WATE 6 On Your Side

Rocky Top woman nearly taken in by ‘sweetheart scam’

ROCKY TOP (WATE) – An old adage says “love is blind,” which is exactly what so-called “sweetheart scammers” are counting on. A woman in Rocky Top would be quick to tell you not to be flattered by online lies.

Financial fraud is one of the dangers of the sweetheart scam. The con has been around for years and doesn’t go away because it’s profitable to the online crooks unless you are alert.

Like many people, Vanessa Wyrick keeps up with friends on Facebook. Wyrick says she is usually careful in becoming friends with people she doesn’t know all too well, but three months ago when Wyrick friended a man she didn’t really know, the 58-year-old divorcee admits she made a mistake.

He gave her the name of Christopher Daniel, said he lives in the Middle East, is an American citizen and soon will be returning to the states.

“He says he’s a resident of Los Angeles that he is in Iraq and it’s the end of his contract. And that he is a surgeon,” Wyrick said.

She said his attempts to impress her worked. Wyrick says fro several weeks, Daniel wrote messages several times a day and started sweet talking her.

“Basically how much he cares, how much he needs this. He is ruined if I can’t do it,” she said.

What he wanted her to do was accept and hold his hard earned money that he would send to her – $800,000. He told her some cockamamie story why.

“He said the banks had certain regulations they cannot deposit the money and have it transferred from their banks, so they have to have it packaged it up and have it sent by delivery to someone in the states who they want to trust with it. At first, I thought it was a real deal,” she said. “He seemed honest and trustworthy.”

Tony Binkley at the Better Business Bureau says the hook in this scam is the potential victim believing there’s a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

“Before you can get the money, before we can put it on your credit card, your bank account, before we can send it to you, you need to pay the taxes, the processing fee, or the shipping. But you give us some money first – a small amount. Then we’ll give you a big amount later,” said Binkley.

In Wyrick’s case, there was a fee involved.

“To pay the delivery for their efforts of bringing it through customs,” she said. “He said he was told $4,500.”

Wyrick was assured she’d get her money back, make a profit and win the affections of “Mr. Right.”

“Hold it for him till he comes back to the states and he comes here to collect it,” she said.

“It’s a big red flag. Never send anybody any money first, with the hope of getting money after that,” said Binkley.

As soon she told her would-be sweetheart she didn’t have the money to send, he turned on Wyrick.

“The more I tried to explain to him, the nastier he would get and threatened to get even with me if I didn’t take care of this matter,” Wyrick said.

Wyrick says she’s embarrassed to say she actually believed this guy.

“Don’t believe a word of it. It’s nothing but sweet talk to get them to do what other people want,” she said.

Wyrick didn’t send any money, but investigators who keep tabs on this scam say millions of dollars are swindled from people in all walks of life every year. There are many wolves in sheep’s clothing roaming about the internet just waiting for the opportunity to fleece you, but there are steps one can take to avoid becoming the victim of a sweetheart scam.

Never transfer or wire money to anyone, especially if you’re communicating with a stranger who lives overseas and who you have never met in person.

Limit your use of social media. Scammers steal personal information online. They use your social media profile to learn more about you, including your likes and dislikes.

Contact authorities if an online relationship seems fishy. Law enforcement agents are experienced with sweetheart scams.

Be honest with yourself. Look in the mirror and ask yourself, “Would a much younger person ever want anything to do with me?” If you discover anything regarding money in your answer, you know you are heading into trouble.