A print out of Fred's online dating profile. (File/FOX Carolina)
ASHEVILLE, NC (FOX Carolina) -
A love story cost a local woman hundreds of thousands of dollars after she sent her retirement savings to someone she thought was her knight in shining armor - someone she first met on a dating website.
Her son has spent the past year trying to stop his mom from sending more money. He contacted FOX Carolina because he wants others to be aware that this could happen to their parents, too.
Transylvania County Sheriff's Office Investigator Lt. Johnny Nicholson has worked on this case since March 2012. He said whomever is behind what he calls a big-time scam knows exactly what to say to win the woman's heart.
So far, the retiree has been robbed of far more than $200,000.
The victim is Steve Hunt's 79-year-old mother. He said that soon after the scam started, they went to the sheriff's office. But it's been more than a year, and his mother keeps sending money to a man she thinks she loves.
Hunt said his mother was not proficient on the computer aside from sending a simple email and was surprised when she joined Match.com at the beginning of 2012. He said it was a little more than a year after her husband died, and that she was lonely.
With only one message on the dating site, a user named "Fred For God," claiming to be "Fred Stone," asked her to email him instead and join Yahoo Messaging.
Spokespeople with Match.com said that Fred's account was blocked by the site the very same day he subscribed. They said their customer care and fraud teams figured out that his photo was a fake and that his profile screamed scam.
Match.com said they have no record of correspondence between Fred and Hunt's mother, and that he must have messaged her in the few hours before he was blocked and told her to email him off the site.
Hunt said Fred would send love notes and his mother caught the bait, hook, line and sinker. It wasn't a week before Hunt said her suitor was asking for money and she obliged, wiring money by the thousands.
Fred would explain dire situations like he was sick, or being taken to jail, Hunt said.
"Some people describe it as an addition maybe, there's some addictive quality to it," Hunt said. "What's interesting about the chats, they always tend to be like a roller coaster ride, it's all about compliments and poetry, or you need to send me money or I'm going to die."
Every transaction was sent to far off places like Malaysia and Abu Dhabi, all via Western Union, which is easy to access, but hard for investigators to trace.
Hunt tried everything to get his mother to stop. He said he called Fred himself and recorded the conversation between he and a man with an unintelligible accent.
Hunt found no answers there and found no records of Fred Stone, who claimed to have a house in the Asheville area. Hunt's mother said Fred refused to tell her where the house was, and she told hunt that she trusts and believes Fred.
Nicholson has records of conversations between Fred and Hunt's mother. In one, Fred said that he would show up with the FBI to prove himself to her.
"He just took her a little bit more there by volunteering to bring the FBI in to substantiate his existence," said Nicholson.
Nicholson said tracing the scammers is hard because they could be anywhere.
Wireless internet gives predators mobility, which leads investigators to an IP address, but not necessarily to their laptop. Nicholson found that this scammer used a long list of proxy servers, which created many different IP addresses, purely to lay out a false trail.
As Nicholson searches, so does Hunt.
He even found the real man behind the photos Fred sent his mother by using Google Images to upload an image and do a reverse image search.
Hunt found plenty of websites with the man's photo listed under romance scams and anti-scam sites, all with complaints.
The real man is a British engineer. He told Hunt he had no idea his photos were being used this way and even spoke to Hunt's mother on the phone to try prove that he's not Fred Stone.
Hunt said he thought his mom finally got it, but within weeks, she wired more money.
Even a court case that gave Hunt co-signage rights over his mother's investment accounts hasn't stopped her.
Now, Hunt said his mother is losing funds to pay the mortgage and her dream retirement is lost.
Copyright 2013 FOX Carolina (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.
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