DES MOINES -- Loneliness can drive a person to do things they never would have otherwise considered.
Before her husband died, two years ago, "Jane" (We have agreed to conceal her identity.) would have never joined a dating websites for seniors. "No,” she said, “Everybody said to me, ‘(The website) is what you need to (use) to find someone.’ I'm not a real outgoing person."
Jane logged on looking for love. She quickly connected with a man who claimed his name was John P. Walson. He said that he was from Italy, but had lived in the U.S. for several years. He said that he and his daughter lived in Kansas, and that he was an engineer.
The online courting continued until the day that John said he had a $2 million contract to do some work for his employer in the country of Malaysia. Jane didn’t hear from John for a few weeks. "Then, all of a sudden (I) got this message from him." It was a frantic email about John's daughter. Jane explained, "She had been shot. They had to take her to the hospital, and didn't have the right insurance, evidently."
John begged via email, and Jane wired a few thousand dollars to cover the medical bills. Then, John said he needed more. "He needed $25,000 because he'd overstayed his visa." Again, Jane wired him the money. Again, he asked for more.
He produced documents indicating he was in prison in Malaysia, was transferred to Korea, then extradited to Detroit, MI. He was sent to prison in St. Cloud MN, and then to an immigration facility at the Cedar Rapids airport. Such a facility does not exist. John claimed that each location had a fine, a fee, or a plane ticket that he asked Jane to pay for. "I would say, ‘This is ridiculous. I just gave you money two days ago and now you need money again? Well, there'd always be some reason."
After six months, all Jane had to show for her relationship with a man she had never met face-to-face were elaborate stories and a stack of dozens of Western Union money transfer receipts. Her retirement savings was gone. “$152,000 is what he owes me."
The day that John asked for another $80,000 lump sum, Jane said that she finally accepted the truth. She went to the police. "I feel like I was paying for this (thief) to care about me."
Jane called Bill Brauch’s office. Brauch is the director of the Consumer Protection Division of the Attorney General’s Office. She quickly learned that she is not alone. "It doesn't mean that everybody's losing $50,000 or $75,000, but (the losses are) generally in the thousands," said Brauch. He added that people can stop the theft, if they can spot these red flags:
- The person asks to communicate via email, chat, or telephone
- The person asks for money, in any amount
- ANY request to wire transfer funds
On the third item in particular, Brauch said, "It's a scam. Hold onto your money. You are being victimized." Brauch said that people should trust their gut. If something seems fishy, share it with someone you trust... or call Brauch’s staff. "Our investigator says, “Give (the guy you’re dating online) my name and number and I'll talk to him, and then I'll call you back and let you know what I think.‘ Our (investigators) will do some research."
Jane said, “It's my retirement. It's my life savings. It's everything that I could do to have fun in life.” “I took out my savings and I went to my 401k. I did what I needed to do. I borrowed money for him, and he'd just say, 'Oh, Babe, don't worry.' You know? Blah blah blah. Everything I would question… he’d have a different answer for." Jane said that he claimed he was wealthy and would pay it back when he got home to Kansas.
This Casanova con man is still after more. Jane said that he keeps calling, "harassing me. The phone rings at all hours of the night." Her purpose in sharing her story with Channel 13 News is to warn others of the pain. "Yeah. There's days I'd just as soon not be here."
She has one final message to the man who calls himself John P. Walson. “Just give me my money back and leave me alone."