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Whirlwind Romance Wipes Out Widow’s Wealth

Woman loses thousands in an overseas online romance scam

Episode 97 of The Perfect Scam - website image

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Eleven years after losing the love of her life, 68-year-old widow Kate Kleinert receives a friend request online from Tony, a handsome surgeon working in Iraq for the United Nations. After accepting his request, she gets caught up in a whirlwind romance, and they quickly fall in love. A few months later, Tony asks to borrow money, initially for help with his daughter’s expenses. She sends him money via gift cards and continues to do so whenever he asks, even though his attempts to pay her back by wire transfers fail. After doling out $39,000, Kate anxiously waits by the phone, excited to finally meet her now fiancé in person, only to find that Tony has run into legal trouble at the airport. 

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(MUSIC SEGUE)

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

[00:00:03] Black dress, like for a special kind of date, you know, a dressy dress. And I felt I was all duded up to meet this guy, and just looking forward to it. And I had my hair done, I had my nails done. I was ready. And I sat all night waiting for the phone call that never came.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:28] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. Sometimes the love you give someone doesn't come back to you. We've all had our hearts broken like that. But Kate Kleinert's heartbreaker, a man named Tony, also took just about all her money. Still, in the end, the love she gave, well it did come back to her, just not in the way she expected.

            Before she met Tony, Kate already had an incredible love affair in her life, one cut too short by cancer. About a decade ago, she quit her job and spent nearly every waking moment with her husband, Bernard, in a painful, wonderful, long good-bye that lasted two years. His death left a hole in her heart and not working for two years, along with massive medical bills, well that left a real hole in her bank account too.

[00:01:25] Bob: Tell me about your husband.

[00:01:27] Kate Kleinert: I was a secretary, um, in Chester County Hospital's Dietary Department. And he delivered the food three times a week, so I got to see him. (laugh) And things just developed so.

[00:01:41] Bob: So who asked who out?

[00:01:43] Kate Kleinert: He asked me. Definitely, but I think he knew I was going to say yes.

[00:01:47] Bob: (chuckles)

[00:01:49] Bob: Bernard and Kate moved from friends to lovers quickly, then got married and moved from one Philadelphia suburb to another. Actually, they moved back to the neighborhood where Kate lived as a small child.

[00:02:02] Bob: Did you just move back because you had family or because of work or...

[00:02:05] Kate Kleinert: Um, actually, the house that we moved into when we got married, like the day after we got married, had belonged to my great aunt and uncle who moved in on the day they were married.

[00:01:44] Bob: Oh my gosh.

[00:02:16] Kate Kleinert: And they were given the house in 1934 as a wedding gift, and then we moved in in '83, and I'm still living here, my husband passed away almost 12 years ago, but I'm still here. He was my bestest friend in the world. He was a truck driver, um, and let me see, he was a shop steward for his union, he had a heart as big as gold, and we just were the best friends and it just evolved that we got married. It was a wonderful situation. Married for 26 years, and then he got cancer.

[00:02:54] Bob: I'm so sorry.

[00:02:56] Kate Kleinert: Kleinert: And passed away, but we spent every blessed second that we had together because we didn't want to miss out on anything, so I quit my job for the last two years that he was alive and took care of him. So we spent as much time as possible together.

[00:03:12] Bob: Wow, what a love affair.

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[00:03:15] Bob: Kate has three sisters. They are all close. Her sister, Susan, tells me they have one of those "I want to be in a foxhole with you," kinds of relationships. Susan beams when she talks about Kate.

[00:03:27] Susan: Kate has just a flair to make something very ordinary into something extraordinary. And she'll do it with the smallest thing or the largest thing, and she's always had that talent. And I, I don't have it, so I always admired that in her.

[00:03:42] Bob: And Susan knows how hard these last few years have been for Kate.

[00:03:47] Susan: Yes. Yes, and she was brave enough to uh just walk away from her job and she took care of him 24 hours a day. Uh not something that everybody could do. I'm not sure I could have done that. And uh, she just did it willingly, and she was going to be with him until the end, and she was.

[00:04:06] Bob: Time eased the pain, but not the hole in her heart. Kate can't imagine being with anyone else, even a decade after her husband's death.

[00:04:15] Bob: And in the, in the 12 years since, I mean I know things move on, have you considered dating anyone else during any of that time, or...

[00:04:23] Kate Kleinert: No. No. I always considered myself still married. Um, and I was not looking for any other romantic endeavors in my life, and so this one caught me by surprise.

[00:04:36] Bob: What catches Kate by surprise is a Facebook friend request from a man named Tony. Now Kate gets all kinds of friend requests all the time, but this one is different.

[00:04:47] Kate Kleinert: I always ignore them. I always delete them, but there was something about his that just, he was handsome, he said he was a surgeon which just peaked my interest because why would he, being a surgeon and being so handsome, why would he want to be interested in me? Um, so we exchanged messages back and forth on Facebook for a little bit, and then he asked me to download the app Hangout so that we could speak on the phone as well. So I was not at all familiar with Hangout, but I did download it, and then we could call each other without it costing a lot of money.

[00:05:30] Bob: So they start talking and very quickly, things become intensely romantic. Tony says he is from Norway. Kate can't quite place his accent. But right now, he's working for the United Nations in the Middle East. Kate just knows he sounds wonderful. And he sends her the most beautiful messages.

[00:05:52] Kate Kleinert: "Since the time I fell in love with you, I can't stop thinking about you. I can only see my future with you. I will never stop loving you. I pray that I will always wake up next to you and hold you in my arms forever. There is no mountain that is too high for me if I was to climb to be with you, Kate. When I am with you, I just want to cuddle till I fall asleep. I was worried about living a lonely life until I met you. You are the joy and light in my life. Thank you for loving me from your heart. Thank you for being there for me, and thank you for loving me so much. I love you; I love you; I will love you forever. For everything that you have blessed me with, I can only promise that my life, my love, and my world will always be for you. Words are not enough to say thanks to you for being with me. You are the kindest soul who makes my life beautiful in love. My greatest fantasies are the ones that start with you and end with you. I love you truly, madly, and deeply. When I first saw you, I was afraid to meet you. When I met you, I was afraid to like you. When I liked you, I was afraid to love. Now that I love you, I'm afraid to lose you."

[00:07:24] Bob: Okay, that last bit, that just sounds like poetry.

[00:07:27] Kate Kleinert: It does.

[00:07:27] Bob: What did you think when you heard that or read that?

[00:07:30] Kate Kleinert: Oh, it just made my heart sore. I haven't heard things like that in a long time, and it was just so beautiful. And we talked to each other five or six times a day for, for months say for that.

[00:07:45] Bob: But that, was that just a, you know, a day or two after, or a few weeks?

[00:07:49] Kate Kleinert: No, it was immediate.

[00:07:51] Bob: Immediate. Okay, and what was um, what did you think when you heard his voice?

[00:07:56] Kate Kleinert: How wonderful he sounded. How nice it was to talk with a man again. I, I thought I was doing well by myself and didn't realize just how much I missed some companionship and just having that opportunity to speak to someone who cared about you so much.

[00:08:16] Bob: Tony says he's a widow too, but he has a son and a daughter, and they are a handful for him. As a single dad, there are some issues that he could really use some help with. A woman's help. Kate quickly offers.

[00:08:32] Kate Kleinert It: At first, he told me that he was the same age as me. Um, which at the time I was 67, and I didn't believe him because he sent pictures and he looked much younger. But he said, no, no, he was the same age. And he had these two children because he had been married to a much younger woman, they had two children, a boy 12, and a girl 15. And they were both in boarding school in London while he was in Iraq working through his contract with the UN. He wanted the kids to start calling me Mom and I was taken aback at that, that if they just lost their mother a few years ago, I didn't think that was a good idea. But his daughter emailed me, and she needed some supplies for that. And I talked to Tony about it, said she was too embarrassed to talk to him and he asked me if I would send her a gift card so she could go to the school store and buy what she needed without any embarrassment. So, of course, I did. You know, it sounded logical to me. He, he said he had money but because of being in Iraq that he did not have access to it, which was for his safety as well as the others. If they didn't have money; they couldn't be robbed or what have you. That made sense to me too.

[00:09:57] Bob: And you were obviously being compassionate to what you thought was a young woman.

[00:10:01] Kate Kleinert: Yes. Yeah. I, I felt badly for her if she were in another country all alone without a parent and not knowing what was going on. And um, so yeah, I was feeling compassionate.

[00:10:13] Bob: Tony also has a son, and Kate starts to email with him too. Tony asks Kate if she will send him something.

[00:10:21] Kate Kleinert: The 12-year-old boy, he hadn't had any kind of a gift lately, so could I send him a card so he could get maybe a computer game or something to keep him busy. Because at that time, London was locked down and most of the kids from the boarding school had gone home, but they couldn't. So they were there and bored. So that made sense, and I sent him a card. And he started writing back and forth to me calling me Mom, which not having had children all my life was something I longed for, and to hear someone call me Mom was beautiful.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:11:00] Bob: Tony is filling holes in Kate's heart she didn't even know she had. And at the time, Kate, like just about everyone else in the world, is feeling lonely and isolated as the COVID-19 pandemic keeps many places locked down. As summer turns to fall, and then holiday season approaches, things progress quickly. Tony starts talking about making a trip to Philadelphia so he can meet Kate's family. But along the way, he needs help.

[00:11:28] Kate Kleinert: Well there was always some kind of a need for the kids or there was a need for him to, to be able to boost his signal, which I didn't understand, but apparent--, you know if he's in Iraq somewhere and they didn't have a good signal, he, he wanted to be able to boost his signal to be able to communicate with me. After we talked for a while, like a number of weeks, he wanted to come home on leave, come here to Philadelphia to meet me, and was petitioning everybody he could think of to do that. And so he always needed more minutes and more, a better signal and what have you, and then he needed someone to work on that with him which we had to get a payment for him to do that. And um, then he was finally allowed, told me he was allowed to come home for a vacation, but he needed the airfare to come home, and so it was always just one more step, one more, please just help me one more time. And I promise you, promise you, I will pay you back the minute I get to Philadelphia; I have money. He sent me um, his sign on to his bank account which was supposedly in the Bank of America, and his account was there, with information. I saw his um, balance which was over, a little over 2 million dollars...

[00:12:55] Bob: And then, the trip to Philadelphia takes on even more significance. There was a ring.

[00:13:01] Bob: He bought and engagement ring, and he sent a picture of it to you?

[00:13:04] Kate Kleinert: He sent a picture of it, and it was quite large and beautiful, and he couldn't wait to come put that on my finger, and um, I was going to become a doctor's wife and it would be so wonderful.

[00:13:16] Bob: Kate feels like she's finally emerging from a dark time, and lining up the next phase of her life with a new family. Helping them out for a short while with a little money seems natural, even if she has to dip into all her financial reserves, which means dipping into the rest of the money left over from Bernard's life insurance payout.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:13:37] Bob: What was the largest amount that you had sent to him?

[00:13:41] Kate Kleinert: Um, I guess it was for the airfare, it was a couple thousand for that.

[00:13:48] Bob: And, and all told, how much do you think you've sent, you’ve sent to all of them?

[00:13:51] Kate Kleinert: $39,000.

[00:13:53] Bob: Wow. That's a lot of money.

[00:13:54] Kate Kleinert: Yes, it is.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:13:57] Bob: And so, as Christmas approaches, Kate makes plans to surprise her family, to introduce Tony to Susan and her other sisters at, well there couldn't be a family party at Christmas 2020, but there would be a Christmas Zoom, and she'd tell them everything then; about the ring, the kids, that she'd finally be a mom. She'd finally get to unveil her secret.

[00:14:20] Kate Kleinert: While we were making all these plans and he was supposed to come fly here on December the 10th, and at that time he had me out looking at houses, told me the price range, uh that he could afford, wanted bedrooms for each of the kids, and, and I was spending hours online looking at houses. This was so exciting. I was just so looking forward to meeting him, and my family was going to have a family Zoom on December 20th, and we were going to keep quiet until that day. And he was supposed to arrive on the 10th, and then on the 20th my family was all going to gather, and I was going to sit there and say, "Santa Claus came early this year." And then he was going to come sit down, and we were going to tell them that we were engaged and that I was now a mother with these two kids...

[00:15:16] Bob: So that night, the night she'd been waiting for in some ways all her life, waiting for at least since Bernard died, when that night finally comes, Kate can hardly contain her excitement.

[00:15:30] Kate Kleinert: On December the 10th, he was to arrive at 10 PM, and I was dressed with a bottle of champagne, and I waited for the phone call. I am literally two miles from the Philadelphia airport; waited for him to get his baggage, so by the time he could have gotten to the doorway, I could have been there picking him up. And I waited and waited and waited.

[00:15:54] Bob: And you, you had on something festive too, right? This is a big day.

[00:15:57] Kate Kleinert: Yes, yeah.

[00:15:58] Bob: Do you remember what you were wearing?

[00:16:00] Kate Kleinert: It was a, a black dress, like for a special kind of date, you know, a dressy dress. And I felt I was all duded up to meet this guy, and just looking forward to it. And I had my hair done, I had my nails done. I was ready. And I sat all night waiting for the phone call that never came.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:16:25] Bob: As 10 p.m. turns into 11 p.m., turns into midnight, turns into 3 a.m., Kate sits in her black dress and the champagne gets warm, and she just doesn't know what to think.

[00:16:40] Kate Kleinert: It, well, well in the beginning I was just very worried, you know, what happened to him? Where was he? What, because he had actually sent me a picture in the morning of himself in the airport with his baggage, roll-, you know, roller bag and um, in the airport. So we talked for, and then, "Oh, I've got to go, I've got to get on the plane."

[00:17:03] Bob: So then were you up all night just terrified that something bad had happened to him?

[00:17:07] Kate Kleinert: Yes, I was. Yeah. Waiting for my new life to begin.

[00:17:14] Bob: The phone never rang that night. Instead, a different kind of phone call comes in the morning.

(phone ring)

[00:17:22] Kate Kleinert: He had a very distinct foreign accent, sounded Indian to me, very clipped, almost like a British overtone to it. And he was supposed to be the lawyer, Tony's lawyer. And he told me that when Tony reached for his bag on the carousel, in the baggage claim area, that two FBI agents stepped up and arrested him. That there were drugs in his bag. Well, coming from Iraq, I, that didn't seem so far-fetched, although I didn't think he had anything to do with it. And the lawyer told me he did not, that but that we needed to get him out of the, the prison, out of jail.

[00:18:02] Bob: So the phone call comes in and, and they explain that he's been arrested and, and what do they ask you to do?

[00:18:06] Kate Kleinert: Uh get $20,000. $20,000. And at this point, he had wrung me dry of money. I mean I didn't have a lot to begin with. I told you I spent the last two years of my husband's life not working, and our medical bills were extraordinary, so even though I was living comfortably, I never had any excess, so to get this money to him, um, really was tough for me to do, and I had no, no other place to go to get it at that point, and of course, the lawyer's making me feel guilty about that. "Well can't you get it from somewhere? Can you, can you get a--, another mortgage on your house? Can you get a loan?" And anyway, "Ask somebody in your family." And um, my family didn't even know about him. And I wasn't about to make the introductions that way by asking for $20,000 to get him out of jail.

[00:19:08] Bob: At this point, Kate has no idea where she can get $20,000 to help get her fiancé out of jail to help her start her new life. She thinks about him stuck in his cell, somewhere in Philadelphia, about the two kids who call her Mom. She thinks about being alone again during the holidays, but this time, really alone because of COVID. And she has no idea what to do next.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:19:38] Bob: Where does she turn? That's next week on The Perfect Scam.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:19:47] 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; Producer, Brook Ellis; Associate Producer and Researcher, Megan DeMagnus; 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.

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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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