Just days after she accepted a friend request from a cargo ship marine engineer, a 69-year old
woman found herself in a whirlwind social media romance.
The attractive man dressed in a white uniform, introduced himself as Alex Morgan, a divorced single parent, looking for love.
Morgan claimed to be attracted to the feisty Central Florida grandmother, who gave News 6 the alias Annette.
“He said he liked my voice, he likes what I’m saying," she said. “You know, he said he thinks he’s falling in love. He loves me.”
The man claiming to be Morgan convinced her to switch from Facebook messages to phone conversations using WhatsApp.
“He said he wanted to use WhatsApp because it’s easier for him to talk to me,” she said.
After a few days of romantic text messages and conversations, Morgan told Annette he had purchased
gifts for her while on shore In Poland.
“The things I sent you are an iPhone, perfume, handbags, lady’s diamond golden necklace and wristwatch and some other things,” he said.
That message was sent on a Saturday night. The following Monday, Annette received a text message from a man claiming to be with a courier service in Chicago.
It turned out those gifts didn’t include the cost of shipping. She was supposed to pay a $1,000 shipping fee to release the goods so they could be delivered to her home.
She said that was an instant red flag, she told News 6 she was convinced it was a “scam.”
“Alex Morgan doesn’t exist," she said. “The name on his tag is Omar something.”
News 6 confirmed the photographs and name tag led to Omar Laquidara.
Translation from an Italian social media post confirms he is married to an Italian model named Erika.
The post reads, in part: "It is with the photo of the Milanese navigation officer, Omar Laquidara, that Costa Cruises has chosen to wish Happy Valentine's Day to its followers scattered around the world. Omar, just turned 32, is currently at the training center for officers in Almere (Netherlands) and, to wish a Happy Valentine's Day to his wife Erika, also a milazzese."
The most important piece of information came from the photographer who wrote: "A photo that in a few minutes has made the rounds of the web and, in particular, the Instagram platform gathering support from all over the world."
That suggests hackers used that photo to open a door to Omar Laquidara’s Instagram site.
Further investigation by News 6 found that several of the photographs sent to Annette are also on an Instagram account under the name Morrie McCartney. The first posts from that account appeared in May.
The Instagram account appears to have 151 followers, while McCartney aka Morgan, is currently following more than 1,000 women.
Florida U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy reviewed the News 6 investigation this week and is convinced the social media impostors are the next layer in the schemes that have played out on robocalls.
“We have to find ways to protect the consumers," Murphy said. "What we need to do is update our laws so that they translate into this space.”
News 6 filed a report with Instagram security to alert the Morrie McCartney impostor site.
Chris Hadnagy, CEO of Social-Engineer, LLC, is known as the “Human Hacker” in law enforcement circles.
Hadnagy said the hacking of social media sites to target older victims is the new normal.
“Sadly these scams are all too common. Scammers are looking for older or non-technical people to try and trick,” Hadnagy said. “They use strong emotions and won’t be afraid to attack right after a death or other tragedy. It is so sad to hear these stories but really great that Annette saw the red flags and was able to fight this.”
Hadnagy said that in 2018, romance scams were the No. 1 ranking scam, with 21,000 victims reported and a total loss of $143 million.
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