Tracy's Romance Scam
Tracy was looking for companionship when she made a connection online.
Tracy was looking for companionship when she made a connection online with a widower. They begin talking every day. Her new boyfriend tells her he must leave the country for work, but once he's overseas he starts asking Tracy to send money and electronics. Tracy thought she was helping him with his business, but really she was being scammed. She sent him thousands of dollars in products before she learned the man was a known scammer. Despite her best efforts, she never got her money back.
TIP: Anyone can be scammed; don’t be ashamed if you become a victim. Don’t send money to anyone you haven’t met in person. If you think you’re being scammed, hire a private security firm or private investigator to obtain an accurate background check. Googling someone just doesn’t cut it as the information can be manipulated by the scam artists. For a small fee, Reputauion.com can help remove your name and information from websites. However, cannot remove information from government sites.
Coming up on this episode of AARP's Perfect Scam.
[00:00:06] This man
disrespected me in every way possible. He was playing on my heart strings. He,
he took me for every penny.
Online romance is a hallmark of modern of life. Connecting lives, making
sparks, and unfortunately, in many cases, creating victims. On today's episode,
you'll hear the story of a woman who is just looking to meet someone, and ended
up giving away a lot more than just her heart. We'll tell you all about how
these scammers operate and what to look out for. I'd like to introduce my
cohost and AARP's Fraud Watch Network Ambassador, Frank Abagnale. Frank, thanks
again for joining us.
Abagnale: Good to be with you, Will. Thanks.
[00:00:42] HOST: Must
be good to be an ambassador, that's a good title to have in addition to your
Abagnale: Yeah, another somebody I never impersonated, but...
[00:00:49] HOST: Well
you bring up actually a good point. I've been meaning to ask you, were there
ever any professions or impersonations, impersonations that you did not do that
you thought about, or that maybe you could have done but didn't get around to?
Abagnale: No, people always asked me why you didn't impersonate a priest. I
said, well there was no money in doing that.
Right, maybe taking, taking the money at service but that's about it.
Abagnale: Yeah, I think again as we discussed, most of my impersonations had
some meaning or purpose to them, whether a pilot to get cashed checks or fell
into the doctor or the lawyer. They all were things that I didn't premeditate,
so they weren't things that I thought I was going to, but I don't think there
was anything I would have liked to impersonate and hadn't done.
[00:01:30] HOST: You mentioned
the doctor and that's a great story. You're in Atlanta, can you tell us about
that when you got to the apartment complex where you were renting an apartment
and all of a sudden you took on this new guise?
Abagnale: Yeah, actually that was the Riverbend Apartments in Atlanta. They're
still there, but they're condominiums now, still called The Riverbend, so
Stephen Spielberg actually had to have their permission, so at the end of the
credits it says, "Permission from Riverbend Apartments."
[00:01:57] HOST: And
that's kind of a swinging scene in the movie it's like...
Abagnale: At the time it's like...
There's a lot of young people partying.
Abagnale: Yeah, because back in the day those were singles' complex, so you
could, you could only live there if you were single. Later on the courts ruled
that you can't discriminate against people in apartments, so those kind of went
away, but in their day in the '60s, in the late '60 to early '70s, that was the
swinging place to be. Everybody was single, and mostly professional people,
this particular apartment complex, a lot of airline people and flight
attendants. That was another reason I didn't want to do the pilot, because I
was afraid I'd start running into people who might be a little suspicious that
I wasn't a pilot.
[00:02:34] HOST: That
seems like one of the biggest hazards of impersonating somebody, is running
into too many people that actually do that.
Abagnale: And that's kind of what happened at Riverbend, because I basically
had gone there, and when I was filling out the application it asked me a
profession and occupation, and I thought to write airline pilot, but the two
things that entered my mind was, one, there were a lot of airline pilots that
lived there, and flight attendants, and two, they were looking for me as the
pilot. So I thought I need to come up with something else, so I just wrote down
the word, doctor, never pursuing it to go any further, but had a very
inquisitive apartment manager and said, "Oh, I see here, you're a
doctor." And I said, "Yes." She said, "What type of doctor
are you?" And so I said, "Medical doctor." And then I quickly
said, "However, I'm not practicing medicine right now. I left my practice
out in Los Angeles to come to Atlanta to invest in some real estate I
have." And then she asked me what type of doctor I was, and I said,
pediatrician because I knew it was a single's complex, there were no children
there, and I thought that would be pretty safe, but of course, I moved in and I
ended up meeting a real pediatrician who lived there, and befriended him, and I
got to know him, and then he would take me up to the hospital to meet other people,
so you find yourself learning a little bit of the jargon to carry on the
conversation, be able to answer where did you go to school and questions like
[00:03:47] HOST: But
you must have had to steer clear of getting too detailed about the work, right?
So hey, Frank, how would you deal with this problem or...
Abagnale: Absolutely, and so you know I was always smart enough to know that
you can carry these impersonations so far, but sooner or later someone was
going to find out, so people used to ask me why you were the lawyer. No one
ever detected you were not the lawyer, you had passed the Bar, why didn't you
stay on just being the lawyer? Well you can only get away and fool people for
so long and sooner or later someone's going to find out, so someone might start
getting inquisitive, and you know when you're, when you're a con man, you live
a chameleon existence but you have to get along with everybody, so even if
there's somebody that you don't like, you have to purposely make an effort to
get along with them, because the minute someone doesn't like you, they start to
find fault in you. And they start to quiz and be suspicious of you. So that's
where you start to get the things, so you went to Harvard. Who was your
professor in such and such? And did you know so and so? Those are the kind of
things that start happening and you don't have the answers to.
[00:04:48] HOST: I
would just say stomach pain at that point.
Abagnale: Yeah, right, so it's a very hard life to life is what I'm getting at.
You can't go in personate someone all your life, cause you're going to have,
always people who like you and they're going to look for fault in you and thus,
they're going to start being suspicious of you.
[00:05:03] HOST: I'm
thinking more about this ambassador impersonation though. It would be a good
one if you could go to another country and somehow take on the guise of an
ambassador and I don't know, live a wealthy life.
Abagnale: A wealthy life, it wouldn't be a hard job, just going around shaking
hands with people
[00:05:18] HOST: Yeah,
it's the person, so if anyone's out there thinking, now I'm just joking,
please, don't do that.
[00:05:22] HOST: On
this episode, we're going to introduce our listeners to a woman who was looking
for a connection online and maybe even something more. Tracy's story
underscores how scammers have a special power over their targets when the scams
involve the heart.
[00:05:38] HOST: It's
Will at AARP.
How're you doing?
[00:05:40] HOST: I'm
good, how are you?
Okay, thank you.
Tracy's husband passed away in December 2014, and after a few years, she
decided to try her luck online.
[00:05:48] Tracy: I
went onto a dating site and found, or came across this one gentleman, I sent
him a little how you do or what have you, and he in turn responded and we go on
from there talking back and forth on his so-called home and business line.
[00:06:10] HOST: Were
there other people that you were talking to as well that you liked, or had this
guy become sort of the one that seemed like maybe he's, he's a match?
[00:06:16] Tracy: He,
he was the, the one, you know that, that you know, because he told me all about
himself, he sent all kinds of information as to what he likes, what he does,
you know, he's right-handed with this and left-handed with that and he had
explained that he had his late wife, he met his wife in, when he was in college
here, because he was born in Geneva, Switzerland, and he met her, they got married,
had two daughters, however she was killed in an automobile accident and along
with the two daughters and he's been alone for quite some time, so you know
that didn't impress me in any way, however, being vulnerable as I was told I
was, you know, having someone talk to you and you know, just all, sort of like
give themselves to you, you know, in words and expressions. We were talking on
the phone, we were writing emails...
Tracy's connection with this man continued for a while, until finally the plot
thickens, and the story takes on a rather unique turn.
[00:07:31] Tracy: He
had told me that he had put in a bid to leave the country and, you know, I
said, "Well what day are you going?" And when he told me, I said,
"Oh, that was the day I was planning on hoping to meet you." And what
I did was what I did was I went online to see what airline he could have picked
up from Newark or New York going to Egypt or even a stopover and I could not
[00:08:02] HOST: And
what, what made you, what prompted you to do that?
Just out of curiosity's sake, I guess. You know I just wanted to find out
because most of the time when I asked him a question, he had told me he would
always answer the question, but every question I asked was always with a
backlash of why do you need to know that, and how is that important and you
know what's going on?
[00:08:31] HOST: So
you felt like he, he was open and relatively honest but there was also part of
you that maybe was a little curious and maybe suspicious?
Tracy: True. And but I did do a background check on him and Spokeo came up with
all of these information on him as he had explained.
[00:08:53] HOST: Had
you done, did you do a background check before he left the country or was that
as things, as he started asking for money or later on?
Later on, later on.
[00:09:03] Let me
back up and I'll try to remember to get back to where you are now. But he had
along the line, once he was overseas come up with excuses for you to send him,
to send him cash.
Yes. He used the excuse that the, the country would not accept his credit
cards. He could not an ATM card, and being a noncitizen of the country, he
wasn't able to go to a bank there and withdraw any money or get a cash advance
without, with the credit cards and what have you. It got to a point of where I
had to send money by Western Union, and then it also went by MoneyGrams, right.
[00:09:51] HOST: Did
you feel at this time when that was all going on, and I'm, correct me if this
is wrong. I sort of imagine you as being caught up in this what felt like a
romance and also helping someone out who you potentially cared about.
[00:10:03] Yes, I
really thought, I really thought that I was doing something good because, you
know even though it was a, really an extensive, I thought I was helping him
out. He, he really got a hold of me emotionally and, you know, he was like
crying for help, always crying for help, and I thought, well, you know, here's
a guy who's down and out in another country and he can't get home because they
keep on taking away his passports, you know, and he didn't have the proper
paperwork. He supposedly was supposed to be working and then something happened
to his tools. He left them in the cab, filled out a police report and then he
needed to rent tools because he claims he was an electronical engineer, only to
find out later on after all of this transpired, I called the Better Business
Bureau for New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, and I found out that he was
not in either New York or New or Connecticut, and his name of the company was
not listed in New Jersey, but the woman did ask me, what phone number did he
give you? And I, I told her what the phone number was, and she said, I just
want to let you know he's a very, very, very, very, very bad man.
[00:11:36] HOST: Oh
my God, so they, they knew about him and was she able to, give you any more
details about him?
Well she told me he's not an electrical engineer, he's a construction workman.
[00:11:46] HOST: So
eventually you, you realize this guy in Egypt and elsewhere, he left the
country, he was, he was asking you for more money, and you spent, what would
you say on, on this guy? Are you willing to share?
[00:12:00] Tracy: The
whole total came to $139,000.
[00:12:05] HOST: Wow,
so that, that's not a small amount of money.
[00:12:08] Tracy: No,
it was personal money and it was a small loan, borrowed money from friends and
all cash advances.
[00:12:19] HOST: Is
it safe to say you were completely caught up for a while in this story?
Yeah. Is it hard to talk about?
[00:12:28] Tracy: At
times, but I'm, I'm okay with it.
[00:12:31] HOST: You
sound like you are and I'm glad, yeah.
I'm, you know I, I've gotten over the, the crying period. I was clinging on
hope that he, he was for real. I really was.
[00:12:41] Did you
feel like that you were in love?
[00:12:43] Tracy: Not
necessarily. I, I felt a, a connection but I, I felt more like he needed help
and he said he didn't have anybody to help him. He had no family, so I was
there for him.
Toward the end, after Tracy had shelled our more money for a man she never met,
he asked her to go to an Apple store and buy thousands of dollars of products.
And sometimes, they were very specific requests.
[00:13:13] HOST: Did
he give you, like a shopping list, in other words to go to Apple with and just
[00:13:17] Tracy: Oh
yes. Oh yes.
[00:13:18] HOST: What
kind of stuff?
[00:13:19] Tracy: I
had to buy rose-colored phones, and rose-colored laptops, that the Mac Pro, the
Apple Mac Pro and oh gosh, the one total came to $4,172 and change, and the
other one was $4,810 and change.
[00:13:43] HOST: And
he specified the color.
[00:13:44] Tracy: Oh
yes. Yes, it had to be this color.
You're able to talk about this all very calmly. It sounds like a really
Yeah, you have to eat crow. You have to eat crow. I explained certain things to
my mother, but did not tell the rest of the family the amount of money I spent,
because my one sister disowned me.
[00:14:12] HOST: That
sounds really, really hard. You sound like a lovely woman and I hope you don't
have to eat crow for much longer.
Four years. I, it's going to take four years to repay the credit card
[00:14:29] HOST: And
you're doing your best, it sounds like, to put things back together. When you
think back on this guy who you, you know you had a voice to put with him, what,
what feelings come up for you?
[00:14:42] Tracy: Uh,
drastic. Him ruining my life, taking advantage of me, and you know, making me a
fool. This man disrespected me in every way possible by scamming me out of
every penny I had.
Tracy eventually contacted the Federal Trade Commission, the state Attorney
General, local police and even the FBI.
They will not contact me unless they get a hold of him. Then they will bring
him to justice.
[00:15:20] HOST: It's
hard to imagine getting caught up in something like this, wiping out savings,
taking out loans, borrowing money, all to help out someone you've never met.
It's heartbreaking to listen to Tracy, and it might be easy to scoff at how she
got sucked in, but you have to try and put yourself in her shoes. A widow,
living alone, making a connection. And someone on the other end of the line
who's very, very good at taking other people's money.
[00:15:44] Tracy: He
was playing on my heartstrings. He, he took me for every penny.
Frank, Tracy's story has probably a ton of red flags. But we also want to make
sure we note that how much we appreciate these people coming forward and
talking to us about these things. It does help other people who might be going
through something similar, so I want to mention that.
[00:16:14] Frank Abagnale:
Absolutely, I think it's great and I think that you know, as I always say,
anybody can be scammed, anybody can be ripped off no matter how intelligent
they are, so it's nothing to be ashamed of. These people are experts at doing
this. They're very persuasive, they have things that make you believe what
they're telling you is the truth, so again, if you're a victim of this, just
like she did, you, it's better to talk about it and tell someone, so they don't
become a victim of it and learn from somebody else's mistake. You know, as you
get older, you realize that you always learn by other people's mistakes. If you
don't, then you have a, you have a problem. I would assume that her sister,
based on what she said is that her sister probably was being a confidante, she
was telling her sister all these things and her sister kept telling her don't
send this man any money. Don't give this many anymore money, don't do this, and
she kept doing it and out of frustration, the sister just really got mad and
I'm sure the sister will come back, cause she's her sister, but obviously got
very mad. And you hear a lot about that where someone may say, I won this
Mercedes on a sweepstakes scam, I have to pay this money, but they keep paying
money and the family's going, Dad you paid more money than the Mercedes cost
you. You could go out and buy the Mercedes. Why do you keep sending this money
and it gets very frustrating for the family members where they almost say, I'm
not going to talk to you anymore cause you're not acting rational and all that,
so that's probably what happened with her sister.
Right, I mean you had actual instances, like you say, a family member's a sort
of, you know beating on people saying, look, don't send any more money, don't,
you know, this guy's a fraud, this guy's a scam, but people are so deep into
something, and caught up that it's hard to get out of that moment.
Abagnale: Right, and the rose-colored computer and I-phones and laptops, that
was just him selling that over that, so he's telling someone I can get that for
you, and they sell for a lot more over there than she putting out...
[00:18:06] HOST: So
not uncommon that he's asking for specific products?
Abagnale: Yeah, he's selling those and I said to him, can you get me a
rose-colored this, a rose-colored that, and I can get that for you, and he was
getting her to buy it and then he was selling it and getting the money.
[00:18:18] HOST: And
as we've heard with romance scams, it sounds and seems like this guy's putting
a ton of time into this one instance, but he's got more.
Abagnale: She's one of many. Again it seems like a lot of time and a lot of
effort, but they're working so many different scams, kind of like a salesman
who says I have 9 deals out here, I'm working each deal every day, I'm having
to put all this effort in, I'm hoping to close these deals. It's the same
thing. He's hoping to close on all of these things, but he's working all of
these 9, 10 different women at a time, and each are bringing him money, so it's
not just the money she gave him, it's the money all these other people are
giving him at the same time.
[00:18:54] HOST: She
talks about Spokeo and background checks, how much can that do for somebody if
you go online...
Abagnale: Those aren't real, those are not really effective because you can
manipulate those, you can provide information. It's like saying you have a
company and you have a Dunn & Bradstreet report with them. Well, whatever
you tell them is what Dunn & Bradstreet reports, so that's kind of like
those sites, so if I was really in that position, I would have gone through a
private security firm, a private investigator and did a background check, cause
she, for a very small amount of money vs. what she paid, she could have hired a
firm and they could have given her an accurate of who this is, and this is this
person's background, this is their history, whether they've ever been arrested
or not been arrested. But that would have been factual information, not just
information he supplied as part of the background.
[00:19:40] HOST: So
you see a lot of that online, whether you look up a phone number, or a person
that maybe you dated 20 years before and you're wondering where they are today,
or whatever people are doing out there. You then can find a phone number, but
then you'll see a lot of ads for, you want to learn more? You know, pay this
much money to learn more.
Abagnale: Yeah, but those, they really don't have a lot of information and if you’re
a scam artist, and you're doing something like he's doing, the first thing you
would do is make sure you're setting up a background, knowing that people
nowadays can google your name, they can check things out about you, they can
find things out about you online, so in that case, you want to then put out
false information about yourself; that I work for this company, I've been with
this company this many years, and those online services, those, they pick up on
that information but again, it's self-serving. It's provided by the scam
artists, so that if someone does a little background check through those type
of sights, that's what they're only going to see what they wanted him, for them
to see, where through a private security company, a reputable company, they
would have actually done a thorough background check and certainly would have
saved her a lot more money than she gave him.
[00:20:44] HOST: So,
this sort of amateur googling and checking on people, that people are able to
do without spending any money, I mean it's rife with problems, right?
Abagnale: Oh sure.
[00:20:55] HOST: I
mean Google's great, but it's also, it can lead you astray.
Abagnale: Right, as we talked on another episode about LinkedIn, I'm providing
that information. I'm telling you that I worked at this company and I'm vice
president and I've worked at this other company, I graduated from this college.
This is why a lot of people are a little leery there, because I associate with
you only because you're a very well-known person in your field, so I tell you
that I want to associate with you on LinkedIn, because then people who see my
name associated with you, assume that you and I are friends or we're business
associates. When you've actually never met me, you don't know a thing about me,
but it gives me instant credibility. So a lot of these things are manipulated
for the use of the person who's using it.
[00:21:35] HOST: Is
there much we can do to manage the profile we have online in terms of how, what
comes up when people search our names, or you know if we have a Facebook
account. What can we do if we want to start cleaning stuff up?
Abagnale: Well, you need to try to get your name off a lot of those sites.
There is a company in San Francisco called Reputation.com, and for a small fee
they go online to where all your name is used, your social security number,
dates of birth, information, where they're legally allowed to remove it from
sites that social media sites and things like that, that they remove it, and
it's a small fee. You know, you can't remove it from government agencies and federal
agencies, and things like that, but they get rid of it a lot where you don't
want your name popping up all the time, information about you. You know, it's
kind of amazing how much information's out there. Even if, I mean if you go to
even Wikipedia and you put my name in, I mean over in the right corner, it
gives you my date of birth, it tells you where I was born, it tells you my
wife's name, it tells my children's names, you know it gives you all of that information
and even my wife, who has never been on any social media, she's never really
been in any kind of media whatsoever, you can google her name and it says she's
married to me, so I mean you know it's just, I mean so there's all this
information out there. The question is, how accurate is that information? And
most of the time it's not very accurate, or it's what the person who's
providing information wants you to believe.
Right, so there's not a lot we can do to fully disappear online. And your name
is actually a little more recognizable than my last name.
Abagnale: Because we've got way too much information out there. I always say
that if five years ago, if you said to me, Frank, there's this guy in Northeast
Georgia, he's a carpenter, but he doesn't really do a lot of work, he lives in
a small town about 8,000 people, he's never been in the newspapers, he doesn't
have a lot of friends, can you google him? I said, well no, I'm probably not
going to come up with anything. But today, that's not the case. Today, the
truth is, and this is the honest truth, if you, if I know your last name, and I
have your zip code, there's nothing I can't find out about you. I just need
those two pieces of information. Your last name, your zip code.
[00:23:49] HOST: Even
if it's Smith.
Abagnale: Yeah, because there is way too much information out there and every
piece of information leads to another piece. So if I see on LinkedIn that you
graduated from University of Maryland, I go to the yearbook, the year you
graduated online, cause I want to see who you befriended at the University of
Maryland, maybe the woman you married, now I have her maiden name, cause you
married her while you were at school, I mean every piece of information leads
to another article, some clipping about you, I know every bankruptcy, every
judgement you had against you, every lien that was of public domain. I mean
it's so easy to find out that information.
Which could be useful for identity theft, or for just making a phone call and
convincing somebody that you know a lot about them.
Abagnale: Right. You know identify theft people, I wrote about it back in 1988
and people said to me, how did you know about the crime? I said, well no it was
a crime in '88, there were no computers, there were no emails, there were no
laptops but back in the day, criminals would basically read in the newspaper
that Robert Johnson was named Homebuilder of the Year. So they'd read the
article and it said that Robert Johnson 10 years earlier filed bankruptcy, so
they'd go down to the federal bankruptcy court, microfiche out a copy of their
bankruptcy, which is public record, and they had his wife's signature, his
signature, his date of birth, her date of birth, his social security number,
her social security number, and they stole their identity. The only difference
today is you can do that from thousands of miles away on your laptop. You don't
have to go down to the bankruptcy court, sit there and microfiche it out, so
technology has made it a lot easier, a lot faster, and certainly a lot more
global, and we continue to put out a lot of information.
[00:25:22] HOST: I'm
glad we finally got a mention of the microfiche into this podcast, for those,
for those who are younger and don't know that that is, google it or do some
research. You'll figure it out. But it used to be the way we did a lot of
research. So, just to clarify, there's steps you can take and you mentioned
Reputation.com is a place to go, work on getting yourself off of social media
and any place where you can legally disappear, but as far as like really going
off the grid and disappearing, almost impossible?
Abagnale: Almost impossible in the too much information world that we live in
today, because even if you remove your name from all these things, if it was
even feasible to do so, it's just going to resurface again, because you're
going to do something that's going to resurface your name, and it'll come up
and then people will pick up on that and that'll bring up other information or
connect to some other piece of information, so it truly, this is why criminals
who escape from prison or something, and they go try to change their name and
go live somewhere else, eventually some piece of information brings you back to
that, that individual, because we absolutely, truly live in a way too much
[00:26:25] HOST: It's
hard to be on the lam or live as like a hermit these days.
Abagnale: Absolutely. Someone can find out anything about you if they really
Frank Abagnale, he's added Ambassador to his resume. He is the AARP Fraud Watch
Network Team Ambassador. Thanks a lot.
Abagnale: Thank you.
[00:26:40] HOST: If
you or someone you know has been a victim of a scam, please call AARP's Fraud
Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Alright, I'd like to thank our
producers, Julie Getz and Brook Ellis, our audio engineer, Julio Gonzales, and
of course my cohost, Frank Abagnale. And be sure to subscribe, download, rate,
and of course, like our podcast on Apple Podcast or wherever you find your
favorite podcasts. For The Perfect Scam, I'm Will Johnson.
END OF TRANSCRIPT
Episode 6: Married and Betrayed
Find out what happens when Andrea's husband secretly operated a Ponzi scheme for 15 years.
How to Listen and Subscribe to The Perfect Scam
- Open the Podcasts app, search for the show title and select it from the list of results.
- Once on the show page, click the "Subscribe" button to have new episodes sent to your phone or tablet for free.
- Click the name of an episode from the list below to listen.
- Open the Google Play Music app, search for the show title and select it from the list of results.
- Once on the show page, click the "Subscribe" button to have new episodes sent to your phone or tablet for free.
- Click the name of an episode from the list below to listen.
Smart Speakers (Amazon Echo or Google Home)
- To play podcasts on your Amazon Echo smart speaker, ask the following: "Alexa, ask TuneIn to play The Perfect Scam podcast" OR "Alexa, play The Perfect Scam podcast on TuneIn"
- To play podcasts on your Google Home smart speaker, ask the following: "Hey Google, Play The Perfect Scam podcast"