SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - Online dating scammers are trying to win hearts while cleaning out bank accounts of single people in San Diego and across the country. It’s a massive problem that the San Diego sector of the FBI is now discussing with 10News investigative reporter Jennifer Kastner, who recently interviewed a San Diego woman who was victimized.
“I actually felt emotions like as if I had fallen in love with someone,” she tells us. At her request, we’re withholding her identity. She’s still embarrassed over falling for a fake lover on Match.com.
In his online dating profile, he claimed his name was Thomas Fischer, a 64-year-old man from La Jolla who was a widower.
He and the San Diego woman spoke over the phone. “He was very soft spoken. He seemed like a really nice guy,” she tells us.
"Anything, baby, that you can send me."
Before they could meet, he told her he would suddenly have to travel to Dubai for work. Over the next six weeks, the two exchanged several intimate emails and texts. In one text from him, he writes, “You broke down all the walls I built around my heart and now I'm helplessly in love with you."
Another email from him reads, “I have never trusted the internet, but I feel like I can trust you with my heart."
That trust was broken after he told her there was a work emergency in Dubai and he needed money. He said, “Anything, baby, that you can send me. Anything at all would be appreciated,” she tells us.
“If you have not met them personally and they begin asking you for money, beware. Do not send any money,” says San Diego FBI Special Agent Davene Butler.
Butler shared with 10News some recent statistics from the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) about how many dating scam cases have been reported in just one year.
“The number is staggering. [There were] 15,000 complaints that came into IC3 about romance scams,” she adds.
You have individuals [in Nigeria] in rows and lines with computer monitors
The San Diego woman who didn’t want her name revealed says she did not transfer any money. Debbie Montgomery wishes she could say the same.
“It took over my life,” says Montgomery. The former Air Force intelligence officer met British contractor Eric Cole on a faith-based site.
Over two years, she and Cole exchanged thousands of love letters.
Montgomery says Cole slowly went after her life savings. “It was $1,800,762.00,” she adds.
Yet Cole apparently later confessed and said his real name was Joseph and he lived in Nigeria.
“You have individuals [in Nigeria] in rows and lines with computer monitors who are doing nothing but sending out these messages,” says FBI Supervisory Agent Jason Manar.
“I was hurting. I felt stupid. I felt used,” adds Montgomery.
"Prosecuting these romance scammers can be tough."
With the help of San Diego law enforcement, 10News was able to track down the real person in the pictures being used under the fake name of Thomas Fischer. His name is Mark Ballard and he doesn’t live anywhere near La Jolla.
“I live in Sacramento,” he tells us through a video chat. Ballard says he’s not a widower and he’s never been to Dubai.
“I’ve never even thought about going to the Middle East,” he adds.
Ballard says it’s the second time his photos were ripped off for dating scams. His heart goes out to anyone who has been hurt by the scammer.
The FBI says prosecuting these romance scammers can be tough. The perpetrators usually live abroad.
However, the FBI still encourages all victims to file reports on IC3 so agents can aggregate complaint data. Additional information can be found here: https://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/washingtondc/news/press-releases/fbi-cautions-public-to-be-wary-of-online-romance-scams