By Jennifer Brice
DENVER (CBS4)– They steal your heart then drain your bank account. The Colorado Attorney General says thousands of people become victims to online sweetheart scams, on average, losing $10,000 per victim.
CBS4’s Jennifer Brice met a local woman who fell for it not once, but twice. Both men claimed to be in military service. She hopes her story is a lesson to others.
“Mary” does not want her family to know she been bilked out of $175,000, which is why her face and voice have been disguised. The 71-year-old’s name has been changed to protect her identity.
Her story begins with a man who claims to be Tom Dave Upton. He is supposedly a Sergeant in the U.S. Army. The pictures in this story are photos he sent Mary, claiming to be him.
Mary met him online. He approached her through a Facebook chat. Mary admits she was going through a tough time in her life, which made her vulnerable to someone’s attention.
“One person focused on me and that’s what I was craving,” she says.
Mary never met Upton, and only spoke to him once over the phone, but continued an online relationship with him for several years.
“He started telling me that he thought that he loved me,” she says. “I told him ‘I’m twice your age.'”
Mary admits that as time moved on, her feelings changed and that is when he started asking for money.
It first started out with a request for $200 but quickly turned to thousands.
“I did have some suspicions, but I put it out of my mind,” she says.
Mary says she constantly told herself that the man she fell in love with would not do that to her, “But he did and cleaned me out.”
Mary has not been repaid, as promised, and eventually reported the situation to multiple law enforcement agencies. Detectives told her they have too many cases like hers to make a dent in catching these folks. She also willingly gave the money.
Unfortunately, her story is common according to Denver-based Private Investigator Rick Johnson.
“This is wrong,” says Johnson.
Johnson is a former investigator for both Denver and Jefferson County District Attorney Offices. He now runs his own investigation firm.
CBS4’s Jennifer Brice showed Mary’s MoneyGram orders, emails and all her information about Upton to Johnson. We also had documents involving the other service man, supposedly named Jason Williams. Mary says she would send the money to other women, in other states, rather than directly to service men.
“I would want to determine if these people are real and if they correspond with the address you provided here,” says Johnson.
CBS4’s Jennifer Brice did her own search and found some of the women that Mary was sending checks to, for the alleged service men. They appear to live at the addresses the money was going to, in other states, and found the women on Facebook. They did not return telephone calls.
Mary says when she stopped giving Upton her money, he threatened to send her family and friends naked photos that she once shared with him. She says Upton made away with more than $40,000. Williams, who she still corresponds with, still promises to pay her back.
Johnson says Mary has three options: “Do nothing at all. Get this guy on the phone and scare the hell out of them. And number three: Those that might be contacted, they need to know in advance.”
Mary says in her last conversation, she told Upton that she is working to involve the Army’s General Council, and then the calls and threats stopped.
Mary says she now lives on just $1,800 a month from her Social Security. She also had to undergo a reverse mortgage on her home.
“He cleaned me out and I absolutely allow that to happen,” she says. “I worked 35 plus years and now I have nothing.”
The AG’s office says online romance scammers usually work in groups together, sending out hundreds of emails and chat messages online waiting for a response. They even follow scripts like telemarketers.