Before you say, "It could never happen to me," you should know that romance scams are now the single largest type of consumer fraud in the country. This victim asked us not to show her face, because she hasn't told her family or friends.
I’m preparing a special report later today about scam artists. Have you lost money to a scam?— Dan Noyes (@dannoyes) March 18, 2019
A 56-year-old woman named "Yin" had little time for a social life, between caring for her mother and working as a hairstylist. She tells the I-Team, she never met men through people at the salon.
"I never talk about-- mention about meeting new guy at work because I'm a shy person," said Yin.
Do you know this U.S. Marine? His pictures have been used to scam an Oakland woman out of her life savings, after she used a popular dating site. I'm working on the story. #ABC7now pic.twitter.com/EcksYJongb— Dan Noyes (@dannoyes) March 18, 2019
After Yin saw a Match.com commercial, she signed up, bought a six-month membership, and met someone using the name "David Perez," a U.S. Marine Corps Major and divorced father from San Francisco with a 10-year-old daughter.
Yin didn't know at the time it was a fake profile, using someone else's photos. They exchanged pictures and texted constantly, even when he was supposedly deployed to Afghanistan.
An extreme case of #catfishing has cost an Oakland hair stylist her life savings. The scammer used a U.S. Marine's photographs, and she respected and trusted the military. Finishing up the investigation for tonight. #ABC7now pic.twitter.com/tC171lpI22— Dan Noyes (@dannoyes) March 19, 2019
"I fell in love with him quickly, you know," Yin told Dan Noyes. "Like really deeply fall in love with him, trust in everything he said."
Perez showered her with attention, one text saying, "Today was just an ordinary day until I thought of you and suddenly everything, everywhere became extra ordinary."
Another time, he wrote, "We have to keep our relationship between us ok. Promise me that. Because most friends could be jealous." Yin answered, "Sure! I promise."
After five weeks of grooming, the scammer turned to money, telling her he's on a secret mission in Afghanistan, and needs cash fast: "I know you're doing everything to help me, but I just want you to try your best."
The scammer spun an elaborate hoax in which Yin had to deal with a military attorney through a phony London company and deposit money into a Chinese bank.
"I was so nervous shaking, I did not know what to do," Yin said. "I told him, he said 'Don't worry, don't worry, you know don't cry.'"
And yes, Yin sent money to someone she never met in person.
Dan: "All together, how much money did you give?"
Yin: "$273,000, over quarter of million dollars."
Yin is not alone.
Kerry O'Brien with the Federal Trade Commission's Western Region told the I-Team, "Fraudsters know this scam works."
O'Brien tells us romance scams are soaring across the country. There were 21,000 people who reported losses last year, totaling more than $143 million. And she offers advice to those seeking love online.
"Talk to your friends and family about your relationship," says O'Brien. "If they're suspicious, you know, you probably should be too, but the main thing is don't be embarrassed if you fall victim to this type of scam. These people are really good at what they do."
The bulk of Yin's money came from her account at Chase Bank. The I-Team asked a spokesman about recovering her money. The answer?
"This particular case is difficult because the customer confirmed and willingly made the transactions. This is why we urge customers to only send money to people they know and trust. We will continue to look into any and all options."
Yin finally realized what was happening when Perez said he would meet her for a birthday dinner at Scott's restaurant in Jack London Square. Yin showed up, waited and waited, he never came.
"He said he was in the, in the restaurant waiting for me," Yin told Dan Noyes. "I went there, I couldn't see him, that's why I said 'You know, it's probably a scam.'"
When Yin complained to Match.com about losing her life savings to a scam artist, they deleted the David Perez profile, told her to contact the authorities, and refunded her $107 membership fee.
A company spokesperson told the I-Team, "Less than .01% of (match.com) users reported a scam last year," and pointed out the many warnings members receive not to give money to strangers.
Yin filed a complaint with the FBI's Internet Crime Center months ago, and has not heard back. The I-Team also called the Pentagon, but they have not been able to identify that Marine whose pictures the scammer used.