CBS 58 Investigates: Dating Deception
WATERFORD, Wis. (CBS 58) A growing number of con artists are using the internet to prey on lonely people, luring them into a false romance, before swindling them out of money. The con artists abuse love. As the emotion draws people closer, it can blind them to reality, and con artists rely on that blindness.
“It was the trip of a lifetime,” said Waterford resident Trenice Shererton.
Some of Shererton’s happiest days were traveling in Germany with her partner Ralph.
“He said I promise to grow old with you,” said Shererton.
But Ralph couldn’t keep that promise. After 17 years together, he died, leaving her with photographs and an empty heart.
“I was looking for someone, yes, I didn’t want to die alone,” said Shererton.
She decided to date again and wound up unknowingly being pursued by four different scammers she met online. The stories always started blissfully.
“He kept talking about how he wanted a mother figure for his two daughters, and how hard it’s been for him because his wife passed away with cancer,” recalled Shererton.
She remembers the conversations with her suitors.
“He kept saying I’m going to come visit you, I’m going to come visit you,” said Shererton.
“I know I haven’t met you in person, but I think I’m falling in love with you, you’re such a nice woman,” said Shererton.
But the conversations kept ending the same way. The men always asked for money. She said no to the first two, but said yes to the third.
“He was going off land to work on the rigs and the only way to stay in correspondence with me was to make sure he had had time on his cellphone,” said Shererton.
She believed him and sent him $200.
“I was starting to fall for him and he wasn't asking for a lot of money. Just a few dollars here and there so he could continue talking to me. And he said all the right things,” said Shererton.
But it wasn’t real.
“It’s a horrible crime,” said FBI Supervisory Special Agent Eric Burns, “these guys are very good, they’re very sophisticated.”
Burns said the con artists research what their victims have posted, such as details and pictures, to dating and social media sites. It’s a strategy to learn about their victims.
“What short of heartstrings to pull on next in order to be most convincing,” said Burns.
FBI data show crooks stole $5.6 million from 391 victims across Wisconsin in 2018. Milwaukee police have been investigating a case where a woman unwittingly drained her bank accounts. A search warrant said she sent $249,000 to bank accounts in Turkey, instead of her supposed lover's construction company.
“People all have a need to be loved, and these scammers horribly take advantage of those people. And not only do they lose their money, but they lose their self-respect, they lose everything,” said Wisconsin Better Business Bureau President Jim Temmer.
He said people need to keep their guard up when falling in love. He suggested asking detailed questions a potential date should know, keeping friends and family in the loop about the romance, and following one key rule:
“Never ever send money to someone you never met in person,” said Temmer.
Shererton considers herself lucky. She’s only out $200, which stings, but doesn’t break the bank. She hasn’t given up on finding love.
“You might be lucky and get that one, or you might not, but just check, just check,” said Shererton.
The FBI said victims may be able to get their money back in some cases, but for many, once the money has gone overseas it becomes untraceable and unrecoverable.