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Fraud Victim Helps Catch Romance Scammers

In part 2 of this podcast, Isabella teams up with officials to take down Robert Asante for his crimes

spinner image Website graphic for episode 102 of The Perfect Scam


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Full Transcript


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

[00:00:02] Isabella: My bank said to me we’re going to cancel your account because we believe you’re involved with fraud. And I went, what? And I, I, I just freaked out.

[00:00:14] Isabella: I’m on a mission. I am going to find these people. They are going to go to jail.

[00:00:20] Debbie Deem: I often tell people there's not enough FBI agents or, you know, police agencies in the world to investigate all these kinds of transnational fraud crimes that are going on.

[00:00:30] Isabella: Go with your gut. Because your gut tells you, this isn’t right. And I didn’t listen to my gut.

[00:00:42] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. Last week you heard the story of Isabella who lives near the beach in Delaware. If you haven't listened to that episode yet, you should go back and do that now. But to catch you up, Isabella had just retired there when her husband George died suddenly, and she faced a dramatically different beach town retirement life. Five years pass, and Isabella at the urging of friends decides to try to find companionship online. She quickly meets Michael who turns her life upside-down. Michael says he's a retired colonel, about to move to Delaware near his childhood home, but he's been ordered on an important mission to Afghanistan first. Isabella hopes to meet him in person soon, but there is one complication after another, a lost camera, shipping projects, travel snafus, and Isabella starts sending him money -- a lot of money during their 18 month romance, about $500,000. She's deep in debt and has cashed out retirement accounts, and now she can't even pay her bills. We pick up the story when Michael finally offers to transfer some money into Isabella's account to help her pay some of those bills. It's a moment of truth for Isabella.

[00:02:02] Isabella: And then finally, I kept hounding Michael, I said, "I need my money." I mean I was in debt to my eyes. I didn’t know how I was going to pay any of my bills. He said, Okay, I'll get you the money."

[00:02:17] Bob: But Michael has an unusual way to get money to Isabella. He has her log into another bank account and transfer money to herself. She isn't really sure what she's doing, but she is pretty desperate.

[00:02:31] Isabella: We were communicating back and forth with the account number, and you know when it comes to the authentication code that they send you, that six-digit code, well he sent me that six-digit code, but the first character of this six-digit code was the devil’s head. And I was like, “Michael, how can I input that?” And it, I mean it really freaked me out. Instead of like 123456, it was the emoji of the devil as 1, and then 23456. And of course it timed out and then we went back again. But I went into the bank account, I finally got in, and I transferred the funds. There was plenty of money in that account, and I transferred it into my bank account.

[00:03:20] Bob: After entering the authentication code, the one with the emoji of the devil, Isabella waits for the cash to hit her bank account and waits. And waits.

[00:03:32] Isabella: I went to my bank, nothing appeared. He kept saying to me, “Did the money appear?” “No. It didn’t.” It, finally, my bank said to me we’re going to cancel your account because we believe you’re involved with fraud. And I went, what? And I, I, I just freaked out.

[00:03:51] Bob: Suddenly accused of hacking into someone else's bank account, Isabella confronts Michael. He says there must be some mistake, that her bank is to blame. Panicking, Isabella starts searching for answers, and she remembers a letter her friend had sent to her months earlier, a letter about romance scams that she had until now refused to open. We mentioned this letter last episode, but now, accused of committing fraud herself, she decides to take a look at the letter.

[00:04:20] Isabella: And I opened up the letter that my girlfriend had sent to me, maybe seven months ago, eight months ago, and I read that article, that news article, and in it, in there is says that you know, how to do things and what you should do is do a Google's reverse image. And that’s what I did. Since I had pictures, he had sent me pictures of himself, I did a Google’s reserve image, and there, and lo and behold, was the picture of Michael as a model, and someone had photoshopped his head from a picture, onto a military person’s uniform. And that’s how I discovered. And I approached him. I said, “Michael, what, what is this?” I said I confronted him with it. He said, no, he was hacked by this model. And I didn’t, I said, “Impossible, I don’t believe it.” And now, I’m like, what am I going to do? I, I realized at that point I was scammed. And he said, “I’ll get you all the money that you, that I owe you.” And I’m like, right. And that was how I discovered it. 

[00:05:31] Bob: That must have just been like your world crashed at that moment.

[00:05:35] Isabella: Oh, it did. It did. I, I did not know what I was going to do.

[00:05:42] Bob: Isabella had truly hit rock bottom. She's out of money, and she just realized the past 18 months of her life were a lie. Most romance scam stories end like this with a broken heart and an empty bank account, but Isabella's story, well it's actually just beginning. Because once she hits rock bottom, well suddenly, she starts to see things more clearly. So much of the past several years had been painful to Isabella, a pain she kept deep inside, but now it's all coming to the surface, and that is a good thing.

[00:06:20] Isabella: At that point in time, I got my strength back, and all of that vulnerability that I had suppressed from the death of my husband, and everything else had transpired, was gone. I was back to being me again. And I said, I am going to fight this. And um, I went to my minister, and I told him, he was the only person I had, because I have no children, and I do have family, but I just couldn’t tell them. And we prayed, and he said, “Go to the police.”

[00:07:02] Bob: So, like many people in her situation, Isabella fills in a police report, but she doesn't just fill out a form, she spends countless hours detailing every last transaction, every bank account, every interaction she has with Michael, and with his accomplice Robert, and anyone else she was instructed to work with. She makes a promise to herself that her story won't end here.

[00:07:28] Isabella: I went to the police, and I told them my story, which took hours to tell the story, and the financial crimes person said, “Send me a document outlining everything,” which I did.

[00:07:43] Bob: There is a 9-page police report from Isabella's first interaction with law enforcement. I have seen it. It's really something. Still, understandably, the local detective says it is extremely unlikely that anything will come of it. Romance scammers are usually halfway around the world, and they move stolen money so quickly, there's no way local cops can ever catch a criminal like that. The detective makes sure she understands this is a reality.

[00:08:10] Isabella: I said to him, “I’m on a mission. I am going to find these people. They are going to go to jail.” And he said, “No, in Delaware we don’t prosecute people like this. They just don’t do it. It requires too much work.” And I said, “I’m telling you. We are going to get these people.” And he says, “Well, I hope so.” And that was my mission, and that’s what I did and have been doing since October of 2018. 

[00:08:42] Bob: Isabella is relentless. She takes that police report and sends it to anyone she can think of. And she spends endless hours googling all the names and all the accounts, any piece of evidence she has.

[00:08:55] Isabella: So I, just I guess, trolled is the word that everybody use, trolled everybody and everything for months. I provided the Department of Justice, I provided them with information that I had found. And I'm sitting there and I'm and I, every so often I would google something, and I would get a thought in my mind, and I checked this one out and I checked that out. I had a lot of names to look at. And I told the person in Delaware, “This guy, Robert, he’s in the United States. You can go after him.” “No, they use aliases, they don’t use…” And I said, “No, guy is real.” They wouldn’t really believe me. So I said, "Okay."

[00:09:40] Bob: Then, one day, the almost unthinkable happens. It turns out that Isabella is right. One of the criminals she sent money to along the way is in the United States, and he's gotten in trouble.

[00:09:55] Isabella: So finally in February of 2019, I’m sitting there, and I’m googling everybody. I just decided this was my day I was going to do something, it was Sunday, and the last person’s name that I was googling, I put in, and up pops a, a press release.

[00:10:19] Bob: The Department of Justice said it had arrested five people who were part of a criminal enterprise based on Ghana that committed a series of romance scams and other crimes, allegedly netting over 10 million dollars from 2014 to 2018. Most of the money was sent to bank accounts in New York, the DOJ said, but there was more.

[00:10:40] Isabella: And one of those people was one of the people I deposited money into their checking account.

[00:10:46] Bob: Oh... wow.

[00:10:49] Isabella: Yeah, I was like ecstatic.

[00:10:51] Bob: What was the name of the person you had sent money to who was indicted?

[00:10:54] Isabella: That one was under the name of Joe Terry.

[00:10:57] Bob: Joe Terry. And where was Joe?

[00:10:59] Isabella: Joe was in jail in New York.

[00:11:01] Bob: But where was he, um, when they arrested him or when you sent money to him?

[00:11:04] Isabella: New York.

[00:11:05] Bob: He was in New York. Okay, so I can't imagine, did you double-check like 50 times when you saw the name?

[00:11:11] Isabella: Oh, absolutely.

[00:11:12] Bob: Joe Terry wasn't his real name. It was Tourey Ahmed Rufai, but the Joe Terry alias was in the press release, so Isabella was able to link her crime with this set of arrests.

[00:11:26] Isabella: So, I immediately took the press release, I sent it to the Department of Justice, my guy that was here, and I sent it to the financial crimes guy. They went crazy. They were so excited about this. So they immediately contacted them and linked my case to that case. I called Assistant State District Attorney that was on the case and told him that I was involved, and gave him an explanation.

[00:11:54] Bob: With all these long distance international crimes, there's often someone, somewhere who lives in the US. It's too hard to move large amounts of money in and out of the country without being noticed. So often crime gangs rely on people inside the US to receive the money first who then figure out a way to transfer it or even physically carry it out of the country. Money mules they are sometimes called. Other times the criminals just get sloppy. In this case, more than one of Isabella's criminals happened to be in the US, and once she's able to link this first arrest with her situation, she helps bring down a whole crime ring, and she helps make sure the criminals get put away for a long time.

[00:12:39] Isabella: I said, "I'd like to appear at the sentencing.” And he said, "Okay," but in the meantime, I had written, and I thanked the judge and I thanked everyone for doing what they did. And when I thanked the judge, I sent a copy of my 9-page police report to her to show that it’s legitimate. And I could not attend the sentencing, but the judge used my document as supporting documentation and it was put into the court of record, and she gave the almost maximum amount of sentence to this person and to another person that went after it. 

[00:13:29] Bob: Joe Terry was sentenced to four years in prison back in 2019 after pleading guilty to a long list of friends. He fled the country, back to Ghana, but he's been found and extradited back to the US where he now faces even more prison time. Robert Asante has been indicted and is awaiting trial. Debbie Deem is a former FBI Victims’ Rights Advocate, and she's seen a lot of these cases. They often involve crime gangs and specific African nations, she says.

[00:14:00] Debbie Deem: I think that would be, both Nigeria and Ghana are kind of where these crimes, I'll say, originated. The things that I've read show that this is usually a very educated population with not a lot of job opportunities, and so there's oftentimes, and, and again, this is a type of organized crime because you have people doing different functions. So a lot of these folks are working out of internet cafes or working with other people, kind of job by job perhaps, victim by victim, or working with their compatriots, um, oftentimes will cells in the United States as well. And the fact that again, it's a highly educated force of people, um, that basically don't have many other options in their life as, as they perceive it.

[00:14:48] Bob: I asked Debbie if these scams are now being passed down through generations.

[00:14:53] Bob: And I'd like to maybe tease that out a little bit more. The Nigerian scams have been around for a long time, right, so this is almost like a, a, would it be fair to say this is a second generation, if you will of, of organized cybercrime coming from this part of the world?

[00:15:07] Debbie Deem: Yes, so I'd totally say third generation. Your first, of course, is the Nigerian prince letters that people used to get by fax all the time, and I'd say the second generation is maybe the inheritance kinds of things that we're still seeing, um, and then the third is kind of, I think it's morphed into these romance scams, and I'm, I'm kind of going to guess that the fourth generation is going to be this combination of romance and investment frauds that we're seeing with a lot of the cryptocurrencies.

[00:15:33] Bob: Well, tell me about those. What, what is that newest crime you're seeing?

[00:15:37] Debbie Deem: This is kind of a trend I'm seeing where more and more of these romance crimes, um, their, their scam predator or fraud predator that they're involved with is asking them to invest money into certain bitcoin or other kinds of cryptocurrencies, as a better opportunity for them to eventually live together and be together. And so we're, we're seeing more and more of the victims that I have, not just in romance crimes, but others as well, um, either being told to go to a broker, um, an attorney friend, or something that these, that, you know, these so-called boyfriends or girlfriends have, and to do these investments, um, you know, giving them information about their, their bank accounts and all, and, and turning that money into a different kind of, again, virtual currency. Other times they're being told to put $20 into bitcoin or ATM machines that um, we probably walk by every day and not realize that that's what the function of those are. And you see those commonly in convenience stores, gas stations, you know I, I see them also in liquor stores where these people, um, have businesses where basically they're accepting virtual currencies that can be used for fraud.

[00:16:54] Bob: In the past, pursuing these criminals through cyberspace felt nearly hopeless, but there are more prosecutions now, Debbie says.

[00:17:01] Isabella: Things have changed considerably since, especially the passage of the Elder Abuse Prevention and Protection Act in 2017. And since that time, that's kind of given a lot of the federal investigative agencies, as well as the US Attorney's Office, a lot more authority and actually being required to do a lot more in the field of elder exploitation, including these transnational crimes. I'd say that there's a, a lot more cases being reported, and then of course there's the problem of people that don't report. But for example, in 2020, the Federal Trade Commission reported 804 million in losses involving over 32,000 complaints for that year only, and the Internet Crime Complaint Center at reported 605 million, over half a billion dollars involving 23,000 complaints. So again, people are reporting and thankfully we are seeing more efforts by both local task forces that often are local and federal investigators working together, or the locals are working on cases like this, might, maybe where it is just money mules involved or people doing the crime here, but then they're also getting many more prosecutions and investigations of other people in other countries, especially in places like Nigeria and Ghana.

[00:18:22] Bob: Amy Nofziger, Director of Fraud Victim Support at AARP's Fraud Watch Network says Isabella's fake lover followed a familiar strategy beginning with his claim of being in the military or retired military.

[00:18:35] Amy Nofziger: I would probably say it's the number one thing that most of these um, romance scammers say. And you know, we respect our military, we admire them, we hear about them all the time. They're, you know, risking their lives for us, and there's this, this just, you know, romanticism about you know whether a man or woman in uniform. And so I think that the criminals, you know, it meets every one of their things. Um, the respect, the authority, you know, most of the times, um, they say, well the reason I'm not, you know, able to call you is 'cause I'm overseas in the military, or I don't have good wi-fi. You know, so it really matches up with their ploy perfectly.

[00:19:18] Bob: In his case, this criminal, who called himself Michael, he seemed to go even several steps further with his story. He, he used big names. He said he was going to Afghanistan. He invoked the name of General Petraeus. He talked about kidnapping. So it, is that common to use elements from the news as part of the story that criminals tell?

[00:19:39] Amy Nofziger: Oh, absolutely. Um, these criminals will use current events; anything you see on the news or read in the newspaper, to make it seem more credible and more real. And because, you know, I know there's a statistic out there about new information hitting our brains, you know, every one second or whatever it is; we hear so much all the time. So when you hear words like Afghanistan, Petraeus, kidnapping, military, you know, rescue mission, missionary, whatever it is, we're like, oh, I did hear that. Like I heard that this morning on the news. That must be right. Right, so they do, they use these current events to, to confuse us, to make it seem real, to make it seem relevant to us. And, again, credibility. The celebrity of it all. The celebrity of General Petraeus, the credibility of a general. You know, we hear about Afghanistan all the time in the news. Again, they just want to make it seem credible.

[00:20:38] Bob: You know, we haven't talked about that before, and it seems to me really, really important that when, when a criminal spins a story and they use something in the news, it gives it this, this air of credibility like you know, bitcoin. Yeah, I've heard about bitcoin lately, or uh rescue mission, kidnapping. I've heard, yeah, I did see that in the news last night. So somehow or another, that, that triggers a, if, if I picture credibility and, and trust as like a thermometer right. It gives you like an extra 10 points in the trust-o-meter, right?

[00:21:08] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, absolutely. And you know, I mean especially you bring up bitcoin, right, and you know there was one week I, I, I think I heard it on every single news broadcast, because something with Elon Musk, it's Saturday Night Live, and he said, bitcoin or crypto so many times, and then the scammers, they glom onto that. Right, they glom onto these current events. They use them to confuse us, to make us feel even that we're intelligent, that we're up to speed on what's going on. And like, oh, you've heard about, you know what's going on in Afghanistan. This is what, this is real. I'm living it right now.

[00:21:45] Bob: I, I think there was an additional component that made this work for her. Um, she said to me several times when I talked to her, "Well I went and verified what he told me." Like she actually went online, googled some things, did some research, and five or six times during our conversation, she said, "Yeah, it checked out, it checked out." So, so also using those elements, somebody who's even a little bit skeptical, uh it might pass that test because there's an element of truth to the things that they're saying, right?

[00:22:14] Amy Nofziger: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I, you know, commend her for going and trying to do this research, but the, the scammers are doing the research too, right, and they're finding these credible, real-life stories and using them as their own. So the victims that do have some skepticism, they go check it out. It checks out, and again, it's just to your trust-o-meter, another 15 points because it says it right there, so he must be credible, she must be credible. I believe this person, and I love them, so why would they lie to me?

[00:22:45] Bob: Another thing Isabella told me that just kind of broke my heart was that a friend of hers actually mailed her a copy of a story about a romance scam. And she knew it was in the letter, and just didn't open it. And it sat there for months and months, and it wasn't until the day that she hit rock bottom, and was basically out of money, and started to really feel a creeping sensation that something was wrong that she opened the letter. And that, that letter and that story actually triggered her sort of back to the reality of the situation. Is there anything that strikes you about that, that letter and her refusal to open it as kind of symbolic of what happens to people?

[00:23:25] Amy Nofziger: Humans don't always want to face the truth, right. Her gut was telling her, um, she knew what that letter was going to say, and she, she probably at that point wasn't really to admit to herself yet. And we hear that a lot from victims. Um, they say, you know, my, my gut was telling me, I shouldn't be doing this, but for some reason, you know, my heart or my emotions took over, but I knew the whole time. Um, and often times, you know, victims want to prove it to themselves and to others that they were right. They, it's hard to come to terms with the fact that you were victimized, that this criminal was able to take advantage of you. I don't know what was going on in her head, but I imagine she knew what that letter was going to say, and she wasn't ready to accept it yet.

[00:24:13] Bob: I asked Amy, "Can online dating be safe?"

[00:24:16] Amy Nofziger: You know, I think anything online can be safe, but we have to do it um, with our eyes wide open. Right, for some reason people go online and they have this kind of higher level of trust for some reason. Um, I always kind of give a, an example, and it's not a very good one, but I think it helps people understand. So all of a sudden, you're just talking to some person online that you've never met, that none of your friends know, and you're telling them your deepest, darkest secrets. Now imagine that person came up to you in the middle of a parking lot, and said, hi! You know, I'm Bob. What's your name? Do you want to chat? You'd be like, you're crazy, right? Like for some reason though, online we have this level of trust, and we really need to put those boundaries, put those barriers up. Um, you know we can trust, but we need to verify, right. So I think if you're going to be going onto an online dating site or any social media dating site, anything like that, you know, just, it just, don't give too much away, right. Almost think that this person is trying to scam you. And then be pleasantly surprised when they're actually a good person.

[00:25:22] Bob: Debbie was thrilled that Isabella's reaction to discovering the fraud was to go to the police. And to take it upon herself to try to make sure her perpetrators ended up in jail. Her dogged efforts to fill out all those forms in detail, every bit of the crime, were a big help.

[00:25:40] Bob: And I know filling out those forms sometimes can feel like a pointless exercise, right, like nothing's going to happen, and, and so people want to give up and, and it's hard to, to appreciate that while nothing might happen for a couple of years, there might be a case three years in the future where the bank account number you entered matches another piece of information, of evidence the FBI has and they, they make a database, and the next thing you know you actually are a puzzle piece to a crime, right?

[00:26:06] Debbie Deem: That's exactly right. And I've got two quick stories. There had been a woman I'd been called by a local APS to kind of you know, go, go visit. I would often go visit or talk to them on the phone and try to explain just the kinds of things we're talking about now, and I, I really urged this woman to file a report. Her losses were substantial, and it was just emotionally so devastating. And I know at the time she said, Debbie, you're asking me to revisit my crime scene. You know, I have 40 some transactions." Um, so she did the best she could, and she did. She called me up afterwards, and she said, "Okay, I did fill that IC3 report." And luckily, I was still there, um, at the office before I retired, but I got a call like the week before I, I was retiring, and it was actually um, an agent in another city who said, um, "Debbie, I'm so glad I got you. I'm trying to reach this (let's call her Mary Smith), I'm trying to reach Mary Smith, and she refuses to talk to me unless I go through you because she doesn't believe that I'm real. Um, I really need to talk to her. We've got her IC3 report, and we're going to use it as part of our arrest that we're going to be making in the next two or three months." So I was able to go out and visit Mary Smith and let her know this was a real agent, and again, her information was so helpful on that. Another quick case was um, I'm always pushing people to file reports with, and I had a, a, just a quick email from a, a detective that I work with often on these cases, and she said, "I just want you to know, it does work to file those IC--, IC3 reports. I just heard from one of my victims that she has been contacted by a federal agent and they're going forward with her case." So it's not going to happen to everyone. I, I want to help with managing expectations, but it is happening more than what was happening even three years ago.

[00:27:49] Bob: But it's important to know that even if law enforcement is getting better at catching these internet criminals, the truth is, many of them will never be caught. Many of these cases go cold.

[00:28:00] Debbie Deem: What I can tell you is how difficult it is to do one of these. I've had, from what I've learned from agents, oftentimes you know, subpoenas can only be honored basically here in the United States, so if people are operating outside of the United States, our subpoena system may not work as far as getting those kinds of bank records or internet records or things like that that people need. These fraudsters are using fake phone numbers. They're using emails that are easily hidden. A lot of the work is encrypted. Uh, so it's, it can be very, very difficult investigations. And again, there are so, so many of these kinds of crimes that really they can only focus on one and try to kind of unthread it and see where that pattern leads. I often tell people there's not enough FBI agents or, you know, police agencies in the world to investigate all these kinds of transnational fraud crimes that are going on, so it, it's up to us to kind of protect each other and, and warn each other, and stay away, you know, follow those danger flags.

[00:29:03] Bob: So people who go online looking for love, maybe love at first sight really does happen, but sending people money at first sight, well that should never happen. Amy has seen it too many times.

[00:29:15] Amy Nofziger: Again, go back to that guy on the street or the girl on the street who all the sudden comes up to you and says, "Wow, you're the love of my life." It doesn't happen within a week, right, they love-bomb you. They tell you sad stories, they get you under their emotional ether. But the biggest red flag, they ask for money. They ask for money. They ask for phones. They ask for gift cards, whatever it is, and I'm going to tell all of you wonderful people out there looking for love, you do not want to be with somebody within the first two weeks they're asking you for money. You deserve better than that.

[00:29:51] Bob: Could you just say that again, because I think that deserves to be said several times.

[00:29:56] Amy Nofziger: Oh, I feel like I'm having like cocktails with my girlfriends now. You deserve better! Right, I mean if you, you have, you have a whole retirement. You've worked hard your whole life for your money. You want to be with someone who's as independent and strong as you are, and if this man, woman, whoever it is that you're talking to is asking you for money or help within the first couple of weeks of your relationship, go away. You need to be with someone who is independent and financially strong like yourself. You deserve better than that.

[00:30:30] Bob: You do deserve better than that. Isabella sure does. How is Isabella doing now? She's certainly gratified that her lover was caught.

[00:30:40] Bob: Well that must feel uh fantastic.

[00:30:42] Isabella: Oh, it is. It’s, it’s just wonderful. 

[00:30:45] Bob: But, but what about you. I mean you still, you were wondering how you were going to pay your credit card bills and all of that. Where are you at now? 

[00:30:51] Isabella: I’m working on that. I’m, I’m you know, I’m working on everything. I’m, I’ve close to finishing off one bill. Um, I’m involved with an attorney for the others, so um, I’m surviving. I’m okay. I’m okay now. I’m, I’m a lot luckier than a lot of other people. 

[00:31:12] Bob: That’s such a great attitude, my God. It would be so easy to…

[00:31:15] Isabella: And I don’t want…

[00:31:16] Bob: …get mad.

[00:31:17] Isabella: I don’t want anyone to have to go through this. 

[00:31:20] Bob: So what would you say to someone. Uh, I have two important questions for you. The first one is, somebody who’s in the middle of one of these situations where they've met someone online, they think they’re perfect, they make a small ask for a gift card or something like that. Um, and you know, maybe like in your case, a friend says, I think you should be, maybe look at this note or look at this story online, and you’d just want to put it out of your head, what would you say to someone who was in that position? 

[00:31:46] Isabella: Go with your gut. Because your gut tells you, this isn’t right. And I didn’t listen to my gut. And um, and once you do discover, fight back. And you can, because there’s a lot of people here in the United States now, they’re just not abroad. 

[00:32:11] Bob: And how are you feeling about the whole thing now?

[00:32:14] Isabella: Um, days… I have good days and I have bad days, but you know, this is be—, I’m trying, I don’t want to put it behind me in the sense is I just want, I just want people to know that if, if you know of someone, just like AA, talk to another person about it. Because only people that have experienced it can explain and, what they’re feeling. And um, I have helped other people. I knew someone that um, was in a really bad way, and I’ve helped her. I’ve helped quite a few people, um, to move forward. We can all move forward, but you have to fight back. 

[00:32:57] Bob: The first response people almost always get is, I'm sorry, there's nothing we can do, but you're saying, don't, don't settle for that, right?

[00:33:04] Isabella: Don't settle for that. Don't settle. I did have the FBI contact me. They were very impressed with the information that I provided them.

[00:33:15] Bob: So far, Isabella says she hasn't gotten any of the money back from the criminals yet through the restitution process. She's still hoping. But she did make something creative about the whole affair.

[00:33:26] Isabella: What I've done since then was I've written a book about my whole adventure because I don't want anyone to have to go through this.

[00:33:35] Bob: What's the name of your book?

[00:33:37] Isabella: Uh, "Lying Lips & Deceitful Tongues," And it's by Isabella Petersen, that's my pen name.

[00:33:44] Bob: "Lying Lips & Deceitful Tongues." Hmm, might be a good podcast name, too.


[00:33:57] 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 supportand 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, or wherever you listen to podcasts. For AARP's The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.



When Isabella realizes the man she loved is a fraud, she turns her heartbreak into a determination for justice. Working with local law enforcement and the FBI, Isabella uncovers information linking her case to a large organized crime syndicate. Her tenacity pays off when Robert Asante and accomplices are arrested and charged with stealing millions of dollars. Isabella now has the strength to share what she’s learned and helps other victims of romance scams.  

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