PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – As more people go online looking for love, scammers are taking advantage of them.
In fact, the FBI says in 2015, Americans lost nearly $200 million to so-called “sweetheart scams.”
Two women are sharing their stories of broken hearts and drained bank accounts with the hope of preventing other people from falling victim.
“I never thought this would ever happen to me,” Sharon said.
Rita met Michael Richardson on Match.com. He was a pipeline engineer working in the Philippines.
Sharon met Michael Barnett on Match.com. He was an industrial rail engineer on a project in the Philippines.
Both women say they were swept off their feet.
“He talked about my life, he talked about his life, he blended them together,” Rita said.
There were gifts, daily text messages and emails.
“It was complete thorough emails. All things were answered, all things were taken care of,” Rita said.
And there were dozens of phone calls.
“Talked to him at least two or three times a day,” Sharon said.
They confided, trusted and opened their hearts. Then, they got the call that changed everything.
“I got a call from a person who was supposedly from the embassy. Telling me he had been detained for some paperwork,” Sharon said.
“After the American embassy called me and told me he was in jail for tax fraud, I was told that in order for him to be released he would need some money,” Rita said.
That’s when they started sending money.
“My feeling was to help,” Rita said.
Sums totaling thousands and even tens of thousands of dollars. It was money they didn’t have.
“That one I actually took out a loan from a lending club, which he recommended,” Sharon said.
Neither woman was the wiser until “Michael” asked Sharon to send several payments to Rita. Then, Rita sent them on to him to sort of launder the money.
When she got a large payment from Sharon, Rita had had enough.
“This is where it stops. I closed my account,” Rita said.
That’s when the scammer turned Sharon against Rita.
“He says, ‘Babe, we just got scammed,’” Sharon said.
Sharon filed a police report about the theft and Rita was accused of fraud.
“That was my lover. He’s just paying me back. No, it’s another lady who was being scammed by the same person,” Rita said.
That’s when they realized they’d both been had.
“I’m working seven days a week to maintain,” Rita said.
Now, they’re left with thousands of dollars in debt and a sadness that runs deep.
“Now, I have to struggle, fight my way back,” Rita said.
“I want people to understand what these guys are doing and how good they are,” Sharon said.
The man who called himself Michael was never found.
Match.com says they constantly educate members to never give out any financial information. They also provide safety tips and require members to take a pledge before reading their first email.