CLINTON, Iowa – A Clinton woman is out more than $100,000 because she fell in love with a man she met online who, police say, took almost everything she had.
Police say the "romance scam" is one of the costliest scams out there and can happen to anyone.
"We just started emailing back and forth, and then it went to texting," the woman told WQAD. "Then, after some time, I fell for him."
It didn't take long for an online dating profile to turn into love for the woman WQAD named Linda to hide her identity.
"[It felt] good that someone was out there for me, that I could find somebody," says Linda.
Without ever meeting in person, Linda went all in with her heart and her wallet.
"It was a factory he was building, and I believed him," says Linda.
The mystery man, supposedly named Mark, told Linda he needed money for this lucrative project, promising to pay Linda back with double the money she gave him.
The first check she wrote was money out of her retirement savings, $48,000. And it didn't stop there.
"I did several charge cards I had, and I maxed them out. He always liked good clothes, good quality clothes," says Linda.
They were separate charges to places like Best Buy, Von Maur, Verison and Federal Express landing Linda a with a grand total bill of $112,513.
After a year, Linda sought help from law enforcement who did some digging on "Mark."
"Anybody who asks for money, it's always going to be a scam. No exceptions," said the head of Clinton County's Seniors vs. Crime unit Randy Meier.
Meier wanted to find out exactly who "Mark" really was.
"He responded by producing a passport. It looks really good, but it's fake. We know they're based in West Africa. We know the money went to Ghana or other west African countries in that vicinity. Other than that, it's difficult to identify the person," says Meier.
Broken-hearted, and just flat out broke, Linda has filed for bankruptcy.
"I just don't want anyone else to get in this situation," Linda said.
Not only is she a victim of the romance scam, Meier says if she sends "Mark" any more money or merchandise, she could go to federal prison for money laundering. Linda said she will never send "Mark" another penny.
She's telling her story of love built on deception as a warning to other people.
"Why are you doing this to people?" Linda would ask the scammers. "You're wrecking their lives, you're wrecking their lives big time."
Meier says the number one way to know if you're falling victim to a romance scam is if the person you are connecting with online asks you to send money. He says the people will be persistent, be hesitant to talk on the phone, and they will tell you anything and everything to get you to send money or merchandise. He says the best thing you can do if you're already in a scam is to stop sending things immediately and to contact police.