Kathy, who asked to only share her first name, said she didn't realize she was being played until she watched the popular Netflix show "The Tinder Swindler," but by that time, she had already shelled out her entire life savings.
She said after nearly two years of staying home during the pandemic, she was lonely.
"And that got me thinking. If something like this happened, you know, again, I don't want to be alone. You know, I want somebody here," Kathy said.
So she decided to try online dating and signed up for SilverSingles, a site for people aged 50 and older. She said she met a handsome older gentleman who swept her off her feet.
"I thought I was in love because every time I would hear from him, my heart would just burst open. And it was interesting, exciting," she said. "And after every phone call before we hung up, we took turns praying and even that, he was really cute."
Kathy said he wooed her with messages like "Good morning wifey, I hope you had a good night's rest" and "I love you more than you can ever imagine."
But she never met her new love in person.
"I asked to meet him. And he said, 'well, I'm leaving for a job up in Toronto, and I have to go quickly,'" Kathy said. "A couple of weeks after he was there in Toronto, supposedly, he said, 'I need these permits to work here and I need $5,000 for this permit. And they won't take a check or anything.' So I'm thinking, well, yeah, I want to help this man. You know, I'm falling in love with him. Why wouldn't I want to help them?"
Kathy said she sent him $5,000 for the permit. Then she gave him more money after he got into an accident. And then she gave even more money for his surgery.
"And I said, 'I don't have that kind of money.' And then we started talking about where we could get that money. And he kept offering suggestions, you know, so I ended up doing a refinance and taking out money against my house," she said.
And when he needed more money for his various misfortunes, she said she took out loans and sent him the funds.
Kathy said the love of her life sent her a screenshot of his bank account, showing he had the money to pay her back. And though she still hadn't met him in person, she had faith that he would be with her soon.
Then one evening she said her friend recommended she watch "The Tinder Swindler" on Netflix, where several women said they lost thousands of dollars to a man they met online. And that's when everything clicked.
"I'm going 'Oh my gosh,'" she recalled. "Everything matched."
"I'm robbing Peter to pay Paul so I can get this payment in because he ruined my credit too," Kathy said. "I got kicked out of my bank. They closed my account and they were afraid I was laundering money."
The total amount she sent him is sobering.
"A little over $92,000," Kathy said.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, in the past five years, people have reported losing a staggering $1.3 billion to romance scams, the highest of any FTC fraud category.
In fact, money lost to romance scams increased sixfold from 2017 to 2021.
Steve Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois, said reports of online dating scams went up during the pandemic, but still remain grossly underreported.
"Some feel that they're really embarrassed that their family will find out and some that we've talked to still believe that they exist and they're gonna come out of the woodwork again," Bernas said. "People lose their life savings, and it's all being done by a scammer doing this to hundreds of people."
Our sister station WLS-TV has chosen not to show a picture of Kathy's love interest because most of these fraudsters steal photos online to draw you in.
The bottom line, Bernas said, is you can't fall in love with someone you've never met.
"And it's always a reason they can't meet you. And that's what we call the tip off to the rip off," Bernas said.
It was a sobering realization for Kathy, who still can't believe she fell in love with a scammer. Now she is paying what she can on her loans and has delayed her upcoming retirement until she can get out of debt.
SilverSingles warns its users that if someone online is asking you to send them money, stop communicating with them and report the profile.
Full Statement from Spark Network, parent company of SilverSingles:
Safety is always a top priority in everything we do, across all our brands at Spark Network. Upon detection of any potential fraudulent behavior, we apply many countermeasures. Spark utilizes external AI-based tools, robust transaction detection, internal filters and employs a sizeable, dedicated fraud team for the manual review of cases. Unfortunately, as with any online activity, there are "bad actors" out there, however we remain dedicated to keeping our users safe on our platforms.
We also invest in user education, as exhibited by the safety pages on our sites (see links below), because it's crucial to arm our community/audiences with the right tools to mitigate against the risks of online dating. We also refer our users to the Federal Trade Commission's Online Dating Scams site: http://www.onguardonline.gov/articles/0004-online-dating-scams.
Dating should be fun, so we want to ensure our platforms are a safe and comfortable space for our users. We urge any user who has suspicions about someone they are in contact with, or if they find themselves in any of the below listed situations, to immediately cease communication and report the account to our Customer Care team.
Below is a list identified by our fraud/security team of potentially concerning behavior that should be flagged to our Customer Care team.
Additional information on safe online dating can be found on our safety pages:
Thank you for getting in touch on this important topic.