BALTIMORE — A Maryland woman is hoping to recover tens of thousands of dollars she sent to a man she met on a dating site.
She didn’t want to be identified, but she wants to get the word out about the man who stole her heart and money. He said his name was Patrick Brown.
“I just wanted companionship, that's all. A friend,” the woman said.
She came across Brown on OurTime, an online dating website for singles over the age of 50.
“We were talking every day, every night,” she said.
He claimed to be a widowed engineer.
“He said that he had been married to his wife for 34 years, of course, that's going to get my attention. I said, ‘Oh, he knows how to stay in a relationship, 34 years,’” she said.
And he'd been called to Egypt to work on a project.
“He said I accepted this project without really thinking about everything it entails. I said, ‘What do you mean?’ He said, ‘I have to buy tools and the company promised me they'd take care of that but they're not doing it.’ He said I really need to get a loan. I said, ‘Why don't get you a loan?’ Not thinking he was talking about me,” the woman recalled.
She waited a month, then sent him $17,000. He responded that he also needed help with his rent.
“I said, ‘Pay your rent? I can't take care of you and myself too.’ He said, ‘I just need you to help me with this project. I will give you 40% of my earnings and pay you back once I finish the project,’” the woman said.
For about a year, she sent him monthly stipends. In total, the woman said she sent Brown $94,330.
“How did you send him the money?” asked WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii.
“It was Bitcoin. I had never heard of it, had never dealt with that machine, it was he who told me how to do it,” the woman responded.
FBI Baltimore Supervisory Special Agent Keith Custer said romance scams operate like business enterprises.
“We've seen losses going in the seven figures,” Custer added. “A lower-level group that's reaching out making initial contacts to bait the hook and once a victim's identified, someone who's more experienced in working or kind of closing an individual will step in.”
He said they’re usually working with multiple people at a time and using psychology to influence their victims.
“They’re very expert in identifying what levers there are that would move a person whether it's hope or love or greed or fear and then they manipulate that,” said Custer.
There are signs the woman wishes she hadn't ignored. She’d spot inconsistencies in his story and became skeptical when Brown made excuses for not being able to meet in person or video chat.
“I started having so many doubts about this guy,” she said.
But she didn’t listen to her gut until it was too late. Brown stopped responding to her messages.
The woman said it was her first and last interaction on a dating site.
“Once a person starts asking for money, just end the relationship,” she recommended.
Custer added that many of the groups perpetrating these scams are in other countries, which makes it harder for the FBI to shut them down.
Plus, cryptocurrency is irreversible. The FBI has seen some success in recovering funds when they're immediately notified, but many victims don't realize they've been scammed for several weeks, months, even years.
When interacting with someone online, research the person's name and see if their photo is being used on other sites under different profiles.
If you're a victim of this scam, report it to your local FBI field office and the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center.