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Con Man Targets Widow in Online Dating Scam

In part 1 of this podcast, Isabella sends $100k to 'Michael' before realizing she's been scammed

Virtual Romeo Doesn’t Have a Heart of Gold, Part 1

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When 70-year-old widow Isabella finally tries online dating, she’s quickly swept off her feet by a handsome man named Michael who’s been hired by General Petraeus for an important mission in Afghanistan. When his luggage is lost, including a vital piece of equipment, Isabella steps in to help, lending Michael more than $17,000 to replace it. Thanks to her, the mission is a great success and there is a reward — of gold bars. Though Isabella pays more than $100,000 to a company, neither Michael nor the gold ever arrives. Over the course of another year of broken promises, in debt and heartbroken, Isabella realizes that this all may be part of an elaborate scam. 

(MUSIC SEGUE)

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

[00:00:02] Isabella: “I want to send the gift to you." And I said, okay, so, “What was it?” It was a pallet of gold. And I said, “I don’t want it.” And he said, “No, no, no. He’ll send it, we’ll get the, you’ll get the gold, we’ll sell it, but I have to get it out of Afghanistan immediately, because I don’t want anything to happen to it.

[00:00:24] I kept hounding Michael, I said, "I need my money." I mean I was in debt to my eyes.

[00:00:31] Bob: Welcome back to our new season of The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. We have an amazing set of true crime stories planned for you this season -- thanks so much for being with us. And we begin with a tale that hits some familiar notes at the beginning, but it has quite the surprise ending. Well, I think you'll be really happy when you hear how this story ends.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:58] Bob: Isabella grew up in New York City, in Queens, and lived a fun, single life, well into her 40s working in the airline industry when she met her husband-to-be, George, at work.

[00:01:10] Isabella: I worked out of JFK at that time, and I was a supervisor in the building that they were refurbishing, and he happened to be the foreman for the electricians there, and I was working on the project and that's how we met.

[00:01:26] Bob: The year was 1989. It doesn't take long for George to be smitten with Isabella, that's not her real name, by the way, we're protecting her identity.

[00:01:36] Bob: Um, and, and do you remember, uh, anything about your first real date? 

[00:01:41] Isabella: My first real date?

[00:01:43] Bob: Yeah. 

[00:01:44] Isabella: He told me he was going to marry me at my first… well it wasn’t even a real date; it was like a business date. And he said he was going to marry me.

[00:01:51] Bob: Five years later, in 1994, they are married, and after spending a decade or so more in the rat race, the couple decides it's time to find a more relaxing life.

[00:02:02] Isabella: I was close to a retirement age at that point. My husband had been retired. And um, he was just tired of paying his retirement income on taxes, so we moved to Delaware. By the beach, and it, we love it.

[00:02:16] Bob: Yeah, how did you pick the place you moved to?

[00:02:18] Isabella: He picked it actually based on a, a conversation with a golfing buddy. They said you should try the beaches in Delaware. We never heard of it, and he did, and he liked it, and so did I. It reminded me of the Jersey Shore, and I said, that was it.

[00:02:35] Bob: Their new home is going to be idyllic, but it isn't easy to get there, not at first.

[00:02:41] Isabella: Yeah, so we bought a um, we had a house built. It took us three years to sell uh our home because we decided to do it right when the housing crunch started, and um, when we found it um, it, it was only like 400 people living here. Now it is booming like crazy because of everyone leaving the cities. Um, and that’s what we did. We built a house and um, I’m literally four miles to the beach. It takes me 10 minutes to get there. It’s wonderful.

[00:03:11] Bob: It felt like the couple has only just settled into their retired beach life back in 2012 when things take an unexpected terrible turn.

[00:03:21] Isabella: We were on vacation in St. Martin, and he, all of a sudden had a pain in his leg, and he couldn’t walk. And we were, and I, it was like pins and needles, you know when you get you know pins and needles. And I, he said to me, “I can’t walk.” We didn’t know what it was. I went to get a uh, a physician, and of course, there was none available at that time, and then eventually, it went away, which was okay, he was tired. He, from the pain, because he said it was extremely painful. And um, since we were right on the beach, he said, “Why, why don’t you go back out to the beach, and I’ll just rest for a while.” I said, “Fine. No problem.” So this started, this whole exercise started around 1:30 in the afternoon, and then by about 4:30, after everything was over, I went back out to the beach, and I, the only reason why I know what the time was, because when I left to go to the beach, there was a clock at the door that I, you would see when I closed the door. And so I looked at the clock. It was 4:35, and I sat out there, but I just didn’t feel comfortable sitting there with him being there. So I packed up my bags and about 5 o’clock, 5 after 5, I went back into the room, and when I went back into the room, he was dead. They think it was um, a DVT, a blood clot in his leg. He had um, nicked his hand a few days before, and there was a big bruise on his hand. And the doctor thinks that it was a clot that broke off from this bruise that killed him.

[00:05:17] Bob: Isabella's life is turned completely upside down.

[00:05:21] Isabella: It was a complete shock, and then being out of the country, and being all alone, um, and trying to get the, make the decisions as to what you do with the body, what do you do with um, do I transport him? Do, documents that you needed. All of this which was an absolute nightmare, um, but fortunately I’m a very organized individual, and I just focused, and I thought, I had to go to the Prime Minister to get some things done so that we could leave the country, but um, I had him cremated. When his ashes were, they told me his ashes would be ready, I went to pick them up, the box was warm with his ashes. I mean it was an absolute nightmare. But life goes on. 

[00:06:16] Bob: Oh, I'm so sorry. That sounds like such a horrible, my god. Um, and so you come home and now you're, you're looking at a very different version of the life that you had imagined in Delaware, right?

[00:06:29] Isabella: Correct. And then after he died, my godmother died, who I was very close with, a month later, and then after that, a cousin of mine died of an overdose. And I became sick and activated a blood disorder that I had, that had to put me back on chemo; so it was a really rough three months after he came home.

[00:06:52] Bob: And it is a rough few years. But Isabella muddles through, learns to enjoy going to the beach again, settles into her new community, and finally, after five years pass, she decides she's really ready to look for love again.

[00:07:06] Isabella: I had a, a friend that kept pushing me to try to meet people, and he suggested, why don't you go on the dating sites. And I didn't want to, and then I finally did, and changed my life.

[00:07:22] Bob: So, so dating site did you try first?

[00:07:25] Isabella: The only, I only went on once, and it was Our Time.

[00:07:29] Bob: So you fill out a profile, you put it up, and, and pretty quickly you start getting attention, right?

[00:07:36] Isabella: Yes, um, I, I filled, I wasn’t even quite finished with the profile, and I got an instant message from two people. One was from uh Oregon, and one was from West Virginia. And I was like, why would anybody from those parts of the country want to contact me? So I responded to the one from Oregon, and I said, “Why are you contacting me? You live 3000 miles away.” And he says, “I’m moving to Delaware in two weeks."

[00:08:11] Bob: Now, that intrigues Isabella. He would be local, very soon.

[00:08:17] Isabella: Well, I was a little skeptical at first. The entire time I was skeptical. But I, I went along with it, and I said, okay, and we were uh, communicating back and forth, and um, he said, “Let’s get off the site and we'll go to our own message, and we’ll…” he said, “First we’ll text, then we’ll do email, then we’ll have a phone conversation, and then we’ll meet.” And I said fine.

[00:08:47] Bob: So but that was within well what, a month or a day or a week?

[00:08:52] Isabella: Oh the, the same day.

[00:08:55] Bob: Wow.

[00:08:56] Isabella: He was very aggressive. Um, or, or yeah, pushy, I would say is more than aggressive. And um, I said, fine. And he contacted me, you know, quite quickly. Um, constantly, um, for the next few days.

[00:09:17] Bob: As things heat up over text and email, Michael lays out his life story for Isabella. It is quite dramatic.

[00:09:26] Isabella: Well, he told me he was a retired colonel who um, had, had a wife who was killed in a car accident, and she had a business, and that he retired to take care of the business. He had one child. His son was in the military over in Syria, and he was moving to the East Coast, and I said, “Why Delaware?” And he said, “Well, I was born there.” And I was like, "born here?" And it, when I think back, the age length, there was, he said he was a military brat. There was a military installation back then when he was born. So I said, okay. That, you know, that would last. That would make sense.

[00:10:13] Bob: So he's on his way to Delaware to begin a new life, maybe with Isabella. But first, before he can move back East, he says there is something important he still has to do with someone who was very important, former General David Petraeus who is head of the CIA at the time.

[00:10:32] Isabella: What happened was he told me he was, this — and had been in the military intelligence, and this was around the time that General Flynn was removed from his position. And he was going to, he was asked by General Petraeus, he got a call to go interview for the position. And I’m like, right, sure. And um, he was going to Washington, and I verified that there were a number of individuals, they did not give the name, not just one or two, that there was fif—, if I remember correctly 15 people that’s names were submitted. So I said, okay, well maybe that’s what it, he is doing that.

[00:11:28] Bob: Satisfied that Michael's story checks out; Isabella sits at home and waits to hear about how the interview goes. And when Michael might be able to start his move to Delaware. Instead, a surprise request comes.

[00:11:41] Isabella: He went for the interview, and he came back, and on his return flight, he contacted me before he was getting on the airplane, he said to me, he said, “Could you do me a favor?” And I said, you know, “I’ll try.” He said, “My son needs some uh iTune cards right away. Could you purchase them for me, and I’ll give you the money when I see you.” And I said, “Okay, but I’ve never purchased an iTune card.” And he said to me, “Yeah, just go ahead.” And then, "How do I do it?" and he explained to me how to do it, and I said okay. And I said, “All right.” It was only a small amount of money, I’ll do that.

[00:12:26] Bob: This small amount of money, was it, you know, $25 or something like that?

[00:12:31] Isabella: I was like $300, the gentleman, he's in the military, you know, I'll, I'll look at it that way. I'll get it back. Not to worry.

[00:12:38] Bob: Isabella doesn't think much about the money. After all, she expects to see Michael in a week or so. But then he says there will be a delay in his move. A very important mission has come up.

[00:12:50] Isabella: Well, the next thing I, you know I, I knew that he was still supposedly moving, um, and, and packing and everything. So I was just waiting for the details of how he was getting there, etc., etc. So the next day, um, he contacts me and says that General Petraeus asked him to do an assignment for him, to go to Afghanistan. It seemed that there was a lot of money that was missing, and he wanted him to just investigate if he could get some information about this. And he’ll be gone only 10 days, and um, he’ll be back for good. And I questioned what he said, and he said, “I can’t say no.” And I said, okay, that was it. And I went, and I verified what he had said, because he had said to me, “I’ll show you.” And he sent me a link of, of some of the information. I read a New York Times article about the monies that were missing, and I said, okay. You know, there’s some validity to this. And he was leaving the next day. Which, at that day, was Sunday. This was one week after I met him.

[00:14:13] Bob: One week after you met him. So he, he tells you that he's on his way to Afghanistan, um, which I'm sure now you must feel this is kind of a whirlwind of things, right?

[00:14:22] Isabella: Oh, absolutely. I mean you have to remember, um, he had said to me at that time, you know, he gave me all of the signs that I would look for in a man, and he’d never met me. And I’ve never been on social media. So there’s no way you could find out anything about me, nothing. And he said to me, um, all of the things that I guess I would want to hear. And remember, my husband, on his first date had told me that he was going to marry me. So, it’s not uncommon for me to have heard something like that. So I said, okay.

[00:15:07] Bob: Isabella had seen love at first sight before, felt love at first sight before. So it all sounded a little crazy, but not that much more crazy than her love affair with George.

[00:15:09] Isabella: So he got on the airplane, and he texted me. He was in first class, so they had wi-fi and he was flewing on, he flew on Emirates and, he just gave me all these details which I verified. 

[00:15:34] Bob: But once Michael lands in Afghanistan, there is a small crisis. Well, a medium-sized crisis.

[00:15:41] Isabella: So um, he said he wouldn't contact me until he gets settled, and I said, fine. So I didn't expect to hear from him for a day or so. When he gets in Afghanistan, he contacts me early in the morning, and it happens to be um, President’s Day. And he said to me, in a panic, “I lost the camera that they wanted me to use.” I, I didn’t know what he was talking about. He said, “I had to set up this camera to take pictures to monitor. And I lost it, I left it in the cab on the way from the airport.” He said, “Can you help me? I need to get another camera.” And I, I was like, "How can I help you?" And I said, “You don’t understand, I don’t live near an area where you can purchase. I’m not in the city," you know, anything. And he was like, "You’ve got to help me, you’ve got to help me." And he was pleading with me. I said, okay. So I went to drive to the one town that’s closest to me to see if there’s maybe a pho—, we didn’t even have camera stores. We have nothing like that. We’re a beach community. I’m about 55 miles from Dover Air Force Base, and um, I, I, I didn’t know what to do. So he kept calling, and then he said to me, “I, I met someone here that can help me.” I said, “Well how did you meet him?” He said, “The guys here told me this guy, this person can really help me, he’s helped them a lot.” I said, okay. “He can get me the camera.” I said, “Oh good.” So he said, “But you’ve got to send money.” I’m like, "Okay…" and he said, “It’s an expensive camera.” And I said, “Well, okay.” And he gave me the model number of the camera, and the make, and the camera was about $12,000.

 [00:17:43] Bob: Isabella tried her best to figure out how to buy the camera for Michael, but there was no hope, not in her little beach town. But now it seemed the only way to help him was to send money -- a lot of money.

 [00:17:56] Isabella: You could get it at B&H Photo in Manhattan, but um, I couldn’t get it here. And he said, “Well this person can get it, and he will send it to me.” And this person’s name was Robert Asante. And I said, “Okay.” So I said, “Well how do I send him money?” And then he told me what to do, and how to get the money to him. And I said, “But it’s, I can’t get any money, it’s President’s Day weekend.” So he said, “Well just send a deposit.” And I said, okay, and I learned, that’s how I learned how to use Western Union and MoneyGram. I’ve never done anything like this before. And I sent him $1000. He gave me his name, his address, his telephone number, and this person lived in Ohio. And I said, okay. Um, but I thought he was abroad with, with Michael. And, but the address was in Ohio. And um, we, so I, in addition to Michael, I started communicating with Robert. And Robert would direct me to where the money should be sent. So I sent that, and he thanked me, and then they instructed me the next day when the bank was open to go to the bank to do a wire transfer. And Robert gave me all of the information to do the wire transfer. 

[00:19:34] Bob: So, uh you sent $1000 at first, but did you eventually send the whole $12,000?

[00:19:39] Isabella: Oh sure. That and then some. Because when he contacted me, he said to me, um, uh the "The price is more than what he told you it was." And I said, okay. It went up to like $17,000. And I said, okay. So I took the money out of the bank, and I went and deposited cash into his bank account. I had all of Robert’s information. And so I deposited that money.

[00:20:15] Bob: Michael said Robert was able to get him the camera he needed, and thanked Isabella, and soon after said he had good news. He had another mission he was secretly working on in Afghanistan. And it had been a success. So successful that there was a reward.

[00:20:31] Isabella: Well, two days later I hear from Michael that I have to help him again. I said, okay. And he said, “What is your address?” So I gave him my specific address, and he said to me he had gone on a mission to uh, help the, and he called him The King of Afghas—, Afghanistan, and he sent me a reward for helping bring back his son that had been kidnapped. And um, he had mentioned to me that they would go out on missions when he was waiting for the camera. So I said, okay. And he said, so he, "I want to send the money to, to, I want to send the gift to you." And I said, okay, and so, “What was it?” It was a pallet of gold. And I said, “I don’t want it.” And he said, “No, no, no. He’ll send it, we’ll get the, you’ll get the gold, we’ll sell it, but I have to get it out of Afghanistan immediately, because I don’t want anything to happen to it. So, give me your address and it’s the um, shipping company’s on its way.” And I said, “But I don’t want it.” So he says, “No, take it. And give me the address.” So I gave him my address, and he says, “I’ll be in touch,” and disconnected.

[00:22:07] Bob: But he says a pallet of gold is coming to your house?

[00:22:11] Isabella: A pallet of gold.

[00:22:12] Bob: Wow. I mean, I'm picturing several million dollars' worth of...

[00:22:16] Isabella: I don't want it.

[00:22:17] Bob: Yeah, but I'm picturing like millions of dollars of gold bars on a, is that what you pictured?

[00:22:23] Isabella: That's exactly what I thought of, of the security, somebody sending that to me. I said, “I don’t,” you know, “I don’t want that responsibility.”

[00:22:34] Bob: She's also a bit skeptical of the whole story. But when she does some research online, things seem to check out.

[00:22:41] Isabella: I didn’t trust the story of what he was telling me about that king of Afghanistan. And it wound up that sure enough, the, uh the new uh, Prime Minister of Afghanistan’s son was kidnapped, and they did um, rescue him, US forces rescued him and brought him back. So I said, okay, check that box off. That’s correct. And so I just waited. The next thing on that next day um, I hear from the shipping company. And the shipping company says that we’ve got the gold, but there’s custom fees and duty fees that need to be paid. And I’m like what is this? And I tried to get in touch with Michael, and you know, it’s difficult to get in touch with, etc., and...

[00:23:49] Bob: And in order to complete the delivery, the shipping company needs money ... a lot of money.

[00:23:55] Bob: How, how did the shipping company contact you?

[00:23:58] Isabella: They contacted me via, he had my phone number. He sent me via text.

[00:24:03] Bob: So someone called... or they texted.

[00:24:05] Isabella: All texts. I only spoke to Michael about maybe three times, and all the other times it was text or an email.

[00:24:15] Bob: And this was, do you remember the name of the shipping company?

[00:24:19] Isabella: Northwind Express.

[00:24:21] Bob: Okay.

[00:24:21] Isabella: And I googled it. I went to verify it, and I googled it, and yes, after trying to find it, which I did, ultimately, there was such a shipping company, it had a beautiful website, it was based, I think, in Wisconsin, and um, it shipped worldwide. It specialized in um, precious metals, etc., etc. And they needed this money in order for the shipment to proceed. 

[00:24:54] Bob: Okay, so um, but you were incredulous at this point. You're, I don't want gold bars. I don’t know about this rescue mission, but, but what happened next?

[00:25:04] Isabella: Um, so I didn't want them. Michael said, “You just have to do this. I will give you the money back. Just think of all the, you know, all the money that’s there. I’ll sell it. I can sell that.” His wife had, coincidentally, been a jeweler. So he had a gold license to buy and sell gold. So, he um, he said, “Just pay for this, and what they want, and then we’ll get it back…” and I said, okay.

[00:25:35] Bob: Okay, so you paid these uh, these um, shipping fees and um, some custom fees, right. What did that amount to?

[00:25:45] Isabella: A lot of money. It was, they started off small in the sense that it was like $58,000, and then it went up for another $25,000. I had to go into my um, IRA to get the money, and it wound up being over $100,000.

[00:26:10] Bob: And once Isabella starts dipping into her retirement money, well, Michael, and then Robert, keep asking for more.

[00:26:18] Isabella: At that point, it was that amount of money, and then they would ship it. They went me, and I would not do anything, I had to see documents. They sent me documents of a, um, a uh sealed document signed by the, some legislator in Afghanistan. It was a raised seal on it. They sent me transferring, showing transfer of ownership from Michael to me. They sent me um, another document along with that. They sent me pictures of the gold bars, and they sent me shipping, a copy of a shipping label. Now I had worked with the airlines, so I know how to track this information. And there was a valid, what they call, Bill of Lading, attached with these documents before I send any money. So yeah, it, they are professional to the T. 

[00:27:22] Bob: So you got something in the mail, in the physical mail from this at this point.

[00:27:27] Isabella: All via emails. That was via emails.

[00:27:29] Bob: Oh, okay, I see, okay. It was an email, but it looked like it had a raised seal.

[00:27:33] Isabella: Yes. You could see the raised seal.

[00:27:35] Bob: Got it. Wow. Okay, so, and how did you, did you uh put that money also into his bank account?

[00:27:41] Isabella: That money was transferred uh, wire transferred from my 401k into an account in Ghana.

[00:27:51] Bob: Oh boy, wow. Um, so and this is money you had worked your whole life to save, right?

[00:27:57] Isabella: Oh, sure.

[00:27:58] Bob: Weeks go by. Michael is finally ready to leave Afghanistan, but there is a hold up, and then a car accident. Each time Isabella needs to send more money.

[00:28:10] Isabella: He wanted to leave; they didn't want him to leave. He needed more money to get out of there. Um, because I, he had to pay some sort of duty, I guess, for himself. He had to buy his own ticket, and then he got out, he bought the ticket, and he went to Dubai. That's the way the flight operates, you know, from Afghanistan to Du--, um, Dubai. While he was in Dubai on a layover, he rented a car to run some quote/unquote errands, and he got into a car accident, and the car accident, um, there was some damage to the car, and he asked me if I could give him money to, to Dubai to get him out of Dubai to pay for the damage to the car. And I said, “I don’t have any money. I gave you everything.” So, he said they only wanted $125,000. And I said, “What about insurance?” I’m like, what car would be $125,000? So I’m thinking maybe a Mercedes. He said to me, “They don’t repair cars there.” I said, “Well this is ridiculous. Go to the Embassy.” And that was another nightmare trying to get him out of Dubai. 

[00:29:36] Bob: But you just said to me that you had given him everything. Do you mean, did you actually fully liquidate your 401k?

[00:29:41] Isabella: Uh-huh, I gave him my 401k, I gave him throughout the course of everything, I mean I gave him everything. Any savings that I had, I even um, in order to help further get him home, pay for additional fees, pay for additional um, I had to take out a home equity loan.

[00:30:02] Bob: Oh my god.

[00:30:05] Isabella: Oh no, it gets better. It gets better.

[00:30:08] Bob: Well, what happens next?

[00:30:11] Isabella: So, from, he then allegedly, Robert remember is still in the picture, Robert allegedly gets some lawyers to fly over to help him in the courts there. And the lawyers are communicating with me, one lawyer is anyway. And um, I had to pay for tickets on my credit card to pay for them to go to Dubai to, to appear in court. So I, I, I took care of that. Um, he also needed additional money while he was stuck in Dubai, and how am I going to get that money? And as, as I said, I had to liquidate everything. So you know, bit--, bits and pieces, they had me send money to other people in Ghana. They had me um, buy another ticket for someone else to travel.

[00:31:16] Bob: Isabella has spent pretty much all her available cash at this point. But it's still not enough to get Michael home, so to keep the flow of money coming, he talks her into taking out some new credit cards, and even a home equity loan. Well, he actually gets someone else to fill out the application for her.

[00:31:34] Isabella: I didn't have the money.

[00:31:36] Bob: Yeah, so, so what did you do next instead?

[00:31:39] Isabella: So, that's what the thing was, I didn’t have the money. And I had taken out the home equity loan. They had gotten um, this other individual that was with Raphael’s Bank, had applied for this home equity loan for me. I didn’t even apply for it. They applied for it all online, um, although I provided all the documentation. They provided credit cards with me. I had to get cash advances, would send that for, to them. They asked me to buy tickets for certain people, and the money, the value of the tickets they were sending to him, this went on for a good, in total of about hmm, a year and a half this was going on

[00:32:30] Bob: Oh wow.

[00:32:32] Isabella: Yes.

[00:32:33] Bob: As Isabella starts to feel the weight of all these payments, Michael tries to prove that she'll soon get all her money back, that there's nothing to worry about. To prove that to her, Michael lets her log into what he says is his bank account. It shows many of her payments to him, and it shows a multi-million dollar balance.

[00:32:55] Isabella: It, I, I just, and as I said I had to get a home equity loan. They um, introduced me to another person who was supposedly his banking representative from a bank in London which handled all of his gold transactions. And this bank had his account information. He had me go into one of his own personal accounts into a um, a fund where he had savings. And I... he had me hack into his account, I guess, and sure enough there was money in there that showed he had all of this money that would cover my debt, the debt that I had. It showed when the deposits were made, it showed that it was a transfer bank from this bank in London, and um, I, however, in order to get money from there, I had to pay a fee. And I said, "Well I don't have the fee." And I didn't pay the fee. But there still is that website that has this bank, it's still online, 'cause I check it periodically, and to see if it, if it's been removed. And there it is, and it's, it's an investment company.

[00:34:28] Bob: And it, it appears to have your money in it?

[00:34:31] Isabella: No, his money. Money, supposedly his money in it.

[00:34:37] Bob: But that was the money he was going to repay you with.

[00:34:40] Isabella: Correct, just so he, to show me, to prove to me that he did have money. It was um, I guess, I guess $12 million, something of that nature.

[00:34:53] Bob: It takes a year before Michael says he's out of the Middle East. As Isabella's reserves start to become exhausted, she doesn't know what to do. Michael isn't helping, but still every time she challenges his stories, they seem to check out. And even when something suspicious happens, well Michael seems to have an answer for everything.

[00:35:15] Isabella: We didn't communicate as much because the money started to dry up. Um, we um, and I was suspicious, and I kept telling him the entire time, I, you know, I don't believe this. I don't that. I mean I went as far as to verify that he was in um, in the military, and I had a friend that was a retired military person, and I investigated that yes, there was this person, Michael (bleep) was a retired military colonel, and so I said, okay, he's legit. And it, I went on a, a site that he didn't provide, somebody else did, so I verified this. And it, I mean I constantly checked the internet to see if there was something about him, and there wasn't. Nothing. Well, finally, um, I guess it was about a, over a year and four months. I was getting very, very suspicious. And something popped up on the internet about him, about his name. And, but it wasn't from Oregon, it was from, he was from another part of the country, and this person said he it was a scam. And I mentioned it to him, and he said, do you believe I'm a scam? And at times I would say yes, and he would get angry with me, and I would tell Robert, I think this was a sc--, a scam, and Robert would get angry with me.

[00:36:51] Bob: Still, Isabella's love overrode her suspicions. Even as friends try to warn her about what's happening.

[00:36:58] Isabella: And um, I had a friend that sent me a newspaper clipping about scams and how this woman was taken for almost a million dollars, and she um, I didn't open up the envelope. I said, because he wasn't a scam. And then, finally, I kept hounding Michael, I said, "I need my money." I mean I was in debt to my eyes.

[00:37:24] Bob: Finally, Michael offers to help Isabella pay some of her bills. He gives her access to his bank account, well what he says is his bank account, and lets Isabella use the website to transfer some money to herself, even supplying her with log-in information, and a special six-digit authentication code. But when she goes to her bank to get the money, Isabella's bank accuses her of committing fraud. It seems that she might have hacked into someone else's bank account. Isabella, now penniless, standing before a bank teller who is accusing her of fraud, well that's certainly not the happy ending we promised you. But that is coming. That's next week on The Perfect Scam.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:38:18] Bob: If you have been targeted by a scam or fraud, you are not alone. Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360. Their trained fraud specialists can provide you with free support and guidance on what to do next. Thank you to our team of scambusters; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; Researcher, Haley Nelson; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; and of course, our Audio Engineer, Julio Gonzalez. 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.

END OF TRANSCRIPT

The Perfect ScamSM is a project of the AARP Fraud Watch Network, which equips consumers like you with the knowledge to give you power over scams.

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