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Wooed on Facebook, Widow Loses $39,000 in Romance Fraud

She wants to be a voice, not a victim, after fake surgeon rips her off

Scammer online chatting with woman and sending rose flowers on smartphone screen. Romance scam, dating scam, cyber crime, hacking, phishing and financial security concept.

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For more than 10 years after Kate Kleinert lost her husband to cancer, she had ruled out dating, since “I still considered myself married.” 

The suburban Philadelphia woman had a change of heart in August 2020, though, when a handsome “surgeon” asked to be her Facebook friend. Soon he became romantic and began professing his love. “Since the time I fell in love with you, I can't stop thinking about you,” he told her. “I can only see my future with you. I will never stop loving you. I pray that I will always wake up next to you and hold you in my arms forever.” 

Lost $39,000

But there was no love and no forever. Kleinert, who is in her late 60s, ended up losing $39,000 to the pseudo suitor. He took what was left of her late husband’s life insurance and her savings, Social Security and pension benefits. For a time, she said, she lived off credit cards.

Sadly, her costly nightmare is not uncommon. Measured in dollars lost, romance scams led the top frauds impacting adults 60 and older in 2020, with $139 million in losses to these older adults, the Federal Trade Commission said.

FBI warning

Con artists prowl most dating and social media sites, the FBI warns, noting:

  • If you suspect an online relationship is a scam, stop all contact immediately.

  • When using dating sites and apps, you should not send money to someone you have only talked to online or by phone.

Today Kleinert wants to be a voice, not a victim. She talked about her ordeal on AARP’s The Perfect Scam podcast in two episodes. Here is part 1 and here is part 2. Last week, she spoke about her ordeal before a U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging hearing on fraud.

Surgeon in faraway land

Kleinert was married for 26 years. She quit her secretarial job to care for her husband during the last two years of his life. Her no-dating approach to widowhood fell by the wayside after her new Facebook friend, “Tony,” entered her life. He said he was a Norwegian surgeon working for the United Nations in Iraq, had two children and shared Kleinert’s interest in dogs and gardening.

At his suggestion, they started communicating on Google Hangouts, talking and texting many times a day. Tony said his kids were in an English boarding school and asked if they could call her “Mom.” Never having had children, she said that was the “Achilles heel” that made her vulnerable.

Later his “daughter” texted to ask for funds to buy feminine products. Kleinert sent her a gift card, unwittingly opening the floodgates. “From there, there was always some kind of an emergency or some urgent need for money,” she told the committee.

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A red flag: never meeting in real life

Though the two never met in person, Tony talked about marriage, said he purchased a ring and asked her to look for a house for them near where she lived. All the while, he kept prodding her for gift cards —  and promising he’d repay her. He even provided her with a password for a purported bank account with a $2 million balance.

The two were to meet for the first time last December after he flew to Philadelphia International Airport. She had had her hair and nails done and was waiting at home in her best dress for his call. A bottle of wine was chilling. Hours passed, without a word from him.

Tony lands “in jail”

A day later, Kleinert got a call from a man who claimed to be a lawyer and said Tony had been arrested at the airport because someone planted drugs in his luggage. Tony was said to be confined to a  Philadelphia jail and in need of $20,000 for bail — money she did not have. Later, Tony called and messaged to urge her to get the money somehow, even if it meant lying to her family. She refused. But her reservations melted away when he complained about the “awful” food in jail and asked for small sums, which she sent.

Then Tony’s story got even crazier. He called in January saying he was in Jordan; he said he’d been released so he could raise the bail money. She said that wasn’t the way it worked: You don’t get out of custody to raise bail. Finally, she saw the romance for what it was — phonier than a $3 bill.

Picking up the pieces

Now employed again, Kleinert still feels the sting of her loss. “I can’t get things repaired at the house,” she told senators. “I’ve had no air conditioning this summer, my refrigerator is off and my stove is off.”

Some in law enforcement gave her the cold shoulder, she said, remembering being told: “Why did you call us? There’s no crime here. You gave this money to him willingly.”

Though Tony was fake, her heartbreak is real. What hurts most was “losing his love and losing the family I thought I was going to have and what my new future was going to be,” she said. “That is much harder to deal with than losing the money.”

She urged potential victims to trust their instincts, saying, “If your gut is telling you there’s something wrong here, listen to it.” Sadder and wiser, she’s learned her lesson and remarks: “God help the man who even asks me for a quarter.”

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.