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Team of Women Takes Down Serial Romance Scammer, Part 2

Linda and Missi discover the man they both dated is a serial romance scammer. They band together with other women he deceived to bring him to justice

spinner image illustration of four women pointing at pictures of men
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Derek Alldred has spent decades using fake identities to date and steal money from hundreds of women around the country. He’s been arrested numerous times on fraud charges, but Derek skips town as soon as he is released on bail, and resumes committing his crimes in a new location. This time is different: After Derek drains Linda’s retirement account and leaves her in debt, she is determined to see him get his due. She bands together with other women also deceived by Derek, and they finally bring this serial romance scammer to justice.

spinner image graphic quote that reads 'I felt like someone hit me in the face with a brick. You're starting to make a life with someone, and all of a sudden you find out everything about him was made up. It was absolutely insane.'
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Full Transcript

(MUSIC INTRO)

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

[00:00:03] Linda Dyas: He was arrested and held without bail for an entire year. He still believed that he was going to walk away from this. He had been convicted of felonies and given years and years of sentencing time, and he never spent more than a couple of months in jail. So he really thought he was going to walk away from this.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:00:30] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan. When we left our story, Linda Dyas was hot on the trail of Derek Alldred. He had used a set of fake identities to date and steal money from women all around the country for decades. Linda is now obsessed with making sure Alldred finally gets the justice he deserves. She's emptied all the furniture from one room in her home just so she can post all the evidence that she's collected on the walls, and so she can try to connect the dots. Alldred stole all the money in Linda's retirement account, left her and her son with a pile of debts and nowhere to turn but to other victims. So Linda is working with Missi Brandt who lives nearby in Minnesota and was also dating Alldred at the same time he was living with Linda and the two of them are working with Cindy Pardini who lives in San Francisco and says Alldred stole $200,000 from her years earlier. Together they work to compile a list of women betrayed by Derek Alldred and it keeps growing and growing.

[00:01:42] Bob: And if you had to come up with a number, I mean if you try to even hazard a guess how many women he did this to?

[00:01:46] Linda Dyas: At least 400.

[00:01:48] Bob: Over and over Alldred has seduced women, stolen their money and then vanished. He's been arrested several times on various fraud charges, never held for long, and as soon as authorities release him on bail, he disappears to another part of the country and starts over. As we pick up their hunt, Alldred has skipped a court hearing in Arizona and fled to Texas where Linda and Missi learn Alldred is at it again.

[00:02:16] Linda Dyas: We got a hold of, actually Cindy got a hold of the two young ladies in the Dallas area that were both dating him at the same time.

[00:02:25] Bob: Rachel Monroe, an investigative reporter is working on a story about romance scams for The Atlantic, and she's been drawn to the story of Derek Alldred and the story of this band of women who have gotten together to track him down. She's interviewed several of the women involved in the chase.

[00:02:43] Rachel Monroe: Yeah, and that was like a really remarkable thing to see and hear about because they're all pretty different. I mean I, I spent the most time with, with Linda and with Missi and you know they are two women who I, like probably wouldn't have been friends otherwise, like really different politics, really different kind of ways of being in the world, interests, you know, family backgrounds. But I think that they could each see in the other both this similar experience, you know, this thing that most people couldn't understand but that the two of them could, could understand each other. And then, and then also like in, in seeing how amazing, you know, this other woman was who had, had the same experience; they could almost like learn to forgive and stand up for themselves again, because they're like, well, if it could happen to her, you know, it could happen to anybody, and then like oh. They, they kind of bolstered each other's confidence a little bit in that way.

[00:03:39] Bob: And now the band of women who are working to end Alldred's reign of terror have a secret ally. NCIS, the Naval Criminal Investigation Service. Linda has given a host of evidence to a Chicago-based NCIS investigator including a bunch of fake medals Alldred had left behind when he vanished. The Feds are now involved. They want Alldred for stolen valor. When they reach out to Alldred's current scam targets, the two women he's dating near Dallas and to local cops there, having the Feds involved is a big help.

[00:04:13] Linda Dyas: And the police department in The Colonies that, it's a city called The Colonies near Dallas, they were willing to help set up a sting to actually arrest him. And they, NCIS was, was just getting involved at that time. The Colony's Police Department of course believed the stories of the, of the girls and they had us in the background, you know, giving our stories, and they set forth and arrested him and immediately contacted the federal government. It's amazing when the police contact the federal government, they get a lot more help than when a person does.

[00:04:49] Bob: So Alldred is picked up in a simple sting operation. He's charged with credit card abuse on June 1st, 2017, but getting this man in handcuffs is really not much of an accomplishment. After all, he's been arrested and released before. This time, however, the involvement of NCIS is actually a big break. The laws about causing emotional turmoil are unclear at best, but the laws about pretending to be a war hero when you aren't are very clear.

[00:05:21] Rachel Monroe: Yeah, I mean it was so interesting to me in this one too that part of the reason they were able to get federal law enforcement involved was because of stolen valor and this idea that, you know, okay, he was wearing these medals that he didn't earn and under like false pretenses. If you think about what this guy did, like the stolen valor asp--, like that he would, you know, that that would be the charge that would escalate things seems sort of improbable, but because I don't think that we have the laws on the books to sort of account for that this kind of deep emotional violation.

[00:05:51] Bob: Still, there is a long road between yet another arrest of Alldred and Alldred being kept behind bars. Alldred tells investigators very little at first. Here's audio from one of those first interviews.

[00:06:06] Derek Alldred (interview): I went to, to prison in California. Um, went to prison in Minnesota. Certainly wasn't proud of it. I hadn't been in the back of a police car till I was 35 years old. I mean, never gotten in trouble and uh, you know I went off the deep end real quick and just kind of kept going off, I guess.

[00:06:26] Bob: This time, Alldred isn't given the chance to leave town, but there's still concern he won't really face the music.

[00:06:34] Linda Dyas: He was arrested and held without bail for an entire year. He still believed that he was going to walk away from this. He had been convicted of felonies and given years and years of sentencing time, and he never spent more than a couple of months in jail. So he really thought he was going to walk away from this.

[00:07:01] Bob: But as the story begins to get national attention, in part thanks to Rachel's reporting, Alldred eventually faces more serious charges.

[00:07:10] Reporter: He has stolen in the millions, according to federal prosecutors, um, and not only that, he has really stolen their ability to trust.

[00:07:20] Bob: Six months after the arrest just before Christmas 2017, Alldred pleads guilty to two counts of aggravated identity theft and to mail fraud. Even still, Linda is worried Alldred will sweet talk his way into leniency. He sure tries. Those who speak to Alldred, even after his guilty plea, are never sure how seriously he's taking it. He tells one journalist from Dateline:

[00:07:47] Derek Alldred (interview): I'm not trying to justify my behavior. My behavior was, I, I was a horrible boyfriend, absolutely horrible. Destroying someone's life I think is a bit exaggerated.

[00:07:57] Bob: Rachel interviews him from jail and it's clear Alldred isn't contrite. In fact, he's still scheming.

[00:08:06] Rachel Monroe: Yeah, I mean I went into a, at the time he was in jail and so we spoke over a kind of like a video call. I went, I was at the jail but I, I couldn't speak to him face-to-face. And through the kind of grainy video, he didn't explicitly deny, you know, some of the things that I had sort of asked him about and or told him that we were covering in the, in the piece, the various accusations that the women I spoke to had, had made against him. But he, he kept promising, you know, like oh no, but there's like, there's more to this story. There's more. It's more complicated, you know, I'll, I'll tell you more. I'll give you everything. I'll, he told me at one point he was going to like give me the password to his email, and that I could log into his email and just like read everything I wanted, which, you know, for a journalist is like total catnip. And then he kept, the promises kept being kind of delayed or foreclosed, or you know, it never, it never came to fruition. And then I realized like oh. I'm, I'm being conned right now. It was like...

[00:09:02] Bob: He's trying to do it to you, yeah.

[00:09:03] Rachel Monroe: He's trying to do it to me, and it worked, right, I was like, you know, I had, holding off on this story because it's like I'm going to get some really great stuff from Derek, and then I kind of heard myself say that, and it's like, wait.

[00:09:12] Bob: Wow.

[00:09:14] Rachel Monroe: It's so easy, you know, I, I knew he was a conman, I was writing about him, you know, I was interviewing him, and he was in jail for being a conman, and still, you know.

[00:09:22] Bob: Wow.

[00:09:23] Bob: Another few months go by. It's now August 2018, two years since that magical summer Linda spent with the man she thought was Rich Peterson. And finally, it's time for the sentencing of Derek Alldred.

[00:09:38] Linda Dyas: I saw him in court when he was in shackles and an orange jumpsuit, and it was nice in a weird way to see that they were taking it seriously. I think before that point, with all of the convictions and the releases that he had gotten before, I didn't, I didn't realize how seriously they were taking it. And when they brought him in shackled; his, his hands and legs in front of him, in an orange jumpsuit, you know, not even allowed to put on a suit for the sentencing, um, I knew they were taking it seriously.

[00:10:12] Bob: But until she knows he's going away for a long time, she's still worried. But...

[00:10:19] Linda Dyas: The judge who sentenced him was a great man. He read word for word every one of our statements. And mine was like 20 pages long, typed.

[00:10:27] Bob: Wow.

[00:10:28] Linda Dyas: Yeah.

[00:10:29] Bob: Wow.

[00:10:30] Linda Dyas: He, I know he read it because he called us out by name in court and listened to what we had to say. And he said he spent the whole night looking for ways that he could put this guy away for much longer. Um, but because of the way that the prosecutor had negotiated and the crimes that were, that he was convicted of, the max he could give him, the prosecutor asked for 22, and he gave him 24 with a required three-year, basically under house arrest kind of probation. And not allowed, the big key was he's not allowed to use any electronics or computers his entire time.

[00:11:20] Bob: The judge also sentences Alldred to pay restitution of more than $250,000. Prosecuting US Attorney, Joseph D. Brown says, "This defendant left a trail of tears, emotional devastation, and financial ruin behind him. It is clear that he will never change, and we expect his sentence to reflect that. We are glad we were able to get some level of justice for these women."

[00:11:46] Bob: And when you hear that he's going away for a couple of decades, what is that like, for you?

[00:11:54] Linda Dyas: I, I wondered who he'll be conning in the, in the prison system. And if he can't get away with it in there, he'll probably take care of it in a different way, but I, I still think he'll come out conning other people. I don't think he learned any lesson. I, I don't think he has any true feelings for anybody. Um, he's a sociopath, and, and he's just one of a bunch of them. I hate to say it that way. There's, there are more out there, but, but he was unique. Um, and it's good that he's been put away.

[00:12:40] Bob: By the time Alldred is lead away to prison, Rachel has moved onto other stories. But she still keeps in touch with the victims.

[00:12:47] Rachel Monroe: Everybody that had been pretty worried that the same thing that had always happened would happen again, and that, you know, he would face a, a slap on the wrist basically. So I was, I was surprised, and I think there was, some of that was, was exchanged mutually you know over, over Facebook, over email.

[00:13:02] Bob: But did you get a sense that there was at least a little relief from, from that?

[00:13:06] Rachel Monroe: Yeah, I think so, for sure. I mean it was, it was um, more than anybody expected in terms of the sentencing and, and kind of you know, definitely outside the bounds of what other people had been sentenced to for, for these kinds of crimes before. So I think that they were glad that it sent a message in some way.

[00:13:24] Bob: The attention from national media, the attention from NCIS, and most of all, the relentless pursuit by the victims who banded together, all these things played a role in getting Alldred off the streets and away from online dating sties.

[00:13:39] Rachel Monroe: Derek got a, a quite a serious sentence, you know more than two decades in federal prison, and so that's, I think, quite a significant and, and notable result that, that this was prosecuted, you know as not just another one off crime, but you know, that the pattern of the fraud being you know crucial to, to that sentence, I think sets a precedent in some ways. And you know, the aftermath is, I think it like does the story has gotten out there, and these women are so, have been so generous in telling their story and are such like sympathetic winning people that I think, you know, we can all, it's easy to, to relate to them. And they're all so different from each other. You know, everybody's got somebody they can relate to in this story and so, I think that hopefully will help people come forward and, and be, it gives them hope that coming forward and about situations like this, you know, won't be fruitless.

[00:14:33] Bob: As for Alldred, well he's still in prison and still seems to be doing his thing.

[00:14:40] Rachel Monroe: And still writes to me, that's, that's the other interesting thing. I've like, I've acquired a little bit of a one-sided pen pal relationship. He, he writes to me and every now and then I write back, but uh, I get a...

[00:14:51] Bob: Derek writes to you?

[00:14:52] Rachel Monroe: Derek writes to me, yeah, I get like a Christmas note from him every year. Sometimes he like asks me for advice, like I'm, I'm not really sure what's going on there, but always interesting. I think he was trying to put together an appeal of some kind. He's, he's reached out because I think various you know true crime producers or whatever have, have contacted him, and he's like, "Should I talk to this person?" And I'm always like, "I, I don't know, Derek."

[00:15:19] Bob: Yeah, like now your his agent.

[00:15:20] Rachel Monroe: Right, exactly. It's just like I can't, that, that's not a question for me to answer.

[00:15:23] Bob: But he's still in character is the term I would use. He, he hasn't seen the error of his ways or any of that?

[00:15:30] Rachel Monroe: You know, the tenor of it is never, you know, I'm, I'm so sorry or anything like that. It's just, you know, maintaining like some kind of friendly, I mean they're, they're always like very friendly messages, you know, almost as if we're like pals of some kind which is, which is um, strange to me because you know, we only had that one, not even face-to-face conversation, you know, video conversation when he was in jail. But I guess, you know, it seems like it serves some use to him.

[00:16:00] Bob: Meanwhile, the aftermath for Derek Alldred's victims, picking up the pieces, well that's only just beginning. But it began with forgiving themselves.

[00:16:09] Linda Dyas: One of the girls who came forward and testified, her story was from 1995. That's when he defrauded her and stole part of her college fund. She was young. He was young. This guy was allowed to do this for decades and decades because people were afraid to look stupid. It's, you're not stupid if you get conned by someone who knows what they're doing. You're not stupid for believing that someone could love you or that you could have found a good person. That doesn't make you stupid.

[00:16:50] Bob: Even professionals were shocked by the things Derek Alldred did.

[00:16:55] Bob: Well he must have been a very good storyteller.

[00:16:57] Linda Dyas: Oh, incredibly, incredibly good. The NCIS investigator down the road commented that he had never met a liar quite so charismatic and believable.

[00:17:09] Bob: Hmm. That's remarkable. Did he actually serve in the military?

[00:17:11] Linda Dyas: No.

[00:17:12] Bob: Ever? That's remarkable.

[00:17:14] Linda Dyas: No, in fact, when I finally figured out who he was, I spoke to his daughter, and she said she doesn't believe he ever had a legitimate job in her entire lifetime. Maybe six months driving a truck, but that was it.

[00:17:27] Bob: After her story comes out, Rachel learns just how common romance scams are and how many people are out there like Derek Alldred.

[00:17:36] Rachel Monroe: And the other thing that's interesting is I just got so many emails from other women. I mean I'm sure you all do, too, like fortunately I've, I've, I've kind of moved on a little bit with my beat and so I can't, I can't cover all these, but it just makes you realize like how, how prevalent this stuff is, and how people still really struggle to get the attention of law enforcement for, for these kinds of crimes.

[00:17:58] Bob: I have to say, that's really the depressing part of this profession.

[00:18:01] Rachel Monroe: Yeah.

[00:18:02] Bob: Right, I mean there's something, like this isn't getting covered enough, and so you do this remarkable story, and there is attention and that's great, but then all that does is you hear from all these other people who deserve their own Atlantic piece, right, and they're, you just can't write them all.

[00:18:15] Rachel Monroe: Yeah, exactly. Yeah.

[00:18:18] Bob: We already talked about romance scam victims telling federal authorities they've had 1.3 billion dollars stolen just last year and that's three times the amount from just five years ago. Why the surge in Derek Alldred type stories now?

[00:18:34] Bob: What role do you think technology plays in allowing criminals to commit these kinds of crime?

[00:18:39] Rachel Monroe: Well I think in the case of Derek, it, it allowed him to present a version of himself online to sort of do the research and create the pictures, and create the backstory that was tailored to each of the women that he was involved in. You know, he, he sort of maybe had some of that skill on his own, but the, the technology sort of it helped him research these people, connect with these people, you know through dating sites and build a whole world that seemed, you know, it was, I think a lot of them said to me, it, like it, even when they would start to doubt him they'd be like, "But it was, it would be so much like work to come up with this elaborate of a lie." And I think he, he probably couldn’t have done it without having technology to sort of enable him.

[00:19:29] Bob: It's, you know, it's funny, the theme of a guy blowing into town mysteriously and lying about who he is from the past was easy in the, right, you can picture that happening in a western town in the 1800s in a way that you can't nowadays because people can be searched. Um, but I, I do think it's a, it's a double-edged sword, right. It makes, it enables an awful lot of things, a, a lot of this theater that we've discussed, the technology.

[00:19:56] Rachel Monroe: Yeah, totally, and you can sort of almost like create a backstory for yourself and if, if you're sophisticated enough to kind of build some of that online, it starts to, it starts to feel real, 'cause you search somebody and, and you see what it looks like, their past even, even if it's created.

[00:20:13] Bob: One of Linda's takeaways from this part of her life is the importance of knowing someone's life story.

[00:20:19] Linda Dyas: There's some things that I look at differently nowadays. Meeting people's family and friends is important knowing that they have a childhood, of a history of a family is important. And well yeah, there are probably people who run a lot around and have left everything behind, and there are very few people who legitimately don't have family and friends that you can meet or talk to or be around. And I, he always used that to make me feel sorry for him. And you know how, how great it was I had such great friends and that my family was so close and, and now I see it was, it was a way to um, to con people more, to get them to feel sorry for you, to always be talking to their daughter or their mother or somebody, but you can never talk to them, um, or never meet them. Those, those are signs that, that something's wrong.

[00:21:27] Bob: Linda's heart was badly scarred by this experience. All these women will tell you that. Scarred, but not ruined.

[00:21:35] Linda Dyas: If you have, even have an inkling that it's too good to be true, explore that idea, 'cause too good to be true feels that way for a reason. Now there are some great, great people out there. And there are a lot of people who are going to say you're stupid if you believe all this stuff. You have to make yourself vulnerable to fall in love, to make any relationships really, you have to be vulnerable to another person. I did uh, pull a police report on the fake name that I got, but I didn't have his real name. So that didn't do me any, any good. Yeah, you know as, as awkward as it may be, look at their driver's license. Ask to meet some family or friends. Don't let yourself get swept away by someone who is isolated from all other people who gives you all the attention in the world because they're hiding something probably.

[00:22:31] Bob: Hmm. I really like what you said though, um, you have to be vulnerable in a relationship. You know if the end result of all of this is you're afraid of everyone and skeptical of everything, that's not a life you want either.

[00:22:43] Linda Dyas: Right, exactly. I don't want to be an untrusting, angry, alone, you know, person. I, I still am very much a people person. And I do trust, but a lot of times I will even with a friendship, I will verify things. I'm not sneaking around or doing things behind people's back, but I will, I will dig a little deeper into who they are before I let them around my kid or in my life.

[00:23:15] Bob: You have to be vulnerable to be in a relationship. That's a good reminder. Rachel has similar advice to offer.

[00:23:23] Rachel Monroe: Well, you know, it's, it's like, it's tricky, right, because reporting on these stories, it's hard not to feel yourself turn like a little bit more suspicious or cynical or, or doubting, because it's just hearing how prevalent this kind of manipulation is. Derek is an extreme example of it, but there certainly are a lot of people who are sleezy in sort of more minor ways or manipulative or lying about other things. But I, I guess it's like we also have to balance that, that sense of suspicion and mistrust with, you can't let it like totally take over our lives and our hearts, right though? I don't know, maybe the, maybe the conclusion is always like trust but verify, right. Just think about if something seems too good to be true, you know, that should be a red flag. If somebody's telling you exactly what you want to hear, there might be a reason for it. I still believe in true love, but um, you know, it's important to do research too.

[00:24:25] Bob: I still believe in true love but it's important to do your research. And yet, even the best research isn't foolproof. It's good to have your radar tuned to certain frequencies, however.

[00:24:38] Rachel Monroe: I've written extensively about other stolen valor cases and so I like, I definitely, anytime anybody describes themselves to me as like a war hero and their stories kind of sound like they're out of a movie, I am always suspicious of that. To me that is a red flag. Most people that I know who, you know, did serve in the military and do have those experiences, like that is not something that they come out with right away. So that's a, that's a more like tailored, specific piece of advice. You know, certainly not always true, but...

[00:25:08] Bob: Hmm, no, no that's...

[00:25:09] Rachel Monroe: ...pretty consistent

[00:25:10] Bob: That's, actually that's really interesting.

[00:25:11] Bob: So if something terrible like this happens to you, and it really could happen to anyone, the most important lesson of all from the Derek Alldred story is, make sure to get it on the record. Talk about it. Tell the police. Warn others.

[00:25:28] Bob: What can society do? What we all do to make this less likely to happen?

[00:25:33] Linda Dyas: If someone does this to you, don't be afraid to speak up. Don't be afraid to call the police. If someone even steals your credit card and you know them, and they just used it once, at the very minimum, confront them about it. And if they're not a family member, if they are a family member, I don't know what you do. If they're not a family member, at least call the police and, and get it written down that this happened. Even then the police don't always listen or do their own research to find out that this guy's been doing this for 30 years, but be more of an investigator yourself and tell someone. Get something on the books because if he did it to you, he's going to do it to someone else. And by you not saying anything, you're just allowing him to hurt someone else.

[00:26:30] Bob: Well what would you say to members of other local police departments about the experience that you had when you, when you tried to come forward initially?

[00:26:39] Linda Dyas: Pay attention. Don't treat all of these situations as domestic arguments, because they're not. When someone uses another person's credit, name, identity, even if it's in the midst of a relationship, it's still against the law and it still should be treated as a crime. You shouldn't treat it as oh, this couple got in a fight, and he was using her checkbook? That doesn't even make sense. So they've got to take these financial internet crimes much more seriously and they're going to have to educate themselves. And the banks are going to have to start being held accountable.

[00:27:33] Bob: Rachel has ideas about how society could handle these situations better too.

[00:27:37] Rachel Monroe: Well I think removing the shame and stigma of this, of like victimization in general and, and speaking about like these kinds of crimes would really help a lot and go a long way so people can share their stories and, and be more open or you know if they're in a situation that feels kind of questionable to them, not being embarrassed and hiding it but rather, you know, sharing it with people and, and bringing it to their, to their friends or their family members and sort of giving it that like, that test, you know, does it, does this, does this ring true to you? Does this make sense? I know in my relative's case, she started to feel kind of confused about this man she was involved in, who she had sent some money to and, and she reached to her daughter, and her daughter was, did, you know, did a bunch of sleuthing and like reverse image searching and, and figured out that he wasn't who he said he was. So I think we can all like help each other more if we kind of allow ourselves to do that, and then you know I think that there are probably like fraud protections, there are probably like policies that could be put in place. So you know, so as a society we're, we're doing a bit more to shield people from these crimes or making the consequences a little stiffer for the perpetrators and helping victims like have a better chance at, at getting some sort of justice. I think those two prongs would, would probably, both go a long way to, to helping.

[00:29:05] Bob: Sharing the truth, seeing the truth can be very, very painful. But it can also be very freeing.

[00:29:14] Rachel Monroe: I mean, yeah, in a lot of my pieces, what, what I'm reckoning with or what I'm writing about people who are reckoning with is the the kind of loss of that illusion. They had something that they thought was, was really beautiful, you know, whether it was like a business opportunity, or you know, some magical health cure, or a relationship, or a community that was, you know, going to solve all of their problems. And that, that turned out to be, you know, not, not what it seemed, and, and there's like a lot of heartbreak in that, but I think to me there's something really, really beautiful about um, engaging with reality and, and what's really here and, and, and the, the truth and the reality, you know the, these illusions of like a magical cure, a magical person. Any of those things can, can be really seductive, but when you lose something like that, you, you kind of gain something else which is like a closer relationship with, with, with what's real and what's true and what's really is in front of you, and the relationships with the people in your life who, who really are who they say they are. And so I think it's, you know when you tear down an illusion, trying to appreciate you know what's, what's left and what's real and what isn't an illusion, and that's kind of the balance that I try to strike in my mind and that the people who I write about who, you know, come through these situations with the most grace and, and optimism. They seem to be able to, to frame it in that way.

[00:30:42] Bob: That is really very beautiful.

[00:30:45] Rachel Monroe: Thank you.

[00:30:46] Bob: You've, you've lost, you've lost something, but you've gained something more real.

[00:30:49] Rachel Monroe: Yeah.

(MUSIC SEGUE)

[00:30:52] Bob: When you lose something you believed in, you gain something much more real. That's a powerful notion. Hopefully we can help a little bit with that, so to help us explore the problem of romance scams a little more, and to talk about ways to protect yourself, we have Steve Baker back on this show. Steve worked at the Federal Trade Commission for a long time, and he studied romance scams for the Better Business Bureau, and he doesn't pull punches.

[00:31:20] Steve Baker: This is the number one source of complaints and the money, largest money loss for individuals of anything reported to the FTC or IC3.

[00:31:33] Bob: It's the number one complaint, romance scams?

[00:31:36] Steve Baker: Yeah, uh, for individuals. Those business complaints, I think business email compromise was the number one dollar loss, but that's of course mainly aimed at businesses. But for individuals suffer scams, there, there's more about romance fraud than anything else.

[00:31:51] Bob: Victims can really go through hell. More than just money is stolen.

[00:31:57] Steve Baker: We all think about the dollar value, but that's not the worst of it. I mean a lot of these victims are emotionally devastated. There is a support group for romance fraud victims in Los Angeles, and they, they've told me from that group that everybody there has commit--, has at least thought of suicide. And I have had a, police in Australia have told me that they believe they have more suicides over romance frauds than they do murderers in Australia.

[00:32:29] Bob: Oh my God.

[00:32:32] If you or someone you know is in crisis, the suicide and crisis lifeline is always there.  Please call or text 988 or chat 988Lifeline.org.

[00:32:45] Steve Baker: So this is emotionally devastating and in addition the, the crooks try to distance people from their normal support groups, their families, their friends, whatever, and so those relationships take a beating too. They really leave people real alone and then by the time they realize it's all a scam, you know they've got all sorts of problems because they don't have that support around them anymore. They've burned those personal ties. They're also using romance fraud victims to travel over the world and transport drugs, like they give them packages that have, have got drugs sewn into the lining of the suitcase or whatever that have got drugs. There's people, there's a bunch of Americans all over the world that are sitting in prison, and I believe most of them are romance fraud victims.

[00:33:34] Bob: Don't mistake romance scam criminals as small time operators just sending out random text messages or dating site connections, Steve says.

[00:33:43] Steve Baker: No, this is organized crime. They're violent criminals, they're also into drugs and guns, prostitution rings with the traditional Mafia in Italy these days, so they're, they're, they're bad dudes. These are professionals, this is what they do for a living. They're very good at what they do, and uh, you've really got to be cautious. This is a worldwide fraud. I mean there's people all over the world that, that, that are being concentrated on, and it's a way bigger problem than most people realize.

[00:34:13] Bob: Steve has studied the psychology of romance scam criminals, and well, it's a little bit scary.

[00:34:18] Steve Baker: Well I actually sat in on a trial of a romance--, Nigerian romance fraud guy one time. And there was a, there was a psychologist in Australia named Monica Witte who's done some, she's done more extensive research in who are these guys? How do they work? Who are the victims, than anybody, uh I know of, and she's got a lot of amazing insights. Any rate, she was an expert there, and she testified that she thought that the guy had psychopathic tendencies. In other words, there's a bell curve of human beings and some people we all have met who are extremely sensitive, extremely sensitive who are at one end of the scale, but at the other end of that scale are people that are psychopaths. And thereabout I have seen estimates, 5% of the population. And they don't feel guilt. It just, just isn't in their makeup, and they lie very easily and they're often very intelligent and very clever, and we all think of course that we should be able to detect if people are lying, but, but the reality of the real world, if somebody is really determined and good at it or if they're a psychopath, obviously you know we often can't, cannot detect that.

[00:35:31] Bob: You know, in fact I've seen uh some research showing that these people are, are just wired differently. And so people who are not psychopaths, when they encounter one, just don't know how to deal with it. It just doesn't register for them.

[00:35:42] Steve Baker: Right, and they're apparently very difficult to catch. You know we all think that we should be able to tell if there's somebody we know in person is lying to us, that they have shifty eyes or they're, you know, something of that demeanor, and that may work with kids, friends, spouses. But for scammers, those skills we have don't work. I mean 'cause these people are really, really good at what they do. They're professionals. People forget that the term conman is short for confidence man, in other words, somebody whose skills are gaining your confidence and making you believe them.

[00:36:16] Bob: You know, I want to dwell on that point for a little while, because I think it's really, really important. Folks who are professional liars have skills that most of us don't recognize, and we have over years of being adults, built confidence that we can judge people's character. That's how we go through life. But when, when you encounter someone who is that good at lying, you, you can't recognize it, right?

[00:36:44] Steve Baker: It's extremely hard, even for professionals to recognize them.

[00:36:48] Bob: Here's a sad sidenote to romance scam research; the people who are most likely to be targeted are the people who are most likely to believe in love.

[00:37:00] Steve Baker: Professor Witte, actually one of the studies she did, looked at okay, who are the victims? And so she looked at a whole lot of different variables, are they rich, are they poor, are they men, are they women? Are they straight or are they gay? Are they highly educated or not? And it turned out all of those factors were a wash. It didn't make any difference, the only commonality she found is the victims tended to be a little bit higher in uh, romantic sense. So I thought that was interesting, 'cause it's not educated/non-educated. It's not rich/poor. I mean it's all of us.

[00:37:36] Bob: It's people who believe in romance.

[00:37:38] Steve Baker: Hmm-hmm.

[00:37:40] Bob: Wow. Okay, that's actually among the more heartbreaking things you've ever told to me, Steve. But I think people would be surprised to hear that there's a relatively even split between men and women. There's no gender split?

[00:37:53] Steve Baker: Yeah that's what Professor Witte found. I mean women are more likely to report it, I think, than, than men are. But it, but there's a huge amount of men, and there's a huge thing on the, for the, for the gay population as well.

[00:38:07] Bob: But there is good news. Steve believes there are now more people like Linda Dyas out there, more people willing to report they've been a victim of a romance crime. And law enforcement is starting to treat these crimes more seriously.

[00:38:22] Steve Baker: One of the problems people had was they were going to police and the police, you know, no experience with this stuff, and, you know, they just weren't sympathetic. They tended to blame the victim, you know, this person's dumb and didn't want to take the report. People are reporting it now. It is absolutely huge. I about guarantee there is somebody we know in our personal lives who's been a victim of a romance fraud. It's really, really, really, really common. It's not just dating sites. They meet people on places like Solitaire, or, or a Scrabble, the Scrabble websites and Google Chats and memes and like any place you can think of where people would reach out to scammers that have also got their fingers in those, in those too.

[00:39:06] Bob: So what are the things people should do to protect themselves when looking for love online?

[00:39:11] Steve Baker: Well, I would, I would uh, like I said, I would google the photo in the profile They're all going to have a photo and people hold onto those. I would take an interesting line, turn of phrase out of a message or a text message or email and put that in a search engine and see if you can't come up with, with another hit. Probably you can. You know meet in person. Anybody that can't meet in person is probably very, very high likely, 90% plus a scammer. And ask them to do a Zoom call so you can with a, with a current newspaper or something like that. They're not going to be able to do that, and they won't do that, but anybody that won't, I think that's a really strong indicator that you're dealing with, with somebody who's, who's engaged in fraud.

[00:39:57] Bob: You know I was thinking as you were describing, uh the very good tip of saying, get on a Zoom meeting and, and show me a copy of a local newspaper, that way I know you are where you say you are. Um, but man, in the first couple of moments of a potential romantic relationship, that sure seems like a, almost a, a, it could be interpreted as like a hostile thing to do. So I wonder how you get over the hump of not wanting to, you know, ask someone something like that, and you know while you're busy trying to, to flirt or romance.

[00:40:26] Steve Baker: Well, they could say, "Gee I, I, I fully believe you and, and uh but, you know, I heard Bob Sullivan, and he said that this is what I should do. And I'm going to trust Bob and, and if you're, if you are who you say you are, this, this shouldn't be an issue." But, but that is an issue. I mean that is one of the tactics when people question or challenge these relationships, I mean they either or act hurt and threaten to abandon the relationship, or otherwise, prey on your emotions. So that's why these things are hard to spot, hard to avoid.

[00:40:57] Bob: People sometimes react, "How dare you ask me a question like that." And, and that puts the victim off kilter, right?

[00:41:04] Steve Baker: Sure. Of course.

[00:41:06] Bob: So um, a good sign is if someone says, "Well that's a weird question, but you know what, I understand why you're asking, 'cause I've been in, out there too." That's the way you should react to a question like that.

[00:41:16] Steve Baker: Yeah, it really is.

[00:41:19] Bob: So, ask questions. It's perfectly fine to talk about hard things at the beginning of a relationship. In fact, the way the other person reacts will tell you a lot. Heck, you can use The Perfect Scam as a conversation starter. "I know this sounds silly, but did you hear that crazy episode about Derek Alldred?" Anything to broach the subject and get the answers you deserve. No one should make you afraid to ask questions, and we'll keep asking them here. For The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.

(MUSIC OUTRO)

[00:41:54] 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; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; Researcher, Sarah Binney; Executive Producer, Julie Getz; and our Audio Engineer and Sound Designer, 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

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