Woman loses $250K to online dating scam; FBI shares red flags

AURORA, Ill. -- An Aurora woman was swept off her feet and then taken to the cleaners, losing $250,000. She thought she was falling in love but instead, was betrayed.

The FBI calls it the confidence scam or the romance scam, and said it consistently ranks in the top three online schemes, preying on people who are looking for companionship and love.

But before you know it you've lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, just like Laura Bockus.

"How could you do this to somebody, I mean seriously how could you sleep at night doing this to someone," she wondered.

Bockus said she was forced to put her Aurora home up for sale.

"The annuity's gone, my credits gone and I have to sell my house," Bockus said.

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Consumer Investigator Jason Knowles has this I-Team takeaway to avoid a costly mistake online.



Bockus was tricked into sending dozens of cash payments totaling $250,000 to a person who she thought would be a partner for life.

"He was going to move here, in this house and then we were going to buy a house in Florida," she explained.

She met "Richard" on an online dating site. Shortly after she said they ditched the dating platform interface and exchanged phone numbers and e mail.

"Every time I see your picture I fall in love all over again," Richard wrote to Bockus. She has a table full of romantic love letters. Another read, "If I had a flower every time I thought of you I'd have a whole garden forever."

It wasn't long before requests for money started.

"Six weeks' worth of build-up to where we were, I thought, really close and for him to ask for-- started out small amounts you know like $2,000 or $3,000 and then the largest one was like $50,000," Bockus said.

Bockus said those wire transfers eventually racked up to $250,000. They were all sent from her various bank accounts, lines of credit, even as gift cards.

But Bockus said the scammer's story was convincing: What's now believed to be a fake picture with "Richard" holding a check for $1.3 million, and a fake bank statement showing his account had a million bucks in it.

"He made me beneficiary to some account that he had," said Bockus. She believed that "money" would soon all be theirs to share once Richard could get to the U.S. to access the funds.

"They gain your confidence and start with little things, little requests, a little money here, a favor there, before you know it you are so invested in this scam you are giving them more and more things," said Siobhan Johnson, Special Agent and Public Affairs, FBI Chicago.

The FBI Chicago Field Office said most victims send at least $100,000.

"A lot of people think that they cannot put the brakes on because then all of the things they have done so far are for nothing," Johnson explained.

The Federal Trade commission has ranked Romance scams as number one when it comes total losses. 21,000 reports from people claiming they lost a total of $143 million.

Even though many are overseas, The FBI says it can sometimes track down scammers with help from its regional computer forensics laboratory. However, you have to immediately report online crimes to IC3.gov.

So do victims of this scam do have some hope?

"You never know which case is going to be the one where you get all of the money back," said Johnson.

ABC7 I-Team Consumer Reporter Jason Knowles called the phone numbers Bockus had for "Richard" but he didn't answer.

"Oh it's ruined my life, I have no retirement left," says Bockus. She said she reported the thief to police and the FBI, after she broke the life-changing news to her family, who have been there for her during this difficult time.

Bockus recently sold her home. She's going to live at family friend's condo in Florida for now.

So what are the red flags? First check out pictures on dating sites. You can run reverse image searches on these pictures to see if the same pictures are being used online. If you feel a connection with someone online, they should be willing to video chat or meet in a safe, public place. If they ask for money it's time to cut off conversation.

HOW TO RUN A GOOGLE REVERSE IMAGE SEARCH

FOR DESKTOP:
Option one: Right click on the image and chose "search Google for image"
Option two: Search Google Images, click the camera icon and then either upload the image or paste the URL of the photo you're doing a reverse search for.

FOR PHONE:
Type in google.com
Tap on the share button
Click "request desktop site"
Then simply click on the camera image and then upload the image or paste the URL of the photo you're doing a reverse search for
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