JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Cathy Scott can’t help but laugh at her situation. After all, she just found out the man who’s been wooing her online is, in reality, a con artist.
The news came as a shock to Scott, whose husband of 34 years died in December. This month would have been the couple’s 35th anniversary. So it’s no surprise she sought comfort in a new relationship.
Scott, 67, told News4Jax she met the man who went by the name Mark Owens on Facebook. Even though they had no friends in common, she accepted his friend request. Then he messaged her.
Within a few days, the pair seemed to really hit it off. She was an open book with her newfound acquaintance – to a degree, anyway.
"I answered honestly to the point of telling him I had cats," Scott said. "I didn’t tell him I had seven."
Soon they were exchanging text messages daily. The more they chatted, the more she confided in Owens, who was at best a complete stranger up until a few weeks ago.
"It just kept getting more and more involved," she said. "It was to the point that that he knew how many children I had, he knew that I lived in Jacksonville," but "I knew nothing about him."
It wasn’t long before the requests for money began. First, Owens asked for iTunes gift cards. Then he asked about Amazon gift cards. Scott acknowledged she almost gave him $400.
Incidentally, that request and what Scott described as a "deadline" from Owens came the same day she saw a promotion on television for the News4Jax investigation called "Con Man’s Playbook."
"I ignored him all day," she recalled. "I didn’t answer his texts, any of his phone calls. Then he started to do a pressure thing that I didn’t fulfill a promise. I just kept ignoring it."
It’s a good thing she did, too.
Once Scott saw the story, she realized she had better ask Owens to FaceTime with her to make sure he was who he said he was. Surprisingly, she said, he agreed to a face-to-face conversation.
The call from Owens never came. Instead, he blocked Scott on Facebook Messenger the next day.
"I felt pretty good at the end of the day," she said. "I don’t know how much money you saved me, but at least $400."
She had this advice for anyone else who finds herself in the dubious situation of getting requests for money from someone they don’t know: "Don’t do it."
How to avoid becoming a victim
If you think you're being catfished online, the No. 1 recommendation is to ask them to FaceTime or Skype you. If the person makes excuses as to why they can't, and you've never personally seen their face, that's when you'll need to start asking yourself some questions about whether you are being scammed. Social Catfish can help you verify a person's online identity using images, email addresses, phone numbers and online profiles. For help, go to SocialCatfish.com.