JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - It seems almost impossible to think someone would give hundreds of thousands of dollars to a person they never met, but it happens all too often. Women think they've found love, but in reality, they're actually being preyed on and scammed with the use of a con man's playbook.
It's full of pages and pages of what could be considered pick-up lines that really work. Diane Standish heard many of them, and unfortunately, fell for them.
"Four months into it, and then he asked me to marry him," Standish said.
She knows now that it was never even love at all, but she admits, she first thought she found her soulmate on a dating website. She didn't know the man in the photo wasn't real and she didn't know the one-liners he used came from a scammer's playbook.
"Oh a ton of them! How was your weekend? How's your week goin' so far?" she said.
She gave her heart to this fake online sweetheart and a lot of her money: $270,000 in all.
News4Jax spoke with Moe Meyers, the co-founder of California-based Social Catfish. The company helps verify whether people are really who they say they are online. Meyers told us about a client who gave $700,000 to one of these scammers.
"This woman was very smart. She owned her own law firm, she was super smart. She wasn't a lawyer, she owned the law firm," Meyers emphasized. "I mean we talked, and she wasn't a dumb lady. She was dumb in some ways, she just got caught up emotionally."
These fraudsters have become experts at messing with these women's emotions and Meyers warns they're going to keep doing it.
"Their government is so crooked that their government is involved in it, so this is never going to stop until they want to stop it. They're not going to stop it," Meyers said. "There's so much money coming into South Africa and Nigeria from these scams it's a business for them."
Meyers introduced us to one of these alleged Nigerian Romeos. The man referred to himself as Ogbama Godfrey but to the women online, he's "Luke" -- among many other names.
"And just send them direct messages like 'Hello, I'm interested in you, I want to get to know you,'" he admitted.
Godfrey said they look for women who are widows, divorced, or depressed. And then -- they wait.
"When you send a thousand messages, you get a hundred replies," he said.
"It happens more than you would imagine," added Meyers. "We have over a million users visit our site a month. Not everyone is in a catfish, but that's the majority of people we get looking to see if, 'Am I being catfished? Am I in a romance scam?' It happens all day long. It's sad to say, but it happens."
If you think you're being catfished online, the No. 1 recommendation is to ask them them to FaceTime or Skype you. If the person continues to make 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.
"Everyone should see this, and especially never give anyone money that you have not met," Standish warned.
Standish lost so much money to a man she never met, she had to file bankruptcy.
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.
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