New York woman falls for face of former ambassador, loses $70,000

Albany widow second duped in online dating scheme

Debbie Guitar admits she sent more than $70,000 to various bank accounts around the country at the request of a man she had met on the dating website Plenty of Fish last year. 

Guitar, a widow living in upstate New York, contacted News 6 after learning one of the women she wired funds to had lost $270,000 to the same man: Jerry Michael aka Darnell Michael.

“My whole world was destroyed,” she said. “He told me Diane Standish was a longtime friend of his.”

Standish, an Orlando resident, lost her husband three years ago and decided to use the dating service Match.com to meet a companion.

“He told me he was in love with me,” Standish told News 6. “I’ve talked to a million people that said they met on eHarmony or Match and they’re happily married, so I didn’t have any reason to question it.”

Both Standish and Guitar have provided News 6 with roughly 30 names and bank accounts used in
wire transfers orchestrated by their mystery man.

“He told me he lived in Los Angeles," Guitar said. “He was tired of living there and he wanted to move to Orlando.”

[READ: How to avoid a romance scam when using online dating sites]

Guitar said the money she sent was supposed to have been used to buy a home in Central Florida. 

She and Michael never met face to face, only communicating by phone, text and email.

A News 6 investigation confirmed the photo being used in the online scams is a picture of Flamur Gashi, the former Albanian ambassador to Bosnia-Herzegovina, a country on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe.

Gashi has a Facebook page and police said that many of the photos sent to Standish and Guitar are on that page and were probably lifted from it.

Police detectives in Orlando said funds and emails sent by the conman have been traced to South Africa.

Detective Paul Griffith, of the Orlando Police Department, investigated the Standish case and said the chance of restitution is slim because the cash was moved in and out of accounts quickly.

[RELATED: Single mother shares story of date with 'monster' she met online]

“They’ll win your trust, win your confidence and then your love, and then they win your money," Griffith said. “These con men are working this every day and it’s global, so you don’t know how many people they’re talking to in a day.”

The names and accounts provided by Standish and Guitar span several cities and include accounts with Wells Fargo, Bank of America and SunTrust.

News 6 has also developed a lead to an international financial institution with a routing number for a U.S. bank in Fort Walton Beach.

If you think you have been targeted by a con man on an online dating service, you can file a report with
the FBI or the Federal Trade Commission.

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