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Online scam targeting the elderly across the country spreads to Wisconsin

WISCONSIN (CBS 58) -- An online scam targeting elderly people across the country has ensnared Wisconsin in its silver web.

Robert Lavacot, 77, was living in Orange County, California when he met a woman named Joyce Gardner on an over-50 dating website called Our Time.

She became his fiancé.

Except she didn’t exist.

Michael Lavacot, Robert’s son, contacted CBS 58 when he discovered his father had sent a $13,000 check to an address in Milwaukee.

“This person [Joyce] very quickly gained [my father’s] trust,” Michael said.

Michael says Joyce claimed her son-in-law in Milwaukee was having problems meeting their mortgage.

We went to the address three separate times, and no one answered.

It wasn’t the only check Joyce wrangled out of Robert.

“She convinced him to send her landlord a cashier’s check for two months of rent,” Michael said.

That one was for $2,450 and went to Oklahoma City.

Through his own research, Michael learned the man in Oklahoma who received the check is also an elderly victim of Joyce’s.

That man, Joseph Allen, cashed Robert’s check and sent the money to an address in Antioch, California.

Police there are investigating.

"They're really sneaky,” Michael said. “If you read through the email threads going back and forth, it's everything you want to hear. 'I want to be with you. I want to walk on the beach.'”

Michelle Pike, the director of Ozaukee County’s Aging and Disability Resource Center, says elderly people who live alone like Robert did are especially vulnerable to these kinds of scams.

"They're lonely and have a tendency to think the best of people when maybe they shouldn't," she said.

Robert had lost his wife of more than 50 years and suffered two strokes.

He logged onto Our Time seeking companionship.

"He just wanted to believe so badly that this was a person he could move forward with and share his life with," Michael said.

The good news is that Michael was able to contact his father’s bank to have the $13,000 check canceled before it was ever cashed.

Robert did lose the $2,450.

Some basic rules for protecting yourself and loved ones are to never give important information over the phone because the IRS or Social Security Administration will never ask for that, and be wary of people met on the Internet.

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