Widows lose life savings to online dating scam
ORLANDO, FL & WASHINGTON COUNTY, NY - Two former widows have lost their life savings to an online dating scam.
“If you’re a widow... that’s what they’re going after,” said Washington County resident Deborah Guitar.
After losing her husband of more than 30 years to pancreatic cancer, Deborah Guitar was searching for a connection. Like so many, she took to the web, landing a catch on the site “Plenty of Fish.”
“He told me he lived in Los Angeles - and he was sick of California, that he wanted to come this way,” Guitar tells CBS 6. “You want to meet someone, just to have companionship.”
They exchanged pictures, they exchanged messages, and soon they exchanged phone numbers. Deborah says “Darnell” used six different numbers, all beginning with the California area code 661.
The friendship blossomed. After about a month and a half of talking, the two were planning a bright future together. Deborah says she was planning to move out of Washington County to Florida and marry “Darnell.”
It was then that she started sending money -- lots of it. She thought it was for their new home.
“He asked if I wanted to use his real estate agent - kept asking for money, constant - and so I sent him the $60,000 for the house,” said Guitar.
Thus began a slippery slope, full of tall tales and excuses.
“He kept putting me off, then he said finally... We lost that house - he turned around and asked for $600 he needed for an attorney, he said he got arrested for some reason - so I sent him the money, “ Guitar tells CBS 6.
The only problem was the pictures used in the profile are not of "Darnell." The photos actually show Flamur Gashi, the former Albanian Ambassador to Bosnia and Herzegovina. The diplomat was an unwilling participant in what Deb soon realized was a nightmare: an illicit scam.
“He was just so loving in the beginning, to make you really believe he was in love with you,” said Guitar.
With tens of thousands now out of her bank account, Deb sounded the alarm and tried to get her money back, much to the ire of “Darnell.”
CBS6 obtained the angry messages Deb says are from the scammer, where he pleads with Deborah through a slew of grammatical errors: “Before i pay you your money, you have to take off all my pictures off facebook as soon as possible... why will you post all my pictures and call me a scammer... take off all the pictures and tell everyone am a good person.”
“My whole world was destroyed, and how could I allow him do this?,” Guitar said.
Deborah came across a name on a check “Darnell” had Deborah cash. The name? Diane Amanda Standish of Orlando, Florida.
“He said Diane was a family friend, and he’s known her for years,” Guitar tells CBS6.
A fellow widow, Standish also fell for a similar scam, this one on match.com. Standish lost her life savings.
“I went through my bank accounts and it was $270,000 - He could be anybody, anywhere. I just don’t know,” said Standish.
With bank accounts drained, what can be done? Unfortunately, not much. Neither Diane Amanda Standish nor Deborah Guitar have any idea who they were actually communicating with, and nobody has been charged.
But there is an effort to keep track of scams. The FBI has an “Internet Crime Complaint Center," and both match.com and Plenty of Fish feature sections of their sites, specifically warning users.
Plenty of Fish cautions, “Never respond to any request to send money, especially overseas or by wire transfer... Wiring money is like sending cash: the sender has no protections against loss and it’s nearly impossible to reverse the transaction or trace the money.”
“He destroyed me, and I didn’t have faith in people,” Deborah Guitar tells CBS6.
For Standish, and Deborah Guitar it’s a sobering fact... their money is gone, and they’re speaking out to warn others.
“He could be anybody anywhere, I have no clue,” said Diane Amanda Standish.
“Him, I have no use for, because of his lies,” said Guitar.