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Two Scammers Target a Woman Online

In part 2 of this episode, a victim's family fights to pull her from their grasps

spinner image Episode 85 - Addicted to Love Part 2

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spinner image Episode 85 - Addicted to Love Part 2
Full Transcript

[00:00:01] Bob: This week on The Perfect Scam.

[00:00:03] The day that I confronted her, she was literally texting the scammers, "Oh my God, my son is here. I can't talk to you right now." She was just convinced to her very fiber that this was love, that these were all good people, and that they were all going to pay her back.


[00:00:25] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. Romance scams cost Americans half a billion dollars each year the FBI says. And the crime is growing fast. People isolated at home during the pandemic, well that makes them even more susceptible to this crime. This is a two-part story, so if you haven't listened to last week's episode, you should go back and do that now. Last week we met Ben and his mom, Debbie, who gave everything she had to lovers she met online. Today we rejoin the story of Ben and Debbie just as he discovers his mom is in severe money trouble. Debbie has asked her sister for help paying the bills, and Ben found out that way. He doesn't really understand why, not yet. Debbie is a widow living in New Jersey. Her husband died over a decade ago and she only started dating again recently. She's met a few men playing games like Words with Friends, and she struck up all virtual relationships with them. Ben knows his mom has been chatting with a man named Joshua, but he has no idea how far things have gone.

[00:01:31] Ben: Then my aunt told her son, my cousin, who, you know, I'm close to and he just rang me out of the blue and said, "You need to talk to your mom. She's in a really bad shape."

[00:01:42] Bob: Oh God. What was it like getting that phone call?

[00:01:47] Ben: Yeah, that was, you know, your heart dropping into your stomach, and uh just saying, oh no, you know, what did she do? And immediately reflecting on, you know, those Joshua conversations from two years ago, and I, I thought she had put that behind her. So, I was concerned that she might not be honest with me, so I devised my plan of, of just dropping in on her for a surprise visit. And when I dropped in on her, she wasn't there, you know, so I, I let myself into the house, and saw the bills spread out all over her dining room table, and frankly, started looking through that, jumped onto her computer and started looking at her emails, and just was gob smacked.

[00:02:35] Bob: Ben waits at his mom's home, his childhood home, and uses the time to read through her messages seeing blow by blow the conversations she had been having. That's when he begins to put the pieces together and understand the dark place his mom is in.

[00:02:50] Ben: I mean it was so crushing to read her texts. I was the only one who of the children who read them, as, as many as I did, you know, a whole year's worth. It was just crushing the, the pleading, and it just upsets me because you think about stuff like why she didn't reach out to us, right. If you were in that much pain, you should have reached out to us, right, but that's the issue of family, right.

[00:03:16] Bob: Text by text he starts to build the story of what happened to his mom.

[00:03:21] Ben: My mom, luckily, had kept records of every financial transaction that she had made with the three different scammers that ultimately hooked into her. So the first was January 23rd, 2018, asked her for $800. Now it escalated very quickly after that. One month later, $5000, and a month after that, $7500. So by April it was $16,000. I mean just, just escalated quickly.

[00:03:55] Bob: Her reads all the text messages and emails between his mom and Joshua for all of 2020, and it's obvious Joshua is just feeding her line after line, sob story after sob story, each one ending with a request for cash.

[00:04:10] Ben: His phone broke, so he needed money for a phone, or he doesn't have enough money to fix some of the equipment that he had -- $6000. That his crew was caught in a fire and now he's being sued, and he needs to get money, you know, to prepare for court or to bribe some official or it's just story after story.

[00:04:31] Bob: Reading through all of the love speak and fawning attention, Ben learns that Joshua has really gained his mom's trust through a surprise tactic, by giving her access to what seemed to be his bank account. What appeared to be a very, very big bank account.

[00:04:46] Ben: "I love you, honey," you know, "you're my queen. I can't wait to be with you. Soon as we get through this new issue, I'll be with you." You know, he's feeding her that, but I think the really powerful thing that happened was, at some point early on in the relationship, he claimed to have some reason why he couldn't access his bank account. So he said, "I'm going to send you the link to my bank and give you some log in information. You just go in there and do a transaction for me," or look, "just look at it and tell me that." So he had set up a fake bank website, you know, gave her the information, so now, of course, he's also building trust, right, look at me, I, I trust you with my bank account, and then she goes into the bank account and it says that there's $15 million in there.

[00:05:37] Bob: It was an elaborate ploy to get Debbie's trust. The account was fake, the website was fake, and the money was fake. But from that moment on, Debbie is convinced that Joshua has plenty of money to pay her back, so she starts sending cash everywhere, to all kinds of people, using all kinds of tools.

[00:05:57] Bob: Yeah, so a lot of the money that she sent really came in two forms. A lot of it though was cash. So she would put cash in an envelope or in a FedEx, and ship it, or cashier's checks, and she would ship it to another person in the United States, and there was always a reason as to why this person had to receive it.

[00:06:16] Bob: The reason, criminals like using so-called money mules to move their stolen cash or checks, or even gift cards around the country, and out of the country. It raises less suspicion.

[00:06:27] Ben: STEAM cards, Apple cards, any, any kind of card where she could, you know, scratch off the code in the back, send a photo of the code so that, you know, it could be converted into cash wherever he was. And again, there was some excuse as to why STEAM cards were the preferred currency of wherever he was.

[00:06:50] Bob: But she was mailing cash to addresses around the United States at one point.

[00:06:54] Ben: Yes, yeah, Arizona, Florida, Texas.

[00:06:58] Bob: It didn't stop with Joshua.

[00:07:00] Ben: Yeah, so again, right, my mom, big open heart, she's uh playing this app online called Words with Friends. You know Words with Friends has a chat feature, right, so you can randomly be paired up with someone to play scrabble, and you can chat with them, too. So she's doing that, and my mom who, again, will talk to the person next to her on the flight or in the line at the grocery store, she will reveal things about herself that just stun us, you know, instantly goes into her medical conditions and the names of her children, and I think that's how she actually met Joshua, and then later met Ryan, and then later met Taylor.

[00:07:43] Bob: By reading his mom's emails, Ben begins to understand that his mom was finally getting the kind of attention she had missing since her husband, his father, had died. And it was a hard year. She'd had breast cancer in the past, but it came back, so she had to go through another round of treatment.

[00:08:00] Bob: Now there are men who are fawning over her. "Well you seem like a very nice lady," and, you know, "Why don't we exchange pictures," you know, they send her a fake picture, and she sends her--, herself, and "Oh, you know, what a beautiful woman you are," and "you seem really nice" and "boy, you seem to love your, your family." And she's getting the type of attention that she hasn't gotten in 15 years. She has the love of her children, but she's not getting that kind of, you know, powerful, romantic attention.

[00:08:31] Bob: Like Joshua with the fake $15 million bank account, the person who claimed to be Ryan also uses an elaborate ploy to gain Debbie's trust.

[00:08:40] Ben: She's telling Ryan, a scammer, "I'm having financial problems," you know, and "Oh, well, you know I, I have some money. Maybe I could help you." "Oh, could you? That would be wonderful." "Yeah, if you would just tell me your bank account number or your credit card, I'll be happy to pay them." And she gives them her log in information for her credit cards and for her bank.

[00:09:02] Bob: Oh my God.

[00:09:03] Ben: And sure enough, you know, Ryan deposits $7400 into her credit card account. Boom, now he's got her trust. She's like, "Oh my God, thank you, you've saved me." And, "Oh, but, you know, Debbie, um, I, I know I just put that money in, but it's my daughter's birthday, and I could really use some help. Do you think you could, you know, get me some Apple cards and send the codes to me?"

[00:09:35] Bob: The payment is real, probably paid through another hacked bank account, but it is enough for Debbie to begin to trust Ryan too. Then more suitors arrive, and they actually start fighting over Debbie.

[00:09:47] Ben: I think some of it was almost like a fatigue, right, I mean Joshua had been hammering her for money for 18 months, right, and now another person comes along and starts asking her for money and oh, this must be the way the world works. That's, that's all I can think is at some subliminal level, she's just beaten down, and she does it. You know, and then a third one comes along. You know, the third one comes along with the same scam. "I'm on an oil rig." And she starts feeding him money. Now, thankfully, unbelievably, scammer number two, Ryan, starts telling her, "You know, I think that Joshua's a scammer. I don't think you should be giving him money." You know, 'cause he wants the money. It's mindboggling.

[00:10:30] Bob: As the depths of his mom's financial troubles start to sink in, Ben begins to realize that her home is at risk. Ben's sister lives in another unit at their mom's house, and she pays the property taxes, but Mom took that money and sent it to the scammers instead, so the taxes weren't paid, and it's obvious Joshua is ready to go in for the big kill.

[00:10:52] Ben: We're into 2019, and by now, there's a lot of financial damage that's already been done. You know, one of the other things, of course, is these scammers are, are feeding her ways to get more money, right, so she might be told, "Well don't you have any friends that you could ask money for?" So she did ask friends for money. You know, "Do you think you could ask the credit card company to increase your balance?" "Do you think you could sell your house?"

[00:11:15] Bob: Oh my God.

[00:11:18] Ben: Oh yeah, yeah, I mean Joshua's trying to, definitely was trying to convince her to sell the house, 'cause I'm going to buy a house as soon as I get there, you know. Or, at the very least, get your house reassessed so the reverse mortgage company can increase your credit limit and you can get more money through that.

[00:11:37] Bob: Sitting in the kitchen, his childhood kitchen, feeling overwhelmed by the situation, Ben tries to figure out how to talk to his mom about it. He calls her.

[00:11:46] Ben: "Hey, I'm, I'm here. I came for a visit," you know, "Where are you?" "Oh, I'm, I'm out running some errands and I'll be home in an hour." "Okay, great." Turns out she was actually running around buying STEAM cards for the scammers during that exact moment. And, uh, you know, so she comes home, and we have our normal pleasantries, and, and then I just said to her, "You know, Mom, what's going on? I, I understand that you're having financial problems." Her face just went blank.

[00:12:15] Bob: Debbie has a searing memory of that kitchen table moment, too.


[00:12:21] Debbie: I was out running around for one of the other guys trying to get some STEAM cards, and Ben called, and he said, "Where are you?" And I said, you know, "I'm running some errands." And, and so he said, "Oh, you know, are you going to be long?" And I, and I said, "About an hour." And he goes, "Oh, I'm at the house. I thought I would surprise you," which, yeah, that did surprise me. And so I came home and, you know, we were just chatting and then he said, "Mom, I'm here because Aunt Sue called me." And then you know what hit the fan.

[00:12:59] Ben: I think at that moment she just realized that she's going to need to start confessing. And I also think it was just like a huge burden off her shoulders, 'cause having read the texts, since January, which you know I'd only read 10 months, the texts were just over and over and over pleading and pleading, "Please, please stop. Please stop asking for money. Please send me money, please, I can't pay for my medicine. I need to have radiation treatment." She was just stressed, stressed, stressed, and I think finally now that she was letting, going to let someone in, maybe the stress was just that weight was lifted off her shoulders.

[00:13:42] Bob: And she's begging for help. She just didn't know how to get help, right?

[00:13:45] Ben: Yeah, I think there's a lot to unpack in that moment, right, having to admit that all those, all that emotional energy that you had put into the last three years was for naught. But it wasn't that easy. She was, thankfully, completely transparent, just opened herself up to just everything that had happened in the last three years, and I said, "You need to stop," you know, "you need to cut these people off." And, "No! No, I mean Joshua's, he does love me. He's, he's going to pay me back." She was just convinced to her very fiber that this was love, that these were all good people, and that they were all going to pay her back.

[00:14:27] Bob: Ben gets most of the story from his mom that day, but he leaves without convincing her to stop contacting these people. But he doesn't give up. And he starts the process of shutting down his mom's access to bank accounts.

[00:14:39] Ben: I was begging her to believe me, I mean in tears, "Mom, this is your son. The person who loves you, the person who I would hope you would trust. I am telling you, you know, with all my heart, with all my intelligence, you are being scammed."

[00:14:57] Bob: In fact, the spell is so deep that Ben's mom is actually giving her online lovers a play by play during the intervention.

[00:15:05] Ben: The day that I confronted her, she was literally texting the scammers. "Oh my God, my son is here. I can't talk to you right now." And "Oh, my son just dragged me to the bank, you know, to make me close my account."

[00:15:19] Bob: So he tries a different tactic.

[00:15:21] Ben: So then we start using tools, right. We take the photos that she's been given, and we start running them through Social Catfish, and sure enough, we start getting hits. You know, "Mom, this person who claims to be Joshua is also Adam on Twitter, and is also, you know, Mark on this other website. And, by the way, his picture's also been listed as a scam person on this scammer's website," you know, scam reporting website. And even that, because I was hitting it with, you know, showing it to her very quickly, "Look Mom, look, look, look, look," you know, she wasn't absorbing it, right.

[00:15:57] Bob: Ben explains to his mom how reverse image searches work, that by uploading a picture of Joshua to a site like Social Catfish, you can see if that picture is used in connection with other people and other dating apps. As Ben and his mom look through the hits, one really stands out. Joshua is actually a church pastor in California whose identity had been stolen.

[00:16:21] Ben: And she looked at it, and he had videos, you know, we ran a video, and she just said, "Oh my God, I'm seeing a ghost." You know, like this is my Joshua, but it's not my Joshua. And, you know, that's what flipped it, you know, and it took, it took about two weeks to finally break down those barriers.

[00:16:42] Bob: Still, Debbie isn't completely convinced.

[00:16:46] Ben: Even then there was still lingering doubts. Joshua loves me, and then would say, you know look, "Well couldn't I just reach out to Joshua and, you know, just ask one more time for him to send me money, to confront him?" And we're like, "No. You, you cannot put any more emotional energy into this, 'cause every time you reach out to them, they are going to believe they still have a shot at getting some more money out of you."

[00:17:13] Bob: The emotional separation is painful. There would be no lifetime together, no dancing in the kitchen.

[00:17:19] Debbie: I thought I was just doing the right thing. It wasn't about being generous, it was, you know, like I thought I was going to get it all back. I thought I was going to live forever with this man and be happy, and we're going to travel one month, we're going to travel one week out of the month. We're going to go, you know, hither and yon and whatever, and you know, dance in the kitchen. (chuckle) Yeah, that doesn't work. Anyhow.

[00:17:44] Bob: The financial reality is equally harsh.

[00:17:48] Bob: So, I don’t know if you've done this, or how comfortable you are sharing it, but when you add it all up, how much money do you think was stolen from you? 

[00:17:55] Debbie: You're kidding, right? You, do you really want me to tell you?

[00:17:57] Bob: I do.

[00:17:58] Debbie: Probably about three hundred thousand.

[00:18:01] Bob: Ben helps his mom begin to put the pieces back together. But it's a long road, and far from over. Even though Debbie didn't sell the house for Joshua, the financial hole she is in might mean they have to sell anyway.

[00:18:16] Ben: So there's still a lot of stress. She still goes to church, she still sees her friends, she still walks her dog, which is good, we want her to stay connected to things, but just as we are having some difficulty envisioning how this is going to play out, how, how we're going to get out from under the financial problems, she doesn't have that vision either. I think I can sometimes see on the horizon, um, you know, like here's some things we're, we're going to do and that should resolve your financial problems, but she's not there yet because it's, it's a big change. She's lived in the same house for over 50 years, and right now we don't know if we can keep the house. That's, that's 50 years of, of memories to pack up and move someplace else.

[00:19:04] Bob: And basically that's the house you were born in, or you moved to when you were very young, right?

[00:19:09] Ben: Yes, yeah, I think I was 5 when we, when I moved there. So yeah, I mean, that's the only home I've, I've known.


[00:19:24] Bob: Amy Nofziger, Director of Fraud Victim Support for AARP Fraud Watch Network, has spoken to a lot of romance scam victims like Debbie, and their family members like Ben, who try to help. She says helping begins with listening in a very non-judgmental way.

[00:19:40] Amy Nofziger: We're on the outside looking in. We see this person as a scammer. But your loved one sees this person as their future, as their hope. As their beloved. So you know, it's, it's very difficult for them to even comprehend what you’re saying when they actually believe this person is real. And there's a lot of things that we, as humans, you know, have faith in and believe in that we've never seen or touched.

[00:20:10] Bob: Debbie's reaction, not to believe the truth right away, is pretty normal, Amy says.

[00:20:15] Amy Nofziger: One of the things I say to family members is, you know, you have to understand, it took this person that you love a very long time, or not even a long time, but it took them some real emotions to get involved with this scam and this person, so it's going to take that amount of time to get them out of it, to almost untwine what this scammer has manipulated them into thinking.

[00:20:37] Bob: At a time when many people are facing isolation because of COVID, the strong need to connect with others is also at work in a lot of these scams.

[00:20:45] Bob: I say to people all the time, I think loneliness might be the most powerful force in the universe, it's certainly one of them, and it's undefeated in a lot of ways. And so people do crazy things because they're lonely and, and I think if you're not in that spot, it's hard to appreciate just how, how driving a force it is.

[00:21:02] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, and loneliness means um, like I could have someone sitting in the room with me right now and still feel lonely, right. I mean loneliness is, is different things to, to many different people. And you know, loneliness, if you are someone who wants that companionship, right, your, your red flag finder might not be up.

[00:21:20] Bob: In fact, I've heard in the past talking with law enforcement that some people who are victims of romance scams know it's a scam, at least on some level. But they don't want to hear it, they're just happy to have someone to talk with. That's why it's so important for family members and friends to spot these scams early on.

[00:21:38] Amy Nofziger: We want to catch people when they've just sent maybe, you know, $100 in a prepaid gift card. That's when we want to catch them. That's when, you know, they start getting that gut feeling that this doesn't seem right. That's when we want to catch them, if not catching them way before and never sending any money, but these victims will never see their money again. We just need to, again, remind everybody, including ourselves that any time we are talking to someone that we do not know, we need to have our red flags up, and so if you're a family member who is listening to this and perhaps you have encouraged your loved one to go online to meet new friends or anything like that, just make sure that they know that the internet is a great place for that, but we all have to have those sa--, safety mechanisms in place and know the red flags.

[00:22:25] Bob: While getting involved and staying involved is very important, it's also important to maintain healthy boundaries.

[00:22:32] Amy Nofziger: It's not the best comparison, but it's one that we have. But if you look at someone who is an addict of drugs or alcohol, right, we hear of people, you know, coming into the home and stealing jewelry and, and pawning it for, for whatever their addiction is. And that's, that's one of the things that we find, is there's a lot of similar qualities in people who are um, chronically victimized by some of these scams, particularly romance scams and sweepstakes' scams. They get so e--, emotionally involved, they get under the ether, they get brainwashed, whatever you want to say, and some of the, you know, chemical reactions in the body that happens when these people are involved with these scammers are some of the same reactions they're finding with, with drugs and alcohol. So um, yeah, you're right. You do have to set up those boundaries and, and know what you can do for your loved one, and then know what you need to do for yourself.

[00:23:26] Bob: People who are going through a major life stage change, are often targeted by romance scammers, Amy says.

[00:23:32] Amy Nofziger: You know, we all have vulnerabilities, and, and that's what the scammers are really good at finding, is what your vulnerability is. And so, I mean I know we're talking about romance scams here today, but let's say you lost your job. I mean right now, obviously, during this pandemic we have so many people that don't have jobs. You are going to be more vulnerable to a work at home scam or an employment scam, whereas someone who has a job, that's not going to be their vulnerability. I mean right there, that's a susceptibility. And maybe they mention to you, yeah, you know, I might go online and, and find a new friend or something like that. That's when you need to start having that conversation in a very non-threatening and open way about hey, that sounds great, but let's just make sure that we know who we're talking to and that we're safe.

[00:24:18] Bob: If you are in the spot Ben was in, or in the spot Christine from last week's episode is in, trying to talk someone out of a romance scam who just won't listen, you must understand that the scammers have planned for you, they've anticipated your conversations, they've planted the seed of doubt for just such a confrontation, so you should expect a defensive response.

[00:24:40] Amy Nofziger: So we know that the scammers kind of turn into their beloved, but they also turn into like this very abusive relationship where they want to cut you off from every other trusted source out there, including your family and friends. So that is why we know that these scammers work in teams, and so they are accessible to you almost 24/7, right, to keep you under that ether. So you can't have a 12-hour break and get out of underneath their thumb, so to speak. And so they're saying, you know, "Oh, have you told your kids about me yet?" "Um, no, I haven't, you know, I'm going to take time." "Well, just know that they're not going to like me, because they're going to be jealous and you know, they're going to start asking you questions, and just, you know, keep me a secret for now." And so they really are turning the victim against their family and friends.

[00:25:32] Bob: So direct confrontations often don't work, Amy says. Instead, she suggests starting the conversation with a series of open-ended questions.

[00:25:41] Amy Nofziger: I think some of the important questions to ask are, well how did you meet them? And if they met them online, how do you know that he's real? Tell me about him. What does he do for a living? Where is he from? Has he asked you for any money or personal information? If he ever asks you to open up a bank account, that seems suspicious, would you definitely come and talk to me about it, please? And just remember that strangers are strangers online as they are in person, and treat them as such. Would you do that for me?

[00:26:14] Bob: Most important of all, don't attack. Don't do anything to shut down the other person.

[00:26:19] Amy Nofziger: You have to keep those lines of communication open. It might be painful to kind of play along with it, but we know that keeping those lines of communication open and not falling into kind of that defensiveness of what the scammer is telling the victim is going to happen, can actually work to your betterment, 'cause one, if the victim is more open in telling you about who this person is, then you can kind of data collect for yourself, and then start putting together all of the red flags. But if the communication between you and the victim shuts down, then that's not going to help anyone because they're just going to turn to the scammer more.

[00:26:57] Bob: I know that there's no way to avoid the strange dynamic that's often at work, especially when an adult child is trying to talk their parent out of an online lover's scam.

[00:27:06] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, I mean I think for a lot of people, it's a very difficult situation. I was actually working with a victim's family last week. I had like five brothers and sisters on the phone with me, and we were talking about this. And it's difficult because if you think about families, even the healthiest of families out there, there's history, right, and so all of the sudden for the child to be telling their parent, and getting upset with their parent who is still their parent, what to do and what to say, again, that could make that person feel more defensive like, "What? Of course I know what I'm doing. I'm your mother for crying out loud," right?

[00:27:46] Bob: Ben also says it's important to be non-confrontational with the victim, and to understand that like it or not, you are in an emotional tug of war with the criminal.

[00:27:57] Ben: So I think first and foremost is you don't want to blame the victim. That you need to gain their trust, you need to gain more trust, right, than the scammers have gained. So you don’t want to go on the attack. What you want to do is understand where they are, and let them know that you love them. And that, that you want to support them, take care of them. And you know you're, you're there to help them and, you know, to please trust you, right. Trust that love.

[00:28:33] Bob: The second priority, he said, act fast to get the financial situation under control, to get their accounts back under control.

[00:28:39] Ben: Tell the bank that there's fraud going on, and not to allow any transactions. Call all your credit cards and get your passwords reset. Time is of the essence. We did all that in one day, the day that I showed up, I was shutting everything down. There may be opportunity, if you act quickly, to recoup some of the money that's been lost, right, so in the week or two right before this all came to a head when Mom had, had purchased a number of really large Apple gift cards, $5,000, $2500, and we didn't act fast enough on those. By the time we acted, the scammers had already cashed them in and drained them. You know, if we had been a little faster, we might have been able to get that money refunded.

[00:29:29] Bob: Finally, he said, consider professional legal and financial help.

[00:29:33] Ben: Take the time to talk to lawyers, you know, a bankruptcy lawyer, consumer protection lawyers, for guidance. That's been helpful and it's, there's implications that you don't think of, right, so when my mom cashed in her IRA, because it was a $65,000 IRA, there's going to be about $18,000 in taxes that she's going to get hit with at 2020.

[00:29:55] Bob: Ben, a project manager at work, has taken the lead, putting the family back together. The most important step he said might have been a pact put into writing by the children.

[00:30:04] Ben: It's been incredibly important for me to be working with my sisters on this. We got together and, you know, we're, we're a close family but we live apart. We, you know, we talk occasionally on the phone, so it was critically important that we pull together, that we be a unified front for being loving and compassionate and reinforcing each other and our mother of, you know, you need to trust us, we're going to take care of you, right. That the worst thing I can think of is having siblings who are then fighting over how to resolve the issues you know, with the victim. And as a part of that, I said, we, as the three siblings, need to have what I call the, a team charter, right, like how are we going to operate so that we don’t tear each other apart, and, you know, as silly as that may that sound to some people, it's been, it was very helpful, right, it got us all on the same page, and you know, and for us, we agreed, this is not going to ruin our lives. We can't let it ruin our lives. We can't let it ruin our relationship with each other.

[00:31:15] Bob: A big part of that team charter is a statement of long-term goals, the outcome the family is aiming for.

[00:31:21] Ben: We set a goal of trying to keep my mom and my older sister in their house. To, and the goal of getting her into a budget that she could live the rest of her life on, that we didn't want her to fall into a depression, and that we should try and help her to get professional help. And we wrote that down, and you know, we meet every um, 1 to 2 weeks, and kind of review where we're at. We all have our action items that we're pursuing. We're tracking it all in a, in a document. It's helpful to be organized and have agreements so that we can keep each other accountable, but in a loving way. Thank God I have, you know, my sisters for that, as well as my aunt, so my heart goes out to anybody who has to try and tackle this alone. I would think that even if you don't have other family, latch onto a good friend who you can confide in and can support you, you know, as you try to help the victim of the scam out of their hole.

[00:32:23] Bob: That is so wise. The fact that you committed to writing all this down and, and understood that it could, you know, there are going to be moments where you're going to tear each other apart, or you could. Where does that wisdom come from?

[00:32:36] Ben: That's my dad. You know, my dad, like my mom, it was all about family. And uh, you know I, I think that's just his spirit saying, you know, stick together on this one. And, you know, and for me, personally, I'm just also, you know, my background, I'm an IT Project Manager, so I'm naturally organized in dealing with groups.

[00:33:04] Bob: I'm sure that your dad is very pleased with the way that you're taking care of your mom.

[00:33:09] Ben: Thanks for saying that.

[00:33:11] Bob: It took weeks to get Debbie's fever to break, and it'll take months or even years to fix her finances. Still, Debbie says she's a survivor, and she'll make it.

[00:33:21] Debbie: Well, that's this gal that, from high school that I, I see a lot, and I say to her, "I survived widowhood, I survived cancer, and then a knee transplant, and then another knee transplant, and then breast cancer again in February," I go, "and I'm going to survive this." I said, "I don’t know how, but I'm going to do it. I'm going to survive. It just won't be easy."

[00:33:48] Bob: Unfortunately, Christine is still waiting for her mom's fever to break. I connected her with an old friend, Barb Slovick, who ran one of the first romance scam support groups years ago. But we checked in on Christine right before this podcast is going to drop, she didn't have any good news to report.

[00:34:04] Christine: I really don't have a plan at the moment. I don't know what more can be done. I talked to the police, they said unless the banks try to charge her for the fraudulent transactions, then they can't really do much. There really isn't anything I can do and she's, she's going to lose everything that she has, and she doesn't care. And it's been over six months, and multiple, multiple people, and for some reason, all of this is so real to her. It doesn't make sense to anyone in my family, it doesn't make sense to anybody I know. Once you talk to her and you hear her side of it, no one understands how she does not see this has all been a scam.

[00:34:53] Bob: The point Ben makes of not blaming his mom is a crucial one. We all have a tendency to use language that puts the blame for a scam on the person who was targeted, language like, she was duped, or swindled, or fell for it, doesn't focus on the criminal act. It focuses on something we perceive the victim did wrong. The AARP Fraud Watch Network has launched a three-year campaign to change this narrative. The team believes success here could impact everything from protecting family relationships to police rightfully treating these events as crimes instead of only civil matters, to prosecutors choosing to take on these cases and to public policymakers grasping the damage caused by these crimes, and pursuing legislative solutions. If you're interested in engaging with Team Fraud Watch on this, email That's


[00:34:52] Bob: If you or someone you know has been a victim of a fraud or scam, call AARP's free Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can help you know what to do next and how to avoid scams in the future. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Producer, Brook Ellis; Associate Producer and Researcher, Megan DeMagnus; our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez; and of course, Fraud Expert, Frank Abagnale. Be sure to find us on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.



After being a widow for almost a decade, Debbie tells her kids that she’s interested in looking for love again. She finds a match on a dating site, so when another man she chats with while playing an online game expresses interest in her, she tells him she has a boyfriend. Little does Debbie know, both men are scammers, and it will take her family’s best efforts to pull her out of their web.

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