What did I learn from accepting a Friend Request from strangers on social media? Brings me to what my mother use to tell me when I was a little girl, “Never talk to strangers.”
Little did I know that my life as I knew it would be changed forever and turned upside down by a simple mistake of accepting a friend request on Facebook one early Friday in the wee hours of the morning of October 6, 2017. A fellow by the name of Teddy James sent me a friend request on Facebook, and I must honestly admit after checking his profile even though we didn’t have any mutual friends I accepted the request because I was attracted to the man in the photo. I’ve heard about various scams going on, but I have never heard of Romance Scam until ….
That entire fateful day and succeeding days we were constantly in communication and quickly got to know each other, or should I say he asked a lot of leading questions about my life and me. I was caught off guard and opened up everything about me, my love for my Christ, passion for fitness, my children, interest in real estate, my view on finances and my previous marriage. He had gathered enough information that he knew exactly how to manipulate me later on. Limited and vague information about him was given to me. At the time he was “supposedly” deployed in Afghanistan for nine months and getting ready to retire in three months. “Supposedly” he had been in the Army for 18 years and was looking for someone to spend his life with after military. He said he had been single for five years. His ex-girlfriend “supposedly” lived in his “supposed” house in Queens and he “supposedly” provided her with everything she needed after she got pregnant by another man. He claimed to have forgiven her, and now he was looking for a godly woman in which to spend the rest of his life. He was “supposedly” an orphan from Queens, NY. His mother “supposedly” passed away due to cancer when he was five years old, and his dad died in a car accident not long after. He said he was raised by an Uncle who was a priest and passed away in 2007.
After a week of constant non-stop communications, he requested that we move our conversation on Hangout app, which I have never heard of before. He claimed that being on social media such as Facebook will compromise the sensitivity of the nature of his work in the military. I didn’t think anything was wrong with it so I went along and installed the app on my phone. In less than a week, he requested an iTunes card for $50.00. I thought it was odd to ask for a gift from someone you’ve recently met online. I asked my friends about this, and they all said, “Don’t do it, block this person because this could be a scam.” In retrospect, I should have listened to my friend’s advice. My logic was, Teddy is in the Army serving, sacrificing and fighting for our freedom and there is nothing wrong with sending iTunes out of goodwill. I sent him a $30.00 iTunes card. Throughout the course of time, he started calling me endearing names such as honey, baby, sweetheart, sweetie, babe, my soulmate, my sweetness, etc. I must say I fell in love with Teddy’s love and attention showered upon me every time we were on Hangout. He frequently sent me love songs and even asked to have a playlist of the songs he sent me.
The majority of our conversations were full of love notes and poetry with small talks about how our day was. He never asked or encouraged me to send him any compromising photos of myself; instead, he wanted raw, unfiltered photos and complemented those photos with his highest admiration. All of this made me think this guy was real and sincere. He was interested in knowing every minute of where and what I was doing. When I left for work, he’d tell me to get off the phone and focus on driving and to let him know as soon as I get home, which I did, and he’d text saying “Welcome Home honey.” In every conversation, he’d ask if I had eaten breakfast, lunch or dinner, depending on the time of the day we were on Hangout. He even started calling me his wife and painted a wonderful future together when he finished his tour of duty in January 2018. He suggested I start looking for wedding venues, caterers, photographers and start on the wedding guest list of my choice. We discussed where we are going for our honeymoon and agreed on going to Paris. He painted a wonderful, fantasy life of love and devotion. He professed to have found his soulmate in me and that it was God’s will and purpose that our paths crossed. He made a vow where God will be the center of our marriage. He said that God would come first in our marriage and I am second. On Sundays, we would be talking while I was getting ready for church, and on the way to church, we would stop, and then resume our conversation as soon as I arrived at the church. During service, he would stay on Hangout and pretend he was attending service with me. I’d keep him posted on what was in the sermon. I thought to myself God finally sent the man He intended for me to spend the rest of my life. Little did I know Joke was on me!
At this point, everything that had taken place is what I call the “grooming stages,” “conditioning of the mind,” “pouncing,” for what was about to happen… him to go for the “kill.”
Right here is the beginning of my downfall, this love story is about to take a total flip, my handsome prince turned into an ugly frog. And, this is when a mighty lion devoured me.
Everything was rosy and perfect and seemed like I finally met the man God intended for me all this time until one day he sent me a message stating he was under much pressure upon receiving an email from his realtor who takes care of his property in Queens, NY. That somehow he had missed paying the property tax the previous years, and he needed it paid, or the house will be auctioned off to satisfy tax owed. He asked to borrow the $2,600 and that he will pay me back when he comes home. I offered to help him by directly contacting the tax office in NY myself to ask for an extension, but he wouldn’t allow me. He insisted on borrowing from me with a promise to pay me back. When I agreed to help, he gave me the individuals name in Virginia Beach, VA whom he claimed is the realtor/management who handles his property.
Sometime in the last week of Oct, he stated he received orders from his commander that he is headed to Syria the end of Oct 2017 to assist and finish his tour of duty. He said he had a box that he needed to send me because it is not safe taking it to Syria with him. (Lack of knowledge about Romance Scam another one of my downfalls, I had no clue that this is a typical story scammers use to trusting and unsuspecting victim). He asked his friend who is headed to London to carry it to a Courier to ship it over to me. I gave him my address and phone number (huge mistake), so he could ship it, and I promised to hold it for him until he came home. I assumed it would be a small parcel so not a problem to keep it.
End of Oct 2017, I received an email from a Dr. Scott supposedly the friend who carried the box to Urban Air Courier in London (checked their website and it looked legitimate). He stated he had paid $1,000 for Teddy to ship the box to me and to contact the Courier concerning tracking and delivery. After contacting the Courier, they asked for a shipping charge payment of $1,280 because the $1,000 was for registration and processing fee. Again, Teddy asked me to pay for the shipping charges, and he will pay me back when he gets home. He begged for me to do it because all his personal effects (photos and military documents are in the box). He had said when the box arrived he will give me the code to unlock the lock and look for DOD Form, and to fill out the portion for “Dependent,” and to put my name so I can receive Benefits when he retires and mail it to DC. I told him I don’t need to do this and will wait until he comes home. I emailed the Courier stating I didn’t want to wire money internationally, so I requested for their local office/agent in the US. After providing me the name, account, and address, I wired the shipping charges. They confirmed receiving the money, and I was given a tracking number. I started to track the package via the Courier’s website (it looked legitimate). The package left London, arrived in Paris then it stopped. I checked it after a few days, and it showed it was in Istanbul, Turkey. I was surprised to see the parcel went Eastward instead of Westward which would have been the next logical route.
At this point, the scammer/s is going for the “Big Kill!”
I’ve received an email from the Courier stating that the package was now being held in Turkey Customs and I needed to pay for several required documentations totaling the amount of $49,000 before the package could be released. If I didn’t pay the required fees, they would open and inspect the boxes. Teddy insisted on me paying the fees to keep them from opening the boxes and them getting confiscated as they contained two bars of gold he received as a gift from an Afghan family whom he said he saved while doing his patrol in Afghanistan. I was flabbergasted, this was a new revelation to me, I didn’t know it contained this contraband. I was surprised when he told me about this. I assumed it was a small box containing his personal effects. It turned out (as he claimed) to be two large Trunks. One night I received a phone call from Turkey as shown on my caller ID. It was the Turkish Customs requesting that documents be paid soon, or they will open the boxes, and if they see contraband in the box I will be held responsible for it, and possibly face jail time.
I was scared after getting that dreadful phone call from Turkey. The following day I went to Wells Fargo to get a loan, thinking I can pay off the loan as soon as the boxes were released and delivered. The bank loan officer became highly suspicious because they know I am not the type of person to get a loan and wire money to Turkey. I showed them the email and document from Turkey Customs. They informed me that I was being scammed, and to go to the local police dept. and FBI website to file a report. Did I listen? NO. At this point, I’ve developed “tunnel vision”; I had one mission and one mission only, to raise the money to pay the Customs to clear my name. The following day I went to a different Wells Fargo office upon Teddy’s urging, tried to secure a loan. I should have known when they pulled up my account it was flagged because it had a note of what took place the day before. Next thing I knew, I received a phone call from the Dept. Manager from Wells Fargo, informing me since I have refused their advice not to continue communicating with the scammer and I was now considered aiding terrorism, and left them with no other recourse but cut all ties with me permanently after 28 years of banking with them. All my accounts would be closed immediately, and I would receive a cashier’s check in the mail. I was permanently banned from doing business with Wells Fargo. I started crying, shaking uncontrollably and I was devastated. I was transferred to their Fraud Dept., to finalize my account closing. I begged and asked for forgiveness and promised to cease all communication with the scammer, so please give me another chance and not close my account. I was given a chance on conditional status, which meant my account would be closely monitored for any enormous amount of outgoing transactions.
Did you think I stopped communicating with the scammer after what I went through with my bank? NO!!! “Tunnel vision” and I was in full throttle. I was not going to get in trouble with the Turkey Customs, or so I thought. The entire time this whole situation was going on with Wells Fargo, Teddy and I were continuously texting back and forth. I was giving him a play by play. He was upset with Wells Fargo, consoled me and advised me to relax, and told me we will talk later. That night he urged me to go to a different bank in my area, which I diligently followed. The following week, I went to a different bank where my friend is the Loan Officer, opened an account and applied for a Home Equity Line of Credit loan. Immediately approved and before dispersing the funds, my friend sat me in her office behind closed door and asked me if there is something I need to tell her before she disperse the funds to me? She assured me anything I shared with her would stay between me and her. I broke down at this point and told her everything, everything about Teddy. Story short, she convinced me not to touch the money, since my loan went through, but to pay it off in three months. And she grabbed my phone and texted Teddy telling him he’s a scammer and to leave me alone and that he has been reported to the authorities. Later that day, I went to our local police dept. and file a complaint/report and turned off the notifications on the Hangout app. I was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausted that day, but I still showed up to teach my Zumba Class with a huge smile on my face. That night I was able to get a full nights rest since I didn’t met Teddy online. I stayed off Hangout and emails for a day, but that night I checked my email and Teddy bombarded me with messages on email and on Hangout as well. Message were full of emoji’s crying, said he is not a scammer, his life is not worth living without me, told me he will kill himself or allow himself to be killed by the enemies next time he goes out on patrol in the streets of Syria, his life is over when Turkey Customs open the box and find the bars of golds, it will be traced back to him and he will be in trouble with the Interpol, Army and FBI, everything he worked for in the past 18 years in the service will be taken from him plus jail time. (in retrospect, it was all a “guilt trip” and more manipulation = mental abuse).
I must admit this scammer definitely pulled all the string to get me to do what he wanted. Because of his smooth talk and persuasiveness, and because I was too trusting and gullible it worked!
I didn’t want to deal with any banking institution anymore, so now I had one last hope – my father-in-law. I borrowed money from him at different times with the promise to pay him in full in Jan or Feb or at the latest March 2018. I told him to trust me and not question as to why I need the money. I gave him my word that he will be paid in full when the time comes. He trusted my word. I ended up borrowing a total of $38,000.
I became isolated from my children and friends because Teddy wanted everything about him kept secret until he comes home in January. He reasoned out due to the sensitivity of his mission in a hostile environment as Special Ops soldier that everything about him needed to be kept confidential. I led a “double-life.” I maintained a very normal life on the outside but turmoil inside, going about my daily life at work, keeping a happy face while in the company of my friends even though I was dying to tell about this man in my life. I didn’t have much time to spend with my children when they came home for the holidays because I was caught up making sure I have the time set aside to be available when it’s time for Teddy to come on Hangout and talk. I had become a totally different person by this time; my personality changed depending on who I was around. I easily switched my personality from outgoing to being recluse, from a happy demeanor to extremely stressed out. I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, and I was like a walking zombie. I knew I was doing things that didn’t make sense, but I couldn’t stop myself. He was like my “drug.” I was high and happy when we were on Hangout, and I would do anything for my drug, even though it didn’t make sense.
Teddy and the Courier stayed in constant contact with me while I was trying to secure the money for the fees. However, during the week of the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, I didn’t hear from Teddy or the Courier. Now that I Look back I see my scammer/s had wonderful holidays after receiving a total of $49,000 from me before the year ended. This money was a huge bonus from one victim (me), and there were no telling how many more victims in which he received money, while I sat at home alone being extremely worried and depressed over the whole situation. I was so financially broke I couldn’t enjoy the holidays.
Now it was time for the biggest kill of all time!!!
At the beginning of the year 2018, Teddy was constantly asking me in every conversation if I had heard from the Courier about the boxes. He suggested the need for me to create a Gmail account and email the Courier my new Gmail account saying my AOL account may not be working. Again, living like a puppet, he pulled strings, and I moved. I emailed the Courier with my Gmail account. I received an email from the Courier stating that they have been trying to get in touch with me via my AOL account (mind you we’ve communicated via my AOL account all this time and never had any problems until now) to inform me that when the parcel arrived at JFK. He said US Customs held the boxes and insisted on opening them for inspection even though we’ve paid all the fees to guarantee inspection “FREE” once the shipment arrived in the US. They claimed that after several hours of deliberation between the Courier’s lawyer and US Customs they decided to send the boxes back to London and liquidate the contents to cash (Urban Air Courier’s bank will handle all transactions) and will wire the money to me. The Urban Air Courier was requesting my permission to proceed with liquidation. Of course, Teddy instructed me to give my permission to liquidate and have the money wired to me.
The Courier’s bank, NatWest took over and handled the liquidation process. Two bars of gold netted 2.2 million sold in the Caribbean. I was emailed a copy of the check written in my name from the sale, documentation of sale, details of conversion and fees to wire the money to me. I requested to deduct the wire fee from the check, but the bank insisted that the check was made out to me and cannot be altered. With Teddy pushing me to come up with $79,000 as well as the deadline looming imposed by the bank stating that the money needed to be wired immediately or I risk losing the funds. My mind was focused on getting this money so I can pay people I owe, and I wholeheartedly trusted and believed Teddy and everyone. I cashed out the money from my retirement funds.
On my 53rd birthday, I wired $79,000 to the bank to their so-called local agent in NJ. I truly believed that God tried to intervene numerous times, even the last wire, for some reason my bank inadvertently omitted a number on the destinations account number which resulted in the funds coming back to my account. I went back to my bank and demanded them to make the corrections and wire the money where it needed to go.
According to NatWest the transfer takes three days because of the enormity of the amount. A week later, no money came in my account. I received an email from NatWest stating that the US Federal Reserves received directives from the UN to hold the funds because of the enormity of the amount, and with my account not having any history of large wire transfer they had to impose Anti-Terrorism and Anti-Drugs Fees amounting to $170,000.00. The deadline was Feb 2018, or the money would be confiscated permanently. Surprisingly the deadline had been extended month after month.
February 9, 2018, I forwarded to the Office of Inspector General-Hotline the documentation from Nat West regarding the required fees for the release of the funds. A week or so later I received a response stating that the Office of the Inspector General is not involved in any such activity asking for payment for fees. It is all a scam! I was advised to report to local authorities, file a complaint federally to the link they provided and to notify my bank immediately about the scam.
Oh yeah, the remaining contents of the box supposedly containing photos and military documents, Teddy never asks about the status of those, and Urban Air Courier was supposed to send it after the money from liquidation has been wired, to-date, no boxes ever sent. “Boxes never existed!”
I have heard of other scams but not the “Romance Scam” until now. I never thought I would go through this painful of an experience of losing everything I had work for all these years and have my heart broken at the same time. I thought I was street smart and couldn’t be taken advantage of, but when a person comes and plays Romeo with all the sweet words, accompanied by a nice looking photo, anyone could easily be swept off his or her feet. I wasn’t looking for love or a relationship when I accepted the friend request on the social media. I was too naïve and gullible. I believed all the lies that were fed me, even though I thought I was too smart and wise to be taken like this. In a matter of 4 months, I lost $139,000. On the 6th month, I had to mortgage my house for $45,000 to pay people the money I owed them. All total I lost $183,960 from this Romance Scam.
At the beginning of March I applied for a mortgage on my house, and by the end of March I was approved and closed so I was able to pay my father-in-law back the money I owed him.
After the scam, I had to readjust my way of life back to watching every penny and simply living minimally to build my Emergency fund, savings, and retirement money by working one full-time job and several part-time jobs. Lord willing to continue to grace me with good health to get back where I used to be. I have joined several Romance Scam Support Groups not only have I gained tremendous knowledge about this epidemic I gained new friends. Through one of these groups, I met a victim who was victimized by the same scammer. Storyline he used with this sweet, hardworking lady was the exact duplicate one my scammer used with me.
Finding the “Support Group for Romance Scam Victims” on Facebook continues to help me in numerous ways. Sharing my personal experience with this group gives me emotional comfort and moral support. I’ve found this group helpful to turn to others outside of my immediate circle and feel less isolated as I’ve made connections with others facing similar challenges. It helps me develop a clearer understanding of what to expect in my tough situation, which gives me a sense of empowerment and control. I feel less lonely, isolated and especially not judged, which helps reduce my depression, distress, anxiety, and fatigue.
I want to put my story out there for the world to know this Romance Scam is extremely vicious, it destroys a person from the inside out, mentally, emotionally & physically. It has nothing to do with one’s education, culture, race, and age. It is a heart issue. We need to reach out to the world and let them know about this vicious epidemic. Knowledge is power!
Lesson learned from this experience:
Remember what your mama used to tell you – “Never talk to strangers.”
Keep your guard up at all times.
Nine times out of ten if your gut is telling you something is wrong, it is. LISTEN to it.
If it’s too good to be true, it isn’t true.
Keep your settings on all social media accounts limited and private.
Be aware of your surroundings.
Knowledge is power.
The Romance Scam causes trust issues.
Prince Charming does NOT exist.
Constantly protect yourself.
Dothan, Alabama, USA