Javascript is not enabled.

Javascript must be enabled to use this site. Please enable Javascript in your browser and try again.

Skip to content
Content starts here
Leaving Website

You are now leaving and going to a website that is not operated by AARP. A different privacy policy and terms of service will apply.

Romance Scammer Impersonates Korean Celebrity

A caregiver is contacted by a criminal via social media

spinner image two hands making a heart with english and korean words in the background

Subscribe:   Apple Podcasts | Amazon Music | Spotify | TuneIn

After a divorce, Nancy moves to North Carolina and takes a job as a caregiver for older patients who are in poor health. The work is rewarding but challenging, and to help her unwind after long days, a roommate introduces her to Korean television dramas. She becomes a fan of one actor in particular, Paul Ahn, and follows him on social media. So she is thrilled when she receives a Facebook message from someone claiming to be Paul. They exchange messages, and the relationship quickly becomes romantic. Paul invites Nancy to visit him, but there is a catch: She must pay a reservation fee of $18,500. As she prepares for the trip, he asks for more and more money for travel expenses, leading Nancy to wonder if he really is who he seems.  

spinner image Infographic quote that reads: "A message popped up, 'Thank you for being a fan of mine. I would like to have a private chat.' Oh my goodness, a celebrity is actually talking to me. This is so cool."
Full transcript


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

[00:00:03] Nancy Newcomber: I was just liking the posts on Facebook. I liked a post, and it, it didn't seem like it was long, a couple hours or something, and up on my Messenger, he popped up. "Thank you for being a fan of mine. I would like to have a private chat." I thought, oh my goodness, a celebrity is actually talking to me. This is so cool, you know, I never had anybody do this before, you know.


[00:00:29] Bob: Welcome back to The Perfect Scam. I'm your host, Bob Sullivan.


[00:00:34] Bob: When you hear the words you've been waiting to hear your whole life, well that's pretty powerful. That's love. Or it can also be a scam. Telling the difference isn't always easy, especially if you are lonely, or just emerging from a difficult divorce, or haven't gotten attention from anyone special in a long time, or if times are just tough. This is the challenging atmosphere that many victims face when they fall in love online. But to make things even more complicated, sometimes that new attention comes from someone you feel like you already know. Someone famous, at least to you. But it's easy to pretend to be a celebrity online. And as we told you in our episode a few months ago about Paul Nicklen, the famous NatGeo photographer, the internet and social media in particular is awash in celebrity impostors. And these impostors can do a lot of damage. Nancy Newcomber moved to rural North Carolina several years ago when she was divorced after 40 years of marriage so she could live closer to her sister. She had worked an office job in the medical field for most of her life, but when she got to North Carolina, she took up a much more challenging, but much more rewarding, profession. She cares for very sick older patients, many near death.

[00:02:06] Bob: That's a tough job.

[00:02:07] Nancy Newcomber: It is extremely tough, it's mentally tough.

[00:002:09] Bob: It's exhausting, you're constantly you know emotionally you know, laying yourself out for people, right?

[00:02:14] Nancy Newcomber: Yes. Yes, and, and the thing of it is is you get so attached to your client and then when they pass it's just like a family member, you know what I mean? And it's, my, my client that I have now is like that. She's getting towards the end and then it, it's going to be really hard.

[00:02:34] Bob: Hmm.

[00:02:34] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah.

[00:02:36] Bob: Nancy has a roommate and to help decompress from stressful, exhausting days of caring, the two of them often watch sitcoms from South Korean television. Nancy's roommate introduced her to the quirky shows a few years ago. She was hooked almost immediately.

[00:02:54] Bob: Tell me, if someone has never watched them, what makes them so much fun to watch?

[00:02:58] Nancy Newcomber: They're very good actors and actresses. They have, they're like love, romance, some are funny. The part I don't like is you have to read at the bottom because they're speaking their language. So that's kind of tiring on my eyes. (laugh)

[00:03:12] Bob: Yeah, of course. Of course.

[00:03:14] Bob: I've watched a lot of them that I really liked, and then there was some that just like any other show, there was some I just didn't think too much of, but...]

[00:03:22] Bob: Yeah, sure.

[00:03:23] Nancy Newcomber: But I never even heard of them before I even came here. And, and in here. I was like, Korean shows? What are you talking about?

[00:03:29] Bob: (laugh) Is there something, are they different from US sitcoms?

[00:03:35] Nancy Newcomber: No, I think when, when you boil down to it, they're all basically the same thing, just like ours, you know. You have your plot and your love story and it's basically the same thing. It's just in Korean.

[00:03:47] Bob: You've got somebody who makes some terrible mistake and it's really funny, right?

[00:03:51] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah, yeah.

[00:03:53] Bob: Pretty quickly, Nancy alights on her favorite Korean actor.

[00:03:59] Nancy Newcomber: His Korean name was Ahn-seop, but his uh Canadian name is Paul Ahn. A-h-n.

[00:04:09] Bob: Paul Ahn, and so you, you take a real liking to Paul Ahn. Tell, tell me why.

[00:04:14] Nancy Newcomber: He was so cute. (giggles)

[00:04:15] Bob: (laughs) That's a good reason.

[00:04:17] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah, and he was a very good actor. Um, I don't know, it's just um, I think it was his uh show, it was called Business Proposal, and it was really good. I really enjoyed that show, and I think that's what hooked me on him.

[00:04:31] Bob: So what was Business Proposal about?

[00:04:33] Nancy Newcomber: It was about these two girls and Paul was the very rich CEO of a company, and this girl was trying to get in with him. The other girl that she was with faked her identity to get in with him, and bottom line is they ended up um, hooking up together and um, I think the next sta--, state of it was they were um, going to get married. You know, it's just the whole pro--, process of the whole thing. It was, it was cute.

[00:05:09] Bob: And, and he was funny, he was charming.

[00:05:12] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah.

[00:05:12] Bob: Well what kind of, yeah, yeah.

[00:05:13] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah.

[00:05:15] Bob: So Nancy binges on all the Business Proposal episodes, watches all the Paul Ahn shows she can get her hands on. She doesn't remember when, but at some certain point her social media feed starts getting flooded with Paul Ahn. Fan pages, discussion groups, you know how this works. You've probably had it happen to you.

[00:05:38] Nancy Newcomber: Yes, yes. I don't even know how that friend stuff got on my, on my media. Um, but somehow it does. But anyway, um, yeah, I start liking some of the posts, you know, they say different, you know, things about it and I didn't write anything, I was just liking the posts on Facebook.

[00:05:59] Bob: And then one day something really, really, really exciting happens.

[00:06:05] Nancy Newcomber: I liked a post, and it, it didn't seem like it was long, a couple hours or something, and up on my Messenger, he popped up. I'm thinking, what is this? "Thank you for being a fan of mine. I would like to have a private chat." And I thought, oh, that sounds so cool to have a, a chat with a celebrity, you know. And I said, "Oh, okay, cool."

[00:06:25] Bob: Paul Ahn wants to chat with her? Nancy can't believe her good fortune, and they strike up a conversation right away.

[00:06:35] Nancy Newcomber: So we chatted a little bit right there on, on Facebook. And then he said, "I don't care for, for Messenger. Can you move to a different app?" And I said, "I don't know any other apps." So he said, "Go to Skype." So I already had Skype up, so I went into Skype and put it in, and we started chatting from that point.

[00:06:56] Bob: And at the end of their Skype chat, something even more exciting happens. He says he wants to stay in touch with her. So the next day and the next and the next, Nancy has online conversations with this TV actor she's come to love. It's really fun.

[00:07:15] Nancy Newcomber: Oh yes, 'cause (laughs) so I thought, oh my goodness, a celebrity is actually talking to me. This is so cool, you know, I never had anybody do this before, you know. I was a little kid in a store. (laughs)

[00:07:27] Bob: Of course, of course. And, uh but go ahead.

[00:07:31] Nancy Newcomber: And I was loving the attention that he was giving me, you know. I mean who wouldn't, you know, from a celebrity?

[00:07:37] Bob: Of course, of course.

[00:07:37] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah.

[00:07:39] Bob: Remember, Nancy got divorced after 40 years of marriage and well this kind of attention is very new for her.

[00:07:47] Nancy Newcomber: Oh yeah, yeah. Yeah, this year is 7 years that I've been divorced, so yeah.

[00:07:52] Bob: Got it, but still that kind of attention, that kind of flir--, flirtation probably felt really good, right?

[00:07:56] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah, because I'm, I haven't been with anybody since my divorce. Yeah, so it did feel good. I'm human.

[00:08:05] Bob: The daily chats keep going for a couple of weeks, and then things progress even further in their relationship.

[00:08:13] Nancy Newcomber: And so like two, two and a half weeks in, he's, he's already telling me that he has feelings for me. Um, which took me back, 'cause I wasn't ready for that, you know.

[00:08:24] Bob: What kinds of things would he say?

[00:08:26] Nancy Newcomber: Just telling me um, that he loved me, um, and I'm thinking, ha, you don't even know me. How do you love me? I mean I've never met you before. It's, you know, and that he, he wanted me to um, his family home is up in uh, Canada. And when he went on vacation, he wanted me to come up to meet his family. Well that really threw me for a hoop right there. I thought, my God, this guy is already asking me to come up to Canada. He said, "I need you to get a passport, um, so you can come up." So all that went down.

[00:09:02] Bob: Wow.

[00:09:04] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah, it was crazy. It just was like a rollercoaster.

[00:09:08] Bob: Of course, of course. So, so the plan is to go to Canada and meet his family, but you, you need, you need to get a, a passport in order to do that, so do you go get a passport?

[00:09:16] Nancy Newcomber: I did, and I never had one, I never needed one.

[00:09:22] Bob: So Nancy follows her new friend's instructions and gets a passport so she can meet him in Canada at some point. But then, this famous man asks her to do something else.

[00:09:35] Nancy Newcomber: So he told me in order to, if I want to meet with him, I first have to go through his business agent and email them and set up a reservation to meet him because you have to pay to see him. And I thought that can't be. So I googled it to see, and it said, "Yes, you know if you want to meet a celebrity, a lot of them charge you a, a certain fee to come meet them." And I thought, oh Lord, what can it be? I mean this was saying like $500, and I'm thinking, "Oh, that's not too awful bad." So I emailed them and told them that I wanted to make a reservation to spend a, a couple days with Paul, and what was required, you know, all that kind of stuff. They write me back and said, "In order to meet with him, you first have to, the reservation itself will cost you $18,500.

[00:10:32] Bob: Wow! $18,500. That's a lot of money, and Nancy doesn't have that kind of money. The price is so high she's told because now Paul Ahn says he will come to North Carolina to meet her there near her home.

[00:10:49] Nancy Newcomber: Oh wow! I was like, what? I'm thinking $500 and 18,000, that's a big difference there. (chuckles)

[00:10:58] Bob: Yeah, wow, so did you go back and tal--, talk to um, Paul about that?

[00:11:02] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah, and I said, "Why is it so much?" He said, "The reservation is for me to fly from Korea," because he was going to come here to Raleigh, to fly from Korea to Raleigh for a, for his hotel room and also for his four security guards. That was $18,500. And I'm thinking where on God's green earth am I going to find that kind of money.

[00:11:31] Bob: Where on God's green earth? Well she doesn't have that kind of cash in her checking account, but she does have a retirement account, and this seems to be the opportunity of a lifetime.

[00:11:45] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah. And um, that's when I went into my retirement and pulled that out, and I sent that over to him. I wired it, transferred from my bank. I wired that over. They received it. They said, "Okay, now we made the reservation and this is the date that you're going to meet him." And they even sent the um, the flight itinerary, everything.

[00:12:13] Bob: So, so excited, Nancy then starts to get ready for the day she will meet her TV star and maybe her new boyfriend.

[00:12:22] Nancy Newcomber: Oh my God. I was so into it I was (chuckles) I went and bought a new suitcase, I bought several different outfits, and oh my gosh, shoes. Pocketbook, you name it. Even gifts. I even bought that; I even bought him gifts to take along with me. Oh my God.

[00:12:44] Bob: What did you, what did you buy him?

[00:12:46] Nancy Newcomber: Just little momentum type things, just you know, little things. It wasn't that much, but it was just something to remember, you know.

[00:12:55] Bob: But as the date approaches for their meeting, his trip gets postponed. And then postponed a second time. A third time. And then the manager has another request to make.

[00:13:09] Nancy Newcomber: Okay, now that's just for the reservation. Just for you to meet him. Now we need $39,299.

[00:13:20] Bob: Oh my God!

[00:13:21] Nancy Newcomber: And I'm thinking, where will I get that money, 'cause now I have nothing left.

[00:13:26] Bob: But her TV star beau says he really, really wants to meet her, leans heavy on her. She starts to feel guilty for turning him down at this point. So...

[00:13:38] Nancy Newcomber: So I went to the bank and I got two loans, and I sent the 39.

[00:13:45] Bob: She sends $39,000 to the manager, most of it borrowed from her bank. And when that money gets there, well, the manager says there's something else.

[00:13:57] Nancy Newcomber: Now we have to cancel it, why? 'Cause now, lo and behold, now he wants $64,800.

[00:14:05] Bob: Oh my God.

[00:14:08] Bob: Nancy has sent $18,500, and then $39,000, and now he's going to cancel unless she sends $64,000? Well that makes Nancy snap.

[00:14:22] Nancy Newcomber: I said, "We're done here. There will not be another penny." And he said, "Come on. I, I even talked to the director and, and he brought it down, and if you can just pay this, we can be together, and..." you know, the whole kaboodle, and I said, "There will be no more money." He said, "Then I'm blocking you." That was it.

[00:14:44] Bob: Oh my God.

[00:14:47] Nancy Newcomber: That was it. He wanted that $64,000. Yeah, so did I.

[00:14:53] Bob: Nancy says no, and her TV star boyfriend suddenly blocks her. And this love affair that began in June ends abruptly in September, all over, just like that, like a cancelled TV show. And then Nancy realizes she was never speaking to her hero, Paul Ahn. She was speaking to a celebrity impostor.

[00:15:21] Bob: When he blocked you, what, I mean that must have been such an empty feeling.

[00:15:24] Nancy Newcomber: Oh my God, I cried. I felt like my life came to an end. I'm serious, because I was so into him and I felt like I was so in love with this man whoever he was, it wasn't, it wasn't Paul. You know, and I felt bad for Paul and all of them, because there's so many impostors out there and they are just like us, they're victims too, you know. So I, I was very down. I was extremely depressed. I lost 40 pounds.

[00:15:55] Bob: Nancy spirals hard, blames herself, and then goes to a dark place.

[00:16:04] Nancy Newcomber: And it was like, Oh my God, why didn't I see this? Everybody was telling me, why didn't I see this? It's, I could have saved myself all that heartache and all that money.

[00:16:16] Bob: Oh, that is so painful.

[00:16:17] Nancy Newcomber: It's extremely painful. I mean the, my, my church people came over to my house because he had called me, and I told him I just didn't want to live anymore, and that scared him to death. And so um, he came over to make sure that I was okay. I said I'm, I'm, I'm not going to take my life, believe me. Ain't nobody worth that to me. But I felt, you know, so down and like I had hit rock bottom.

[00:16:44] Bob: You, you felt bad enough that it was actually something that crossed your mind.

[00:16:48] Nancy Newcomber: Uh, yeah.

[00:16:50] Bob: Now is a good time to remind all of you listening that if you or someone you love is in a crisis, you can call or text 988 right now and get help from a caring professional.

[00:17:03] Bob: So as, as this was going on, did you keep this a secret from all your friends and family, or did some people know?

[00:17:08] Nancy Newcomber: No, my um, my family knew, and one or two of my friends. My roommate never know, I never said anything to her. But, yeah, they knew, and they were all telling me, "This is a scam, this..." "No, it's not. No, it's not," you know...

[00:17:22] Bob: Nancy's church community helps her during her darkest days, and others nearby also step in to help.

[00:17:30] Nancy Newcomber: Yes. And my job now has gracefully enough has gotten a GoFundMe for me to help out.

[00:17:37] Bob: Oh wow.

[00:17:37] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah. So I'm hopeful.

[00:17:40] Bob: Remember, Nancy job is very stressful and emotionally draining. She spends her days caring for people, getting attached to people who might not live much longer. It's a beautiful calling, but that kind of emotional outlay, well she thinks that had something to do with why she was vulnerable to this crime.

[00:18:01] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah. Yeah, and my problem is I have such a huge heart, um, and a soft spot and I was just, that guy targeted in on me and he felt, boy, this is easy money. And he got me.

[00:18:15] Bob: You know that's kind of what I was getting at with your job. I can tell you have a big heart, and I do think people with big hearts are, are even more vulnerable in situations like this.

[00:18:22] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah, yeah. Because even, and you know, even after all this uh stuff that I've been through, my heart's still, I still want to help others, and I still want to give, you know what I'm saying? It's, I'm not going to let him put that bitterness inside of me.

[00:18:39] Bob: Good for you, that's great. That's, that's also pretty rare, I would think it's easy to get bitter, right?

[00:18:43] Nancy Newcomber: Oh yeah. I could have been real bitter. And, and I had uh, I'm still working on it, but I have a, a pretty big issue um, trusting right now. So, yeah, I'm, I'm kinda leery on doing too much of anything. But it'll come around to me. I'll get it back.

[00:19:05] Bob: How are you doing otherwise? I mean I know this is a, an immense burden for you financially.

[00:19:09] Nancy Newcomber: Yes. Uh, paycheck to paycheck, man.

[00:19:13] Bob: And all, and all your retirement money is gone, right?

[00:19:15] Nancy Newcomber: I have nothing to fall back on. I, my daughter, up in Maryland and I have three grandchildren, that was supposed to be for them. And he stole that, so now I have nothing to give to my, my daughter.

[00:19:28] Bob: If you could talk to the person who did this to you now, what would you say?

[00:19:33] Nancy Newcomber: Oh my God, I'd be in jail. I, I just, I guess my first thing would be, why? Why would you do some--, why, how can you be so cruel? How do you sleep at night? That you do this to another human being and you wrecked her whole world. I just, I, I always said I want 5 minutes alone with this person, that's all it would take me. And then...

[00:20:00] Bob: Well you don't strike me as the fighting type, so for you to get to this point...

[00:20:02] Nancy Newcomber: Yeah.

[00:20:04] Bob: Then you must feel pretty angry.

[00:20:04] Nancy Newcomber: Oh, yeah, that, livid. And then like my, my church people said, "God will get his vengeance, you don't worry about vengeance." He'll get it. So I just laid it down, and that's it.

[00:20:20] Bob: Nancy just laid it down, and that's that. But she's actually doing more than that. She's working hard to help other people who might end up in the same situation as her. She's talking to us, for example, and she's doing even more.

[00:20:37] Bob: So what about somebody who is using the internet now and, and gets a message from someone who they admire on television or from the music world. What would you say to that person?

[00:20:47] Nancy Newcomber: And I have. I've been on Facebook, I've seen them, some of the other stars, there's so many different ones, and they'll say, "Oh, I love you, I love you," and the whole kaboodle, and I am writing that reply saying, "These are all impostors. Do not, by any means, get on chat with them. Block them and report them immediately."

[00:21:13] Bob: So you actually reach out to other people proactively and say, avoid this.

[00:21:16] Nancy Newcomber: Absolutely. Absolutely.

[00:21:18] Bob: Wow.

[00:21:20] Nancy Newcomber: Hmm?

[00:21:21] Bob: That sounds like a fulltime job, 'cause I know there's a lot of impostors out there.

[00:21:24] Nancy Newcomber: Oh yeah, well just Paul itself, he had 97 impostors from all the different pages he has. Ninety-seven impostors.

[00:21:30] Bob: You're kidding!

[00:21:31] Nancy Newcomber: Nope, that's just one actor.

[00:21:34] Bob: Nancy reported her crime to the FBI and to her bank, but they both said there was nothing they could do.

[00:21:41] Nancy Newcomber: I wish that there was some way that the FBI could come in there and snag them, get their IP address and grab them. But they are so professional, they are in and out so fast. They get what they want and, and they're out of there, because I sent all my stuff, after I filed my report to the police here, and they filed it to the FBI in October, they have so many files like when I went on TV they, they told me that um, and it's not just men that's doing it. It's women who are doing it to the men as well because a doctor was on with a woman, and she stole $250,000.

[00:22:26] Bob: Oh my God.

[00:22:28] Nancy Newcomber: A doctor, so and, and I was thinking to myself, you are just so stupid. Who else would do something like this? Well, a doctor's a whole lot smarter than I am. So, I don't care what your business is, they can get you.

[00:22:42] Bob: That's the truth. All of us are vulnerable or will become vulnerable at some point. As we like to say here at The Perfect Scam, if you haven't been the victim of a crime, consider yourself lucky because it just hasn't been your turn yet. Debbie Deem knows all about this. She's seen it all. She spent decades working as a victims rights advocate for the FBI, and now she works independently doing the same thing. She helps a lot with romance scam and celebrity impostor scam victims and their families, and she's worried a lot about today's victims.

[00:23:18] Debbie Deem: The focus of my work now is working with victims of what I call transnational technology-facilitated frauds or what other people call scams. Because out of all the victims that I've worked with all my life, and that's been human trafficking, child pornography, bank robberies, investment frauds, you name it uh as far as the crimes, these are probably the most invisible victims um, and invisible crimes as far as how our systems treat people, definitely victims that I've worked with. So making, trying to follow up with the promise I made to people many years ago that I would do what I could to try to make it a better world for them.

[00:23:53] Bob: The most invisible victims like Nancy. When we shared Nancy's story with Debbie, it hit hard. It sounded awfully familiar.

[00:24:04] Debbie Deem: Oh it was a tragic story, but I think also one of hope because I'm glad that she's so connected with her church and her faith, because I think that is such an important part of the message of people's recovery after something like this is having something to move onto and um, so while the story was pretty horrific, and actually it's, I'm familiar with another person that had been involved with a Korean kind of celebrity person, um, just recently so that really struck home for me as well. But the money that I think the financial losses that she'll never be able to recoup from and you know just the emotional investment that she put into this relationship was just a, you know, very hard to read. I wanted to reach out to her, and say you, you're doing good. You're doing good.

[00:24:51] Bob: Celebrity impostor scams are incredibly common now, Debbie says.

[00:24:56] Debbie Deem: I made kind of a list of the ones that I can remember helping, perhaps just in the last uh two years maybe. I've had a couple of Keanu Reeves, of course, actually a Beatle, a Backstreet Boy, a Metallica band member, Rupert Friend. Um, my Korean superstar, Garth Brooks, Mark Zuckerberg, Giada De Laurentiis, I had to look her up, she's a TV check apparently. Hauser, another one I needed to look up. He was a PBS sou--, uh, cellist. George Strait, Liam Neeson, and then, and one that we don't often think of celebrities but they really are, for many of the men that I'm kind of working with, and I'm, I'm probably seeing celebrity on maybe 50% of my romance frauds now which is not something I used to see. But it, it's, it's quite a list actually.

[00:25:39] Bob: And not every celebrity impostor scam is a romance scam, but I guess most of them probably are, right?

[00:25:43] Debbie Deem: Um, I would say most of them are, yes. Um, I think the, the most notable exception that I have would be, I have two women right now that both believe that they have friendships with Elon Musk.

[00:25:54] Bob: (sigh)

[00:25:55] Debbie Deem: And maybe it just hasn't moved to the romance, but um, both of them believe that they're talking to him.

[00:26:03] Bob: What is it about celebrities that, that is alluring? Why does the celebrity impostor crime work so well?

[00:26:09] Debbie Deem: I think that feeling of specialness that they get, that this celebrity is focusing, you know, private secrets and invitations to be with their family like what, what Nancy shared, can seem just so real to these folks, e--, especially if they don't have a lot going on in other ways.

[00:26:23] Bob: Who doesn't want to feel special?

[00:26:25] Debbie Deem: Exactly. Exactly.

[00:26:29] Bob: Debbie is often called into situations by family members when someone they love is in the middle of a celebrity impostor or romance scam. And it's her job to try to persuade the victim to stop interacting with the criminal. But that can be very difficult.

[00:26:46] Debbie Deem: I've had one family said, "Debbie, this, you know, she's waited all her life to hear the words that she's heard from him, so nothing that you do, or nothing that any other person, FBI agent, bank manager or police agent, nobody is going to stop because again, she's hearing what she's never heard before. And that is so powerful, those words."

[00:27:06] Bob: That is so powerful, those words. Here's another reason celebrity impostor scams work so well that might surprise you. Potential victims can be easier to find nowadays because criminals can spot them on social media posts. Debbie gave us a specific example.

[00:27:24] Debbie Deem: She was involved with someone that she or manipulated by someone after having a real picture taken of her with a real celebrity.

[00:27:33] Bob: So I'm, I'm sorry, she, the photo is...

[00:27:36] Debbie Deem: Is, yeah, she has a photo of her with her, with a real celebrity, and then she was on, I guess, a Facebook group with him and liked it, of course, and got the click, um, got a message saying, "Oh, I, I, you know, liked your comment that you had to say, you know, would you like to speak with Rupert? I'm his manager. I could put you in touch." And it went on from there.

[00:27:55] Bob: So of course, if you end up getting a picture with a celebrity that you meet in the grocery store or whatnot, you're going to put it on social media and say, look, all my friends, I got to meet, you know, this person.

[00:28:06] Debbie Deem: Yes, yes.

[00:28:06] Bob: And then a criminal could see that and then easily say it was really nice meeting you the other day. Why don't we chat some more, right?

[00:28:12] Debbie Deem: Exactly. That's exactly the way that it's done.

[00:28:16] Bob: And the prevalence of fan groups devoted to famous TV stars or musicians also makes things easier for criminals like a group devoted to a famous Beatle, Ringo Starr for example.

[00:28:29] Debbie Deem: We'll say, we'll pretend it's Ringo. Had Ringo responding to a lot of these people saying, "Wow, that's a very astute comment," or "I hope you could show up for this," or "Why don't you private message me and we could talk further." And I think a lot of these people were actually believing that this was really, in this case, Ringo talking to them, or his manager. And so it was interesting. On just one of them I posted, "Folks, don't believe this, please, this is a scam site not run by the real Beatle. He is not speaking to you. Leave this site as its purpose is to steal money or financial information from you." And you know within 12 hours of me doing that, I had been deleted from all like five of those groups.

[00:29:07] Bob: Once you discover a group like that, I'm sure that you'd do or have in the past, reported it. What happened?

[00:29:14] Debbie Deem: I would report it to the administrator, and um, I never really hear anything. It's interesting. Yeah, I haven't had very good response once I report either to in this case Facebook, or to the administrator of the site.

[00:29:26] Bob: That's what Debbie does in her free time. She outs celebrity impostors and then gets banned. But during her days, she spends a lot of time working with victims, and she has this important message for loved ones trying to help people in this situation. A single conversation will almost certainly not be enough.

[00:29:49] Bob: So these people who think they're talking with Elon Musk, they have connected with you, but yet they still believe they're talking with Elon Musk.

[00:29:56] Debbie Deem: Yeah, yeah, Bob, these aren't, you know I always say that when you're dealing, especially with what these are kind of chronic victims, I’m always saying that the one-time interventions don't work. It's got to be very ongoing. This is as, you know, they've taken months and weeks to get into these things, it's going to take months and weeks to get out of it.

[00:30:15] Bob: I also think it's important you know to just like a, a lot of illnesses that people suffer, there can be backsliding, right? In some cases somebody might come to you and believe you that, that they're not talking to, you know, the real celebrity, but then at some point, uh go back to them anyway.

[00:30:32] Debbie Deem: They do. Or it's not uncommon that, um, that fake celebrity will replace it with a different celebrity or somebody else to kind of continue the fraud. So they kind of know when they're losing someone, and maybe they need to bring somebody else in. So you know it's not uncommon for people, especially if they're lacking a reason to get up in the morning, um, and the kinds of, you know, the passion and the high emo--, emotional state that these scam criminals can get these people in. You know what do you find to replace that? And that's the toughest thing, again, when I'm dealing with family and friends, you know, what are you helping them to find to, to replace that. Because sometimes coloring with your grandkids and you know the family dinners once a week is not enough for people my age and older.

[00:31:17] Bob: Debbie points victims towards social media groups devoted to recovery from romance scams or celebrity impostor scams so the victims get reinforcement that they aren't alone. And they get ongoing reminders not to reengage with their impostors. Debbie's also got plenty of good advice for people to avoid scams.

[00:31:39] Debbie Deem: Listen to your family and friends. If the bank has given you warnings, pay attention to those. I would also, and I’ve done this myself, I've signed up for a trusted contact person that's a kind of what they call an emergency contact on all of my accounts. So both my retirement accounts now as well as my banking accounts, because I've learned from all the, the, the wonderful victims that have shared their, their lives with me, um, how important that might be, because maybe some time, I'm hoping not, but in the next few years as I'm getting older too, you know this kind of thing might happen to me in some ways. And I, if you have this trusted contact person, it's someone that can be contacted if your pattern in banking is really unusual, like you're taking out loans or you're taking out money that doesn't fit your normal pattern, this emergency contact can be contacted and they don't have access to your account, so it might be a son or a daughter or you know or someone else, um, that you trust, that they can be contacted on this, and I think having that for everybody is just a really important way to kind of help intervene before something like this gets very serious.

[00:32:45] Bob: And while many experts talk about loneliness as a driving force behind romance and impostor scams, Debbie thinks there's another culprit too. Boredom.

[00:32:56] Debbie Deem: And now if we have to sit for two minutes without our cellphones, we don't know what to do. And I find myself a lot at the conferences I go to, I'm always the one saying, well it's more than just loneliness. I see boredom as a big issue. I have a little difference between loneliness and boredom because I have several people, and not necessarily with with celebrities, but involved in just romance frauds in general, but they're very busy in their life and they have a lot of activities, but they're missing that emotional connection kind of thing. So I think there's a boredom factor, and that emotional factor, and then loneliness. And um, I'm not sure how all three interplay with each other, but I've seen all three kind of at stake in these things.

[00:33:32] Bob: Finding community could be a big help with both boredom and loneliness.

[00:33:38] Debbie Deem: I think for Nancy, it was really important finding her faith and her, her work with the church, and for all the victims I'm working with, it's trying to help them find that purpose again, and for so many of them that's what's really keeping them back still with that celebrity or a new one or whatever, but finding that reason. And what's so cool about this work is that when you can get them to be a part of programs like AARP's REST program, or some of the other support group kinds of things, or even these social media groups that are, you know, assisting victims of these kinds of frauds, and they can go in and help other people get through it, um, it is such a powerful thing, Bob, to see them do that and move to that stage of being fraud fighters to help stop some of this happening to other people. And when we can do that, and that we need to make more channels available for them to be able to do this kind of thing, I think that's probably one of the most critical things and, again, what I was most impressed about with Nancy is that she's finding her way out in this way.

[00:34:36] Bob: You can learn more about AARP's REST program an online fraud peer support group at Debbie has really specific advice for friends and family who are dealing with a victim in the middle of a romance or celebrity scam. I'm really fond of the ASK questions technique she talks about here.

[00:34:58] Debbie Deem: I think um, first of all, don't lecture is critical, um, as much as you want to, because it's just, it's going to push them away further. And as is the "I told you so's." I think, again, helping them to find what they're going to find to replace that relationship or behavior with, and get, help give the victims the tools they need to explore, discover that their impostor's on their own, like how to do a reverse image search. Kind of asking questions about things, you know, like the one I ask where it's like, "Gee, that's only an hour flight away. I wonder why he can't make that?" You know just trying to get the, these kinds of things so that kind of these rationalization traps that these folks get caught up in, um, rather than questioning the whole relationship, they're kind of rationalizing that it's, I'm, I'm a good person, and I'm involved in this, so it must be okay, and I'm going to show everybody that it's going to turn out all right. Um, so finding ways, you know, especially talking about AI. And I use a lot of videos um, and handouts when I'm talking with people, so as family members, maybe show them videos, but don't do it um, in a way that you want them to respond. Just kind of show it to them, and say, "I think you might find this helpful, or, or interesting." Um, finding other victims, you know, putting that, the celebrity's name in with the word scam or fraud, um, and just having that there for people to explore on their own, um, I think does a lot further in helping them along this journey to recognize that they've been defrauded, than again, just presenting them one-time with this conversation and expecting them to change.

[00:36:31] Bob: I think that questioning technique is really, really powerful, but, but you, uh, you drew a distinction there that I, I want to draw out of you just a little bit. Asking why, why do you think they couldn't fly from an hour away is different from, why did you get involved with this person, right?

[00:36:44] Debbie Deem: Exactly, yes. You want to ask, yeah, you don't, because that's, again, a self-blaming kind of question. That's, again, treating them like they're stupid or that they did something really dumb, and but instead, you're helping them explore that behavior and relationship.

[00:36:58] Bob: Debbie also uses a promises made - promises kept chart with the victims, again as a way to gently, over time, persuade them that things aren't as they seem to be.

[00:37:10] Debbie Deem: I kind of make this kind of a chart and draw just, you know a big X kind of across it, and on one side I'll have promises made and promises kept for like Nancy, and then on the other side I'll have promises made and promises kept for like Korean superstar, you know and, and it was wonderful. I had, the one man that I'm dealing with recently, I went back to visit him in two or three days, and he had filled his chart out, and it, 'cause I usually leave it with them 'cause it's something very private. And on his, he had everything check--, checkmarks for all these what he knew were promises that he had made, and all, checkmarks for all the promises that he had fulfilled, and he had big X's on, on the same ones for this so-called, you know, um Only Fan celebrity, and you know at the bottom of the page he, he had zero. And I think that was a recognition for him to begin, again, that process of realizing, hey, these things just aren't adding up. Um, besides the things, you know, you can put in on celebrities and see things like how much money they have, um, like this, I, I looked up actually this Korean star, and he's supposedly worth, according to Investors Daily or whatever, worth $5 million, you know, so questions like just asking, you know, "Why don't you find out how much money he actually has?" Just questions like that rather than, "Did you know he only had, that he already has $5 million? Why would he want that from you?" Um, it's just a different tone, and it, yeah, it allows them to do their own exploration at their own time. And if they're willing to get on and if you can help them get on some of these other, like Facebook groups that do really good work in this, and leave them with that, that's things that they can be checking out while you're not with them. And I think it's a wonderful like 24/7 kind of aid in, in that journey to recognizing that these are frauds.

[00:38:53] Bob: And also, don't suffer in silence. Make sure you tell law enforcement authorities what happened. Take care of your credit report, take care of your computer, you know, here's Debbie's checklist of all the to-dos after a crime.

[00:39:07] Debbie Deem: I think it's really important for people, and again, whether this is both prevention and intervention and, and just talking about these kind of things that people really need to do, and that would be, of course, reporting to the banks, preserving your texts and emails, reporting it to IC3, um, the police, if you can. If crypto investment's involved, of course there's a whole lot of things that you have to do on this; report to the social media apps, but I, a lot of times we don't talk about these, and I think it's so important that victims of these kind of things get both their computers as well as their cellphones cleaned, um, by local people, because oftentimes they'll find there's programs like remote access viewers, like AnyDesk that are on those computers that they may not even be aware of. I also urge everyone to freeze their credit with the three credit reporting bureaus, and you can go on, um, to learn how to do that so that no one can open credit in your name. Um, you might want to get copies of your credit reports. Um, oftentimes my victims have shared their driver's license numbers, so you may need to go through your driver's license, you know, bureau, and report that and perhaps hopefully get a new um, card with a new number, and, and picture. If your Social Security number's shared, you should contact the IRS on their identity theft central website and report that and have a special way of filing your taxes. Um, you really need to also prepare for possible new fraud attempts, new celebrities, recovery frauds, those kinds of things.

[00:40:34] Bob: And Debbie leaves victims who are recovering, victims like Nancy, with these important words.

[00:40:41] Debbie Deem: This doesn't have to define who you are. You were manipulated by basically organized crime through these transnational crime rings. This wasn't just one person doing this to you. Um, understand that, that this happens to some of the most decent, wonderful people that I know, and you did not deserve to have this happen to you. There is help available. Um look for some of the support groups. Look into AARP's REST program, the Cybercrime Support Network's romance um, impostor scam peer support group. Um, there's some wonderful videos done by a woman named Kathy Wilson um, that does things for our victims of romance frauds, um, that you can find online. It's at Free videos that you can look at. Take advantage, talk to people about this that you trust, and don't be afraid to come forward and recognize what you've been through. And try to take a role, if you can, of helping other people, because often that's the best way of helping ourselves in whatever we're dealing with.

[00:41:42] Bob: The crime doesn't have to define you. And helping others is often the best way to recover, so thank you, Nancy, for sharing your story with us. For The Perfect Scam, I'm Bob Sullivan.


[00:42:05] 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. Our email address at The Perfect Scam is:, and we want to hear from you. If you've been the victim of a scam or you know someone who has, and you'd like us to tell their story, write to us. That address again is: Thank you to our team of scambusters; Associate Producer, Annalea Embree; Researcher, Becky Dodson; 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.



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.


How to listen and subscribe to AARP's podcasts

Are you new to podcasts? Learn how to subscribe to AARP Podcasts on any device.

Discover AARP Members Only Access

Join AARP to Continue

Already a Member?

spinner image cartoon of a woman holding a megaphone

Have you seen this scam?

  • Call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360 or report it with the AARP Scam Tracking Map.  
  • Get Watchdog Alerts for tips on avoiding such scams.