, however. My next call was to the FBI here in San Diego. I was told that they handle more than 1,000 cases a month of this type of fraud. The agent I spoke to told me that I was smart not to send any money – remember, he didn’t ask for any – and that it was too bad that “… you were not as smart as your daughter in looking up his picture!” He told me what form to fill out, reminding me that I was not a victim nor was Dino because Dino’s identity was not stolen and I sent no money. But there was definite proof that Paula was a victim because she sent money – via Western Union – twice. In fact, the second time when she attempted to send money Western Union refused to accept it because the person it was going to was on a scam list. But Tom gave her another name, and that time Western Union accepted it and Paula never saw it again.
Where do we stand now? Hard to say. After Tom called me “Paula” for the second time, I ceased hearing from him. It is obvious that I found him out and he will not be receiving any money from me. Paula, on the other hand, is still corresponding with him, and just today he wrote something on her Facebook account in response to something she posted. She told me that she plays Scrabble with him frequently, and they speak often. She has a big function tomorrow, and she is quite wrapped up in preparing for that. Since I sent her a copy of the form I submitted to the FBI I have not heard from her, either.
I must say, however, that this situation has reduced me to a pile of rubble. I have developed Shingles in spite of having the vaccine. The depression is deeper than I ever remember. I can’t believe that I was had so totally and completely. True, I didn’t send him any money, but I did send pictures of my family. After all, he told me he wanted to be a grandfather, and since his daughter died he would never have that opportunity. In a few short months I am going to be three quarters of a century old. I wonder when I’ll grow up.