(Toledo News Now) - More than one-third of all couples today met online, many on dating websites. Unfortunately, those dating sites are also provide an opportunity for scammers to prey on people just looking to make a connection.
Kathy is a 9-5 office worker. "James" was a U.S. serviceman. It looked as though their encounter online could blossom into the romance of Kathy's life. Now she's sharing her story to warn others.
"He told me he was from New York and he was stationed in Kabul, and he had a 16-year-old son and was looking for the love of his life because his wife passed away several years ago," Kathy said.
They met on a dating site.
"I received an email that said, 'Hey, you look interesting. I want to meet you,'" Kathy explained.
She says their conversations about books and wine turned into declarations of love. James' messages included phrases like "I pledge my heart" and "all of my love."
"I was the love of his life, and he knew that God had sent me into his life for a reason," Kathy said.
But just as James was about to visit Kathy during a leave, he hit a snag: He needed money.
"He sent me a list that totaled $300," Kathy said. "And I said, 'I'm not sending that. I can't afford that.' And he said, 'How much can you afford?'"
That's when Kathy got suspicious.
"I asked him repeatedly to verify his name, his rank, his serial number. And because of the job he's doing in Kabul, he couldn't release that information," she said.
Kathy began searching online, and found her "James" showed up on dating sites as "Ricky James," "Stuart James," "William James," and others.
According to the military newspaper, "Stars and Stripes," scammers in Africa stole a photo from a real soldier's social media page.
This is called the Military Romance Scam. "Stars and Stripes" says scammers have even impersonated the commander of U.S. forces in Korea, General Mike Scaparrotti.
Watch out for the red flags of a romance scam:
- The person is a soldier or American businessperson outside the U.S.
- There's always a reason they can't meet in person
- They always end up needing money
One more from Kathy:
"Beware of anyone who says they are in love with you immediately, in the first two weeks – that's a big red flag."
Kathy says she wants to warn other so their hearts and dreams don't get smashed by someone who sweeps them off their feet.
Two websites – RomanceScam.com and RomanceScams.org – offer more advise and warning signs, so you don't waste your money.