The Beatles sang "all you need is love." It's no surprise millions go looking for it online. The problem is, scammers often use dating sites to break hearts and empty bank accounts.
"Oh my stomach just bottomed out," Mary said. "I thought, 'how in the world? I'm brighter than this and he was still able to suck me in.'"
Mary is a smart, educated Oklahoma mother and grandmother who divorced after more than 30 years of marriage. She joined a dating website last June and went on more than a dozen dates, before connecting online with a man named John.
"He's a single father, didn't have parents, which gave me that, 'oh poor guy, he has nobody but his little girl.'"
They emailed and talked everyday. They shared information and became very close. He told her he was from Boston but had moved to Africa for work and soon, he would come to Oklahoma to marry her. He even showed her flight confirmations for a trip to Oklahoma, but he canceled at the last minute.
Weeks passed, they kept talking and then, some bad news. He'd fallen and hit his head. He even sent a picture of him in a hospital bed and this time, he needed money for hospital bills. Later, Mary's bank account was drained of $7,500 and U.S. Postal Inspectors called, telling her the truth about John. He had 50 other women sending him gifts and money.
A local postal inspector said he sees this all the time. Scammers steal phone numbers from the US. They use proxy servers to appear they're somewhere they're not. They cut and paste photos of others. They work full time at a bank of computers scamming 20-50 victims at a time. They even use voice synthesizers to change their voices. They use the information from your profile to seem like your a perfect match, claim to be Christian, then have a ton of excuses why they can't come see you. Once they know you care, they claim they've been robbed or are in the hospital or need money. And they make it sound very legitimate.
The postal inspector said, "They go to school to learn this trade."
This is the one crime where the victim doesn't want the help of law enforcement. In fact, they get angry and they absolutely refuse it happened to them.
The postal inspector, they think "my case is different. I know there are scammers out there but not my case. I'm truly in love and they love me and they're going to come marry me."
After Mary confronted John and quit talking to him, he sent a text and said he'd tried to commit suicide, willing to say anything to keep her on the hook.
So how can we avoid the sweetheart scam? Investigators say date only people we can actually meet and spend time with in person, safely. If we fall victim, report it. We won't get our money back and most likely no one will be arrested, but at least this way the crimes can be tracked.