HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, Fla. — Two years after Linda lost her husband of 43 years she signed onto match.com.
The retired Hillsborough County teacher who asked us to hide her face met a man who called himself Robert Wilson online last October. They spoke daily from October through April.
Linda, who does not want her last name used, said Wilson never asked for money, but the self-described business broker complained daily about being denied access to a Swiss bank account due to new rules put in place. Linda showed us the link Wilson sent her that appears to open up his UBS account, which shows a balance of over 2 million dollars.
Thinking he had the funds to pay her back Linda wired Robert the first of multiple $20,000 loans.
Over the course of eight months, Robert Wilson called, emailed and texted Linda daily and wiped out her life savings of $200,000.
Linda said she never thought it could happen to her. The FBI reports romance scams have cost victims in Canada and the United States more than $1 billion over the last three years. In Florida, romance scams rank second in online internet rip-offs. Florida victims lost $20 million last year alone.
“Romance scams are among the most significant or common type of internet crimes that we see,” FBI Special Agent Andy Sekela told us.
For Evelyn, who also asked that we don’t use her real name, the fake Robert Wilson cost her $260,000. It was almost everything she’d saved for retirement.
Like Linda, Evelyn also connected with the traveling businessman on match.com.
The retired professional who lives in Pinellas County checked property tax and other records confirming Wilson lived in Jackson, Mississippi just like he told her. It wasn’t until later she discovered the man contacting her has stolen the real Robert Wilson’s identity.
The FBI confirms that these imposters often take classes or do plenty of homework that includes building fake websites to convince targets to trust them.
In Evelyn’s case, she says she met Wilson twice for dinner and never saw him again.
And victims have little hope of justice. The FBI and secret service say they don't have the resources to investigate most of these cases.