It started out so innocent and ended up a nightmare.  A picture appeared on Facebook of a nice looking [not handsome] man boarding a small airplane. A statement below said, “Like to be friends. I need a surrogate mother for my daughter.” Immediately I was interested for I had done this twice before and one of the girls from New Zealand came to live with us for two years, so I accepted the request. Little did I know what was in store as this was my first experience with accepting a “friendship request” on Facebook Messenger.

Andrew Smith introduced himself and explained that he would need someone to be a substitute mom for his daughter until he could return home. He was operating an oil rig in the Mexican Gulf for Standard Oil, and his six-week annual leave would be coming up in three months. Then introductions to Melissa came through email.  Her letters were nice, thoughtful, and loving, mainly talking about how nice it was to have someone she could call Mom. She called her mother who had been killed in a car accident two years before,  Mama.

While her father was away, she attended boarding school — Lake Forrest Academy in Lake Forrest, Illinois. I didn’t hear from Andrew for another week but Melissa and I talked by email every morning and evening. She was so excited because her 13th birthday would be coming up in three weeks. She said she was reaching the young lady stage and yet she would be a child. It was like being 13 but trying to act like 25. In a short time, she gave a list of things she wanted for her birthday – all very expensive, I must say. I confronted her father about this saying what I thought about a girl still in school being allowed to have such expensive things. The school would give her a big party for the cost of $1,000’s. One book was $400. The necklace was $200. There were four things but I can’t remember what the other two were. Her father said it was OK because she had been so sad ever since her mother died and he had to be away so much of the time. He wanted to give her what she wanted.

Birthday time got closer and closer, and Melissa was worried that her things weren’t going to arrive on time. Now the real contact from her father started. He was trying to get her things but couldn’t use his credit card from the rig. Any dumb person should have picked up as a clue that something wasn’t as it should be. Not me, I just kept listening to orders. He said if I sent the money, he would pay me as soon as he got his vacation time and he would bring Melissa to see me. I had trouble raising the $1,700. For me that was a lot. It was the day before Melissa’s birthday and by now she was mad a both of us because she thought she wasn’t going to have a party. I insisted that I mail a check directly to the school or wire it there and it would still arrive on time. That was not the way Andrew had it planned. I was to send it directly to the woman who took care of Melissa’s financial affairs. After some bickering back and forth, I agreed. He inquired how much I was going to send to her and I said no money but I was making something for her that I would send later.

Silence for several days, but I still continued to write each day, thinking she would get over her angry spell. Then Andrew asks if I had heard from Melissa, and I answered, “no.” He said he hadn’t either.   I kept asking them both how the party went and after a couple more weeks, he said she had a small party with a few friends attending. My next question was why had she quit writing. His answer, “I had all that taken away from her for acting so badly.”  Only he could correspond with her. Strange since keeping in touch with her was how I got in the picture.

In the meantime, I had picked out some fleece with colors I thought young girls would like.  Being a seamstress, I made a special throw large enough she could use for her bed or anything else she wanted and sent to the school.  A note arrived now and then from Andrew and my question was, did her package arrive.  It was never mentioned.

One day I answered the phone, and it was the Chicago police.  First, I thought, why are they calling me. They explained that the post office at Lake Forrest Academy a package from me that they were holding. The reason was Melissa Smith had never been enrolled at the academy and that I was the fourth person in the past year that had expected her to be enrolled there. There were very few answers I could give for all their questions. They thought even the name sounded like it might be false.  I was told not to send anymore money to him. No one had broken any laws so that was the end of that.

Now comes the icing on the cake.  He wrote and said, “Due to problems on the rig, my vacation has been postponed until things can be righted. Have you heard from Melissa?” I said, No, I haven’t. Why did you lie to me about Melissa being in a boarding school?”  His answer, “I will explain all that when we come to see you.”

Before this, my mind told me this was all fake but I didn’t want to believe it.  I had never heard about scammers before and how they worked. I knew a lot of bad things were happening but had never been in a position to learn or take the time to find out about such things. Now I was wondering if or how I would ever get my money back.  If I stopped writing, I was sure it wouldn’t be returned, but maybe, somehow, there would be a way if I kept up the farces. After all, he did say he would return it so I have to keep in touch with him.

A new story was introduced.  His paycheck could be picked up only when he returned to the states and he didn’t have the money to return. He asked if I send him the money to get his check so he could come pay me all that I had given him?

A few days went by then a new story surfaced. He had borrowed or the company had advanced $12,000 to him earlier and that had to be returned before the company would issue his check.  Could I possibly get that for him?

When he first asked for money I told him the name of a person that would loan it to him providing he give his company name and their attorney’s name and references that could be checked.  Each time he asked for money, I mentioned that if he wanted it bad enough, he knew where and what to do to get it if he passed the test. His answer was always the same.  “Why do you bother me with that? You know I won’t give out the companies attorney’s name.”

Another plea for money came saying the ship was filled with oil and would be ready to leave in the morning. The ship went out the next morning supposedly headed for Valdez for inspection. He claimed he was selling it to a foreign country which means it wouldn’t be inspected in Valdez. They inspect only American ships.

About mid-morning the same day, I got an email with only two words.  I’M SCARED. For a grown man in his position to say that gave me the chills. I could see all kinds of things happening. I even stopped what I was doing and said a prayer for him and his safety from what I didn’t even know.

Nothing more until the next morning. He told how his ship was standing a certain distance from the rid.  Sea pirates had hijacked it and they were holding all his crew of men on the ship and he was alone on the platform wondering if they would come after him. There are still pirates at sea but I didn’t know anything about them. I was truly frightened for him and the men. The pirates wanted $20,000 to release the ship and men. He wanted me to borrow that for him. Can you imagine anyone loaning a 95-year-old at that time money or that amount or any amount for that matter. The next day they reduced the ransom to $12,000. His question and my answer was the same, “No.”  Day three it was down to $10,000 where it remained. I was weakening and ask a few people if they could loan me that. No was the only answer I heard.

Day after day, he would claim to be there alone and one day he said he was going to kill himself. I wrote back and said, “and leave Melissa alone”.  He dropped that subject in a hurry. I really do believe he has a little girl that he worships.

I kept trying to raise money for him, and he claimed to be doing the same. He claimed to come up with $7,000 and I advanced the other $3,000 from my credit card. Naturally, that was the end of correspondence until about one year later, and I had a telephone call from him saying he was in the states. For the life of me, I couldn’t understand more than a few words.  Certainly not enough to hold a conversation. A week later, I had an email saying he was in LA, and that was him that called the other day from NY. I asked about my money or at least part of it but he never to this day got in touch again. All total I lost $4,700.

This was all reported to the police, but what good did it do. NOTHING WHATSOEVER. Only if your life is threatened will they take any action for I willingly gave him money and he never called me a bad name.

I found several pictures of him that had been sent in by other women. Seems he had five ID’s at that time that we found each with a different story. I was corresponding with a woman that happened to be corresponding with Andrew not long after I was. The stories were also about the oil rig. I tried to tell her to be careful but she was addicted and continually became involved with one scammer after another.

If you haven’t already read Diana Garren’s book, WHO IS THE REAL MAN BEHIND THE SCREEN? Please do so.  You won’t ever again not realize if you are talking to a scammer or not. She makes it so understand how to tell if it’s a scammer.

Why I kept on and on when I knew right away that something was wrong is a mystery. Diana also explains this and helps us to learn how to put it in the background, never to surface again.

Mary Ellen