Widow loses $42K in ‘sweetheart scam’

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WATE) – An East Tennessee woman has lost a good portion of her savings to a scam artist that first “friended” her on Facebook two years ago.

Romance scammers often search for potential victims on dating apps and social media. These “sweetheart scammers” lavish victims with attention and then ask for money. Common red flags include the would-be sweethearts living overseas, don’t have access to money and will want to come home.

RELATED: TDCI reminds Tennesseans to be wary of ‘sweetheart’ scammers

The targets of these scams are more often are widows and widowers, and age doesn’t matter.

The woman WATE 6 On Your Side spoke to a woman who once had some money in the bank; falling victim to an all-too-common romance scam.

RELATED: Breaking the Silence: Romance scams most often target seniors

A widow for 11 years, Patsy, who asked not to reveal her last name, admits she was vulnerable when she received a picture of this man on Facebook. Through text messages, he said his name was “Jimmy Larry,” an American contractor living in Lagos, Nigeria.

He had told Patsy he was in Lagos “to make money.” Little did she know, it was to make money – off of her.

To win Patsy’s heart, “Jimmy” sent her love notes.

Once she was hooked, the scammer got to business.

“He wanted me to send him a thousand dollars so he could come home,” Patsy said.

Beginning two years ago, she started sending gift cards and money Pak cards.

“I spent a lot of money on him,” Patsy told WATE 6 On Your Side. “Right now it’s close to $42,000…. Ripped off for being stupid. These are loans that I took out for him.”

Thousands of dollars were received immediately through gift cards once the numbers were scratched off.

Patsy saying she would take a close-up picture (of the gift cards) so he could see it, then send it to him.

“I was a fool,” she said, adding, “I don’t want any woman to go what I’ve been through. No woman But I don’t understand why I was so stupid. I was. It makes me mad.”

The Federal Trade Commission says the “sweetheart scam” captures thousands of victims every year.

RELATED: Widower loses over $1,000 in overseas ‘sweetheart scam’

Scammers often ask their targets to pay for travel expenses or travel documents. The FTC says scammers will claim they’re a contractor, work on an oil rig, or are in military and will claim they have no access to a bank so they need their target’s money.

Just recently, Patsy went to Kroger, bought $450-worth of Amazon gift cards, but no more.

“Don’t send them money. Don’t ever send them money,” Patsy says as a warning to other would-be victims. “They can buy those pictures, I didn’t know that til later.”

People often wonder how someone could get involved with a stranger and send them money.

RELATED: Rocky Top woman nearly taken in by ‘sweetheart scam’

The FTC says the one target of “sweetheart” scams is usually men and women over the age of 40 who are widows, widowers and recent divorcees.

So, be on guard, look beyond the superficial and never send money to a perfect stranger.

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