OCALA, Fla. – An Ocala woman was playing Word Chums during her weekly game night when a guy claiming to be from New Jersey popped up on the site.
“He said he worked on oil rigs and was getting ready to go to a job off of Vancouver, Canada, at the end of March 2019,” said the victim, who did not want to reveal her real name. “He sent me a copy of the contract he was awarded from the Canadian Government.”
Federal investigators said variations of the woman’s story have been told time and again.
In this case, the imposter used a stolen social media photograph to create the profile of 55-year-old Scott Michael Williams, an oil rig supervisor from New Jersey.
The profile was classic: A lonely man with a sympathetic past just in need of a loan until his contract was fulfilled.
“He said his wife had died and he had one daughter who lived with his aunt in West Virginia,” the victim said. “I was originally from New Jersey, but live in Ocala now, he gave me his New Jersey address in West Orange, NJ 07052.”
The woman said most communication with the man was via email or phone. She never saw his face and a recorded phone message she shared with News 6 sounded more like a young man with a Nigerian accent rather than a 55-year-old man from West Orange, New Jersey.
“He said when we meet maybe we could have a life together,” the victim said. “I got suckered into all that.”
Federal investigators said the scheme is a tried and true blueprint — strike up a romance and convince the target to send money for some sort of an emergency.
The woman said Williams came up with various financial emergencies from food shortage for his crew to fines from the Canadian Sea Patrol.
Senior Special Agent Roger Fuentes said the Secret Service has tracked thousands of similar cases across the country with more than 100 in Central Florida this year alone.
“It’s like a telemarketing scam,” Fuentes said. “They are never in the United States: international businessman, soldier overseas, oil worker overseas.”
The victim was told to send the money to women in West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan and Tennessee. Between cash and gift cards, she lost $10,000.
Fuentes said many times the victims refuse to believe it was all a lie. In the U.S., he said there are “tens of thousands of cases” like this.
“They want to believe they found true love, they don’t want to believe the federal agent in front of them,” Fuentes said. “The person you fell in love with the person you have been communicating with all these months doesn’t exist.”
In many of the cases, the conmen are asking for money transfers to bitcoin accounts. If an online friendship or romance has turned to sudden requests for money stop it — chances are you are being set up by a conman.
Special Agent in Charge Caroline O’Brien-Buster said the end game is always money.
“They known exactly what they are doing, they known exactly where their money is and they know how to move it,” she said.
If you want to share your story to expose a scheme just email: email@example.com
The public is encouraged to report potential online fraud activity or scams. You can do that by clicking here.
If you or someone you know is age 60 or older and has been a victim of financial fraud, help is standing by at the National Elder Fraud Hotline, 1-833-372-8311.