How a Con Artist Stole My Life Savings | #lovescams | #datingapps | #datingscams | #love | #relationships | #scams | #pof | | #dating

Marriage, kids, dogs, a quaint suburban home full of love—it’s not fancy, but building a happy family was always my dream. I dated all through my 20s and 30s, hoping to find Mr. Right. When it didn’t work out by my early 40s, I was disappointed but figured it was time to dream a new dream. I had a fulfilling job in finance, my own home, a circle of loving friends and family, engaging hobbies and exciting travel experiences. If I happened to find someone cool to share all that with, even better. So in the summer of 2017, I casually signed up for the dating app Bumble, and romance scammer stories were the furthest thing from my mind.

I had no way of knowing that one little mouse click would turn my life entirely upside down, draining my savings, torpedoing my career, wrecking my self-esteem and making me question everything I’d ever believed. With one date that snowballed into a nightmare marriage, I got a crash course in catfishing and learned the hard way about romance scams. Five years later, I know how to identify a scammer, but that knowledge came at a cost.

A rocky start

I met Daniel* shortly after joining the dating app. At first, he didn’t make much of an impression. At 41, he was four years my junior, and he wasn’t all that good-looking. Still, when he asked me to dinner, I thought, Why not?

Then he stood me up. Twice. That had never happened to me before, and I’ll admit, it got my attention. Who was this guy who thought I wasn’t good enough for him? I was annoyed but also … intrigued.

I agreed to a third attempted meet-up.

Dating the devil

When we finally met, I was totally swept off my feet. (In hindsight, he was pulling the classic con man move of love bombing to gain control in the relationship.) He sent a driver to pick me up and took me to the fanciest restaurant in Boston. I learned he was a very successful tech entrepreneur from the West Coast, looking to expand his business out east. He showed me his home, the nicest penthouse in the city, casually mentioning his rent was more than $6,000 a month.

But money isn’t enough to turn my head. It was his personality that really won me over.

He was smart, talking knowledgeably about many subjects. He was inquisitive, asking me all about myself, which was a breath of fresh air (so many men in my past only wanted to talk about themselves!). He was vulnerable, talking about a brief marriage with his college sweetheart that broke his heart when it ended. He was witty, kind, driven, motivated and incredibly generous.

But the best part was, he told me that he wasn’t here to play head games. He wanted marriage, children, the whole life—and he felt an instant connection with me. When I told him I’d given up on marriage and kids, he sighed and longingly said, “If only I’d met you sooner!”

He then asked me to go out the very next night to a baseball game. I accepted, and we had a blast, ending the date at his penthouse, which was every bit as incredible as he’d promised. I felt like I was living a dream. I’d finally found the whole package.

“He’s a con man”

bee32/Getty Images

At the beginning, everything was perfect. We were dating exclusively and began planning our life together. He spent the week cutting million-dollar deals for his business (I still wasn’t sure exactly what it was), and then we spent weekends touring $3 million homes so we could move in together.

But soon the cracks began to show.

One of the first times I got the telltale pit in my stomach, we were on a shopping trip in New York City with my cousins. Daniel insisted we go to Louis Vuitton, encouraging me to pick out a luxury handbag as a gift. I’d never owned a designer bag, and at first, I resisted. But eventually, I settled on a beautiful $3,000 bag.

My cousins’ jaws hit the floor as they watched us walk to the counter to pay. But what they couldn’t see from their vantage point was Daniel pulling out his wallet and discovering he only had a company credit card and couldn’t charge personal expenses to it. Would I mind putting it on my card, and he’d pay me right back?

Not wanting to look foolish in front of my family, I covertly pulled out my card and paid for the purse.

Things with my family were pretty tense at that time, and I was barely speaking to my parents. Yet in November 2017, I took my boyfriend to meet my father. My dad was not as easily charmed by him as I was and hated him almost immediately. He asked Daniel some simple questions about his business and quickly caught him in a lie.

I’ll never forget my dad looking me in the eye and saying, “Ashley, this guy is a lying sack of s———. He’s a con man.”

When I told Daniel, he immediately snapped back, “Why are you 45 years old and letting Daddy tell you what to do? You gonna believe him or the guy who wants to marry you?”

I decided Daniel was right and cut all ties with my family, isolating me from nearly everyone who loved me—and making me even more dependent on Daniel. Later, I would learn this is a heartbreakingly common tactic among abusers.

The growing pit in my stomach

By the beginning of 2018, we were living together—but not in his fancy penthouse, nor in a multimillion-dollar mansion. Daniel couldn’t decide on a place and wanted to wait to find the “perfect” home for me, so while he kept looking, he reasoned, he would just move into my condo.

At first, things were great. He woke up at 5 a.m. every day and went to his office to work. He worked late, and I admired his work ethic. His business seemed to be thriving, at least based on the astonishing number of corporate credit cards he carried around.

Then one day, I got a call from the hospital saying that Daniel had had a fall and was in the ER. The details seemed sketchy, but he needed shoulder surgery. I went home to grab a bag and found the front door wide open, the inside of my home trashed and a lit candle burning dangerously close to the curtains.

Naturally, I thought I’d been robbed. It didn’t take me long to realize Daniel had done all the damage. That was when I discovered he was an alcoholic. The fall that landed him in the ER? Alcohol was to blame.

I helped him through his surgery, then kicked him out.

Reeled back in

Our separation lasted only two months. He begged me to take him back, promising to never touch alcohol again, and I believed him. Why? Because he’d already gained my trust through common con artist tricks. And because I still wanted the dream—even if I had to ignore the growing pit in my stomach.

Day by day, more things didn’t add up. Like the time he took me to California to meet his mother—I would finally meet a member of his family!—only to learn upon arrival that she’d missed his call and gone out of town. Or the time I called to check on a luxury rental application he’d submitted only to be told that the application was never finalized because they never received any tax information.

I could list a hundred other similarly unsettling incidents. The facts seemed plausible on the surface but unraveled into half-truths and lies.

Yet we also kept having fun together, taking trips to Oahu, Belize and other exotic locales. And I still loved him.

In October 2018, he finally asked me to marry him. It wouldn’t be the wedding of my dreams, though; he wanted to elope. I was a little disappointed but told myself I was too old to care about a big, fancy wedding anyhow. I remember thinking, We have to get married. He’s the only person I’ve got now.

Pay it or go to jail

Oleksandr Shchus/Getty Images

The wedding ceremony took place in November and was simple but beautiful. We spent all of December honeymooning in Paris. He spared no expense, getting a suite at the most luxurious hotel, ordering endless room service, even booking private shopping appointments for me at Cartier and Louis Vuitton. At the very end, however, when we were ready to check out, he suddenly became violently ill. He was so sick he couldn’t even stand up. Could I go take care of the bill, he asked shakily, handing me another one of his business credit cards.

I walked down to the desk to pay, but his card was declined. It was a $25,000 hotel bill! I panicked. How would we get home? There was no way the hotel would take an IOU or let us leave with that kind of money on the line. I was the one holding the fake credit card—would I go to jail?

I ended up putting the entire tab on my credit card. After all, I told myself glumly, we were married now, so it was all the same in the end … right?

Who is Daniel?

Back home, we tried to put the messiness of Paris behind us. It was January 2019, and he wanted to finalize plans to move to New York City, which he said would be better for his business. We could start fresh there, he said. But first, he wanted me to quit my job. I would be totally dependent on him.

Against my better instincts, I did it. I wanted to be a supportive wife. I wanted to trust him. I wanted to believe the dream could still be a reality.

But before I quit, I finally confided my fears in a close friend at work. I watched Jennie’s* eyes get wider and wider as I shared my story. I didn’t realize how crazy it all sounded until I heard myself say it out loud.

It was a devastating moment. But it was the moment I really started asking questions.

The first thing I discovered was that Daniel’s short-lived but intense college romance had actually been a 13-year marriage that resulted in three kids and ended just six months before I met him. The “work trips” he’d taken were actually to visit his children. I reached out to his ex-wife, Elizabeth, and found she was looking for him too—he owed her $120,000 in back child support.

Next, I found out that Daniel had maxed out two credit cards in my name and a PayPal line of credit, putting me deeply in debt. His business didn’t exist. He created an entirely fake corporate website, complete with job listings, and he squatted in vacant offices after hours to make it look legit. The penthouse was borrowed from a friend, and the landlord was looking for Daniel to pay months of back rent.

There were more romance scammer stories tied to my new husband. He had another girlfriend, who he’d also scammed thousands of dollars from. Those Red Sox box tickets from our second date? Not his. Every single thing he’d told me was a lie.

I ended up calling the officiant for our wedding to see if she was real and if we were actually married. Unfortunately, that was true. I hired a lawyer and filed for an annulment due to fraud.

Run as fast as you can

The more I learned, the angrier I got. By February, we were fighting all the time, and in April, he “ran away.” I was determined to get something back from him though—if not money, at least answers.

I tracked down his father and stepmother on social media and called them. As soon as I said his name, his father said, “Tell me: Is he dead or in jail?” They then told me a story of fraud, deception, theft and betrayal that ultimately led to them cutting all contact with him.

“Run as fast as you can, honey, he’s poison,” his father said. “Change your locks, change all your passwords, close all your credit cards and bank accounts and go to the police. Now.”

I did all those things, starting a legal paper trail that would hopefully someday bring him to justice.

And then one day Daniel finally gave me a call. He was blackout drunk, starving in a terrible motel. He begged me to bring him some food. I did, hoping to get some information out of him. He confessed to a lot of what I already knew, including his relationship with Elizabeth, but it didn’t make me feel any better.

In May 2019, he slashed my tires, and I filed for a protective order. The judge ordered it for a year, and that was the last I heard from Daniel.

Picking up the pieces

Puzzle with missing piecethemacx/Getty Images

Court might have been the last time we saw each other, but there was seemingly no end to the effects he still had on my life. My job was gone, my credit was ruined and my relationships with my family were damaged. The only good things left were our two dogs, which I got to keep—the one part of my dream that did come true.

In January 2020, I was finally granted an annulment, and by June, I’d gathered together all the papers, emails, files, texts and other evidence to take to the FBI. And this is where the story ends for me. I wish it had a Hollywood ending, where the cops caught the bad guy and made him pay.

But the truth is that while my case is now with the FBI, I don’t know if he’ll ever be brought to justice. If it does happen, it will take years. I’ll never know exactly how he was able to get all those credit cards nor how many victims he’s had over the years. All I know is that I wasn’t the first, and I’m certainly not the last. In fact, he’s currently living with and scamming another woman. (I tried to warn her, but she wouldn’t listen.)

So instead of waiting for someone else to get justice for me, I’m getting justice by sharing my romance scammer stories and what I learned in the hopes it can help other people avoid falling for the fraud.

Lasting effect

I want people to know I’m a smart, capable woman, but I was duped a little bit at a time. I was fed one small lie after another, and I wanted to believe them because I wanted the fairy tale he was selling. I didn’t want to admit I’d made a mistake, much less a whole series of them, and I was consumed with regret and embarrassment. I was isolated from everyone who cared about me and tricked into giving up everything that was important to me. Now I can see that he was a con man—just like my dad said—who targeted me, groomed me and used me.

This experience was devastating, and the dangerous relationship habits he employed will affect me for the rest of my life, psychologically, financially and, yes, in future relationships.

Never again

A few weeks ago, I had a date. It’s been over two years since my annulment was finalized and three years since I’ve seen Daniel, and I finally decided I was ready to dip my toe back into the dating pool. Greg* seemed really great, and I enjoyed talking with him. He was the first person I’d ever been interested in enough to risk dating. But then, on our third date, it happened.

On his dating profile, he said he was 49 years old, but when he left his driver’s license on the table, I saw that he was actually 51.

I stood up immediately and said, “This is over.”

“You’re really going to cut me off because I shaved two years off my age?” Greg asked incredulously.

“Oh, yes,” I said.

“Everyone does that! It was just a little white lie,” he replied.

“If you’re lying about that, what else are you lying about?” I asked. Before he could answer, I was gone. Never again would I fall for a con.

*All names have been changed. Ashley Roberts is a pseudonym to protect her privacy.

Get Reader’s Digest’s Read Up newsletter for tips on cleaning, travel and tech, plus humor and fun facts, all week long.


Source link

National Cyber Security