HONEA PATH, SC (FOX Carolina) – In 2017, Judy Vaughn’s quiet life in Honea Path was struck by tragedy, when her husband of nearly 38 years passed away.
“I just sit at home a lot of the time, with a bunch of kittens,“ she told Fox Carolina.
Eight months after that, she met a man on Facebook messenger. They talked often. Things got romantic. Judy says he sent her love songs and showered her with compliments.
“Every day,“ Judy said in reference to how often they spoke. “Just about all day, and half the night. Just about all the time,“ she said.
“He didn’t say it – you know a lot of them say they love you right off the bat – he didn’t say that,“ Judy added. “He was just really nice. It probably took him a year to ask me for money.“
But eventually, she says the request came. He asked her to pay his military leave so he could come see her.
“So that was like… $4000,“ Judy said.
“They were putting in lots and lots of time,“ McClellan explained.
McClellan says Judy came to him via YouTube after she got suspicious. But not before the damage was done. Judy says she spent over $10,000 on the man she met online.
“The information she had been given, like the phone number and email address – it was a void phone number – what’s called an Internet phone number,” McClellan explained.
He also says that Judy isn’t alone. Last year, $201 million was reported stolen online. He says they are on pace to well exceed that in 2020, mainly due to COVID-19. Romance scam is in particular or up dramatically.
“People are at home,“ McClellan said. “And so they are surfing on the Internet from the privacy of their own house. They don’t have a manager looking over their shoulder. Also a lot of people aren’t going out as much at night.“
He says this change, combined with stimulus and unemployment money floating around out there, has created the “perfect storm” for internet scammers, and romance scammers in particular; there are currently an estimated 26.6 million people on dating apps in the U.S.
“These scammers – they are getting a gift card from you. Then they go sell it at $.80 on the dollar,” McClellan explained.
Judy told us her mystery man almost always requested gift cards.
There’s no way for her to get the money back, but she says she’s grateful for the help of Social Catfish in getting her out of the situation.
“You know not to fall forward again, that’s how I feel,” Judy said.
“If anybody else has been scammed, they need to tell their story,” she added. “That’s the only way to stop it right?“
McClellan says that stopping these scams all together is a longshot, but educating people, like they did for Judy, is the first step.
“There has to be this accountability across all businesses in these industries, and we all have to work together to educate people… And to stop this,“ McClellan said.
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