Jesse Jones: ‘I was terrified,’ says woman who lost $100K to sophisticated romance scam

Valentine’s Day can be a time for love and a time for loss, and in some case, a time for money lost to romance scams.

The FBI says it receives 19,000 tips a year for these types of crimes. We spoke to Rebecca D’Antonio, who lost $100,000 to a conniving and convincing romance scam.

Rebecca thought she had made a wonderful connection on an online dating site.

“He made me feel like I was special,” she said.

The man told Rebecca he was an attorney from Boston.

“He said he was an oil magistrate,” she recalled. “He had a son that was five years old, he was a single father.”

What Rebecca didn’t know was that she was caught up in a romance scam that was all part of an organized crime ring based in Nigeria.

“It’s the level of manipulation and detail that they go into,” she said. “You know that that makes this work.”

Rebecca says that at first, the conversations were great.

“They want you to care about what happens to them,” she said. “They want you to care about the life that you’re supposed to be building together.”

Then, the chat moved to another platform like WhatsApp. Next were requests for money -- small at first, and only for so-called emergencies.

“And things kept escalating, and they’re gaslighting you, and they’re manipulating,” she said. “He’s using the kid.”

Sophisticated scams

The FBI says it receives around 19,000 tips for romance scams a year.

Tammy Mizer oversees the the bureau’s white collar crime squad in Seattle, and she says romance scam crime rings are run like sophisticated businesses.

“There’s folks that will start out kind of making initial contact, and then once they feel like they’re luring somebody in, ‘oh, I need to hand you off to someone else,’” she described. “And so that a more sophisticated person may come in playing a different part.”

It’s likely multiple people were scamming Rebecca.

“And I was terrified, because I didn’t want, on top of everything else, to go to jail,” Rebecca said.

A reformed scammer

Reformed scammer Chris Maxwell says this isn’t about love. Rather, it’s about the script.

“Communicating with them, analyzing messages, we have guides for this,” he detailed. “I personally have my own manual.”

Chris works for Social Catfish – a company preventing scams using reverse search technology.

“Because most of these women are single, they are lonely, they are divorced,” he said. “Most of them got cut out of it from an abusive marriage, so, they just need someone to love them.”

U.S. Secret Service Special Agent in Charge Glenn Peterson also recalls how difficult it can be convincing victims that they’ve been scammed at all.

“I’ve been in a situation where I’ve had two Secret Service agents were standing in someone’s living room explaining to them that this is a scam” Peterson said. “This person told us, ‘well, no, we’re in love, and it’s a real relationship.’”

Help for others

In just a year, Rebecca would lose thousands, leaving her broke and broken.

“I said, ‘I think I have these pills, I think I’m just going to take them,’” she shared. “... I was going to take my own life, and it was by sheer happenstance that a very, very dear friend of mine happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Thankfully help found Rebecca. Now, she’s teaching others to speak out.

“The public persona is that this is a very small thing,” she said. “It’s a very big thing, but nobody knows just how big it is because of the level of silence.”

Remember what the FBI says: never send money to someone you’ve never met in person, and do not share your banking information with anyone.

If you have something you want Jesse to Investigate, give him a call at 1-844-77-JESSE. You can also submit here.