Fox 59 investigation stops online romance scam

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A Fox59 investigation stopped a scam in its tracks.

In May, we introduced you to Debby Day. She’d fallen in love with a man she met online.

They shared pictures, chatted online and talked on the phone. He said he was coming to visit, but needed help transferring money. That’s when it became apparent to her friends that he wasn’t Debby’s soul mate.

He was a part of an elaborate “romance scam”—and he was stealing from her.

But Debby wasn’t convinced until after our story ran. A man came forward, proving it was all a scam.

Fox 59 is taking action to warn potential victims about the nationwide scheme to take advantage of unsuspecting singles.

“I should have listened to my sister on this one. I really, really should have,” Day said.

The man courting Day went by the name Dempsey Seldon. He had all the makings of a future partner for her. He loved music and philanthropy, just like Day. He was handsome, smart and kind.

“I figured that because of certain things that happened that he was supposed to be the one,” Day said.

But when he asked for money, her friends knew she was headed for heartbreak and a massive financial loss.

“You want someone out there to love you and take care of you and all that. I wish it was real,” said Day’s friend, Debbie Nester.

It wasn’t until our first story aired that we were able to prove to Day that Dempsey wasn’t real.

The scammer had stolen a man’s pictures and created a fake Facebook page with an alternative identity.

His friend in Central Indiana saw our story on TV and called him in New Jersey.

He doesn’t want to reveal his real name, but wanted to make everyone aware that he wasn’t the one trying to take money from Day. We’ll call him John Doe.

“He said, ‘You’ll want to check this out. Look up the name Dempsy Seldon.’ And I did that and I found, of course, your report,” Doe said.

Doe thinks the pictures were stolen from his Facebook page or online dating profiles.

“It didn’t even seem like me and yet, there I was. It was just really weird,” Doe said.

We set up a face time call so Day could see the truth.

“I’m simply a professional living in New Jersey, have a daughter, divorced and working in Manhattan,” Doe said.

The hardest part was when he saw Day’s reaction.

“It was heart wrenching,” Doe said.

“The more it sinks in, the worse it is going to get,” Day said.

Day lost more than $500 in the scam, but owner of RomanceScams.org, Barb Sluppick said that’s nothing compared to most victims, who lose an estimated average of $14,000.

“Most of them are coming out of West Africa. You’re going to find some that are in Malaysia and South Africa but most are West Africans that have migrated to these different areas,” Sluppick said.

She said while it’s hard to believe anyone would fall for this, tens of thousands of Americans already have.

“They listen to every single thing that a person says, and then what they do is they become the person that you thought was the person of your dreams,” Sluppick said.

She said just as many men are scammed by this as women.

“Another big fallacy is that this is middle-aged women who can’t get a date who are getting scammed because they’ll fall for anything,” Sluppick said.

More than $25 million have been reported lost since June 2005. That’s just from the people who happened to document it on her website.

Day just wonders how she could have been so naive.

“Which is going to be the hardest part I think is to try to find out why I was able to do something like that,” Day said.

She thought she wouldn’t have a chance at love after her first husband died. Now, after being hurt so badly, she said she’s really giving up on love.

“I think I’ll just go back to forgetting about it,” Day said.

She said she’s going to refocus her energy on efforts to raise awareness about the scams and find ways to catch the scammers.

The reason you may not have heard about this before is because most victims are too ashamed to admit that they essentially gave money to someone they’ve never actually met in person.

What makes it even worse is that since the scammers are often operating out of internet cafes millions of miles away and block their IP addresses, they’re almost impossible to catch, Sluppick said.

If you’ve been taken advantage of, there are things you can do. However, getting your money back is very unlikely.  The information is very important to authorities, however, as they tackle this as a larger, international crime.

Here’s what you should do:

You can also get free counseling and join a support group at RomanceScams.org.

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