After her husband's death, Debbie tried online dating and ended up being scammed out of over a million dollars.
Debby Montgomery Johnson is a survivor advocate and hosts a podcast, Stand Up and Speak Up. She is also a published author.
This is Debby Montgomery Johnson 's story...
Six months after her husband's death, Debby's friends encouraged her to try online dating. She was hesitant at first, but decided to give it a try. She met a man online who she thought was great. They talked often and she felt like she could trust him. Unfortunately, he was not who he seemed to be. He scammed her out of a lot of money and she was left feeling heartbroken and alone. Thankfully, she was able to find the strength to keep going and is now using her story to help others.
In this episode, you will learn the following:
1. The emotional and physical devastation that can be caused by online romance scams.
2. Anyone can be taken at some time in their life and usually by someone they know, family included.
3. Comforting words for victims
If you think you may be a victim of a romance and online scam, visit https://romancescamsnow.com/ to find education and support.
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In today's episode, we are going to talk about exposing the financial fraud that is taking place online. We are here to explain that anyone can be taken at some time in their life and usually by someone they know, family included.
This type of fraud can have major emotional, psychological and financial repercussions. My guest today, Debbie Montgomery Johnson, is a survivor of such a scam. Over a million dollars lost. It left her emotionally and financially drained. Now she shares her stories to prevent others from becoming a victim too.
As a survivor advocate, she hosts a podcast, Stand Up and Speak Up and is a published author. I am excited she is joining me today. If you think you may be a victim of a romance and online scam, visit romancescamsnow.com to find education and support. The link will also be in the show notes. Debbie, thank you for being my guest today and welcome to the I Need Blue podcast.
I'm so excited to be here. Jen, thank you so much for having me. Oh, you're so welcome. This is a topic I haven't covered before and it is way more common than we think. So I am so glad you are here to share all this valuable information before we get started, I would like to provide a word from our sponsors.
After you told me a little bit, I had referred to the situation as catfishing because like a lot of Americans, that's kind of what we've been taught. That is, the title or the label for this type of thing. That is not correct. That's almost like victim shaming, and that's not fair. So I want you at the very beginning of this podcast, before we share your story, to explain how referencing this as catfishing is not fair to the victim.
Catfishing came along years ago when it was just that men were describing how women were setting up fake profiles to get them. And I think the Phishing thing went that way. There is an organization, I'm not going to name it because they've actually used my story without my permission, but it's very popular, and they set up scenarios to set up these scammers, and it minimizes what happens to a victim. Catfishing just sounds so trite, and it sounds more like a game. A scam sounds like a game.
And so as an advocate for victims and a victim myself, it cannot be minimized this way because the trauma of being taken by someone that you feel is part of your family is not just financial, although it is financial fraud. It is so emotional and it's physical. So many women I've worked with, the emotional devastation of it all, of being taken, has contributed to incredible health issues or to even suicide. It's organized crime and it's fraud. And to call it something as simplistic as catfishing, it makes the victim feel like that they were stupid or that they were uneducated.
And that is far from the case. Right? And as survivor advocates, it's really important that we validate the victim, that we make their feelings important, validated, true. That's how you feel, that's what you went through, and that it's okay. It's okay to talk about it.
It is okay because most victims in my particular case, only three out of 100 are going to tell their story. They don't tell because of the shame and the blame. And they're afraid. They're afraid of what the scammers might do, even though scammers won't do anything. They're cowards, but they're afraid that their information is out there, that their home address is out there, that all this stuff is out there about them.
Well, if you think about it, all of our information is out there. Everybody's information is out there. And so we need to be more careful about our privacy and our settings on social media. But it's just a shame because our women and men there are a lot of men that have been taken. And in Palm Beach County, where I live, the FBI told me more men were taken for over a million dollars than women.
But they'll never say it. They'll never speak. And because the victims aren't speaking, the scammers are laughing their way to the bank. Right. And that's a problem.
Going back to privacy for a quick second is I Google myself. I use my maiden name and I use my married name, and I just do it on occasion just to see what comes up, because sometimes Google populates pictures of people, fortunately have never come up. I think that that's a really easy thing to do, to just see kind of where you're circulating online and what information is out there. Here's another tip on that if you're really curious, because I am I'm a very public person. I actually have a Google alert set up for my name, for my company, for the woman behind the smile, and whenever any of those are in an article, I get an email and I check it out.
Wow. I have no idea how to do that, but I want to know how to do that. Thank you for sharing that. You're welcome. Let's get started with your story.
I know it kind of started back in 2010 with a text from your son that made me very sad. And can you share that with our audience? Yeah, actually, it was a phone call. It was a message on my phone at the time. I'm a mom of four.
I have four children at the time. My oldest was 23, my youngest was 15. And my husband had left the night before on a business trip. He was just going to be gone overnight, and he went over to the west coast of Florida. I was in a meeting.
I was a treasurer at the school board in Palm Beach County. I was at an end of year meeting, and I turned my phone off. And when I went on a break, I looked at my phone and there must have been probably 20 messages. I never get messages. And the first one was from my son, my oldest son.
And he said, Mom, dad just died. Wow. I'm coming home to take care of everything. And I listened to that more than once, I'm sure. And then I saw the next message was from my mother and my dad, and they live on the west coast of Florida.
And they said, Deb, we just heard Lou died, and we're going to take care of everything here at the hospital. They were about a half an hour away from where he died and from those two conversations. Then it just snowballed from there. But I never saw Lou again. I never saw him after he left that Wednesday night.
Because my mom and dad took care of things on the west coast. They set it up so that he was transported over here. My children, we had a long discussion about not wanting to have any of the open things. We just felt like that wasn't something that we needed to do. But because of that, we never saw him again.
Which is interesting because I was military. We were both military for a long time, and it seemed to me it was as if he'd gone on what we call a TDI, which is a temporary duty. He left the house and just forgot to call me. And that's how I felt for such a long time. There was no closure because I never saw him again.
What this led to is he had a company that was paying all the bills for the family. The only reason I was working at that point, I'd left a really good bank job. I was working at the school district for benefits because Lewis started his own company and benefits for a family of six was very expensive. But the company paid all the bills and I didn't know how to run it. It was his business.
It's a vitamin supplement company. He was diabetic and he had neuropathy and all sorts of things. And he had founded a company eight years before that was very effective for diabetics with neuropathy. I would sit here and watch him and I'd listen. And I remember one day he got a phone call from one of his biggest wholesale customers who said, luke, if something happens to you, who's going to run the company?
And he looks at me and he's on the phone, he goes, Devil run it. I'm thinking, oh, my gosh, I have no idea how to do that. I said, you better write up some sort of manual. And he was a former Air Force intelligence officer, and he was great at writing operations manuals. And when he died, he left me a four page continuity plan that was it had to keep players and basically said at the end, good luck.
You had no passwords, you had nothing. No. And I actually got a little angry at them. And it's hard to say when someone has passed away that you're going to get angry. But in the middle of the night when I was by myself and I could let go and grieve, I actually remember laying in bed just crying and saying, Why did you die?
All of the plans we were supposed to have, none of that is going to come to fruition. I'm frustrated. I have to keep this going because this pays the bills and you could have at least left me a list of passwords, but fortunately, they are very similar in nature and I can figure out most of them, but it was not the thing I needed at the time. So if you're anybody's doing any advanced planning, make sure you leave the password somewhere for your loved ones to keep the business going. But it gave you a whole new appreciation for entrepreneurship, as now with your podcast and author and all of that other stuff.
I mean, you really embrace the entrepreneurship and I think that that's fabulous. So sometimes we get thrust into really challenging situations, but it blossoms into a beautiful creation. It does. And sometimes you just have to be brave enough to change a little bit. What if they've done?
I have four kids, nobody wants it something. So now what do I do? But there are changes that I didn't want to make. I didn't want to change the name because it was Luke's name. And the one thing that I didn't change, I still haven't changed it is the voice message.
When people call our 800 number, it's still Lou. I love that. I told the kids, I said, if you want to hear Dad's voice, you call and you'll hear Daddy. And I don't want to change it because he did such a great job. So some things that you can change and some things you should just keep the thing.
I love it. I think that's great. Let's talk a little bit about your career, what you were doing at the time of your husband's death and why with this type of fraud. You're a smart woman, you've had high positions, you're intelligent, right. So to set this stage, can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your career?
Sure. And this is important because the victims that I work with are extraordinarily well trained to women. So I graduated from college with a bachelor's degree in Political Science. Thinking I was going to go to law school, I instead decided to work for the lawyers as a paralegal and then decided I didn't want to go to law school. After that, I was able to join the Air Force as an Air Force intelligence officer.
I was an imagery analyst for eight years, spent time in Germany, in Washington DC. At the Pentagon. I worked for Defense Intelligence Agency, had a really extraordinary career, and then I wanted to have a family. And I got to an eight year point and that was a pivoting point for me. I was either going to stay in and try to make major and move on in my career, or at that point I had two boys.
And I realized that the child care situation wasn't going to work out like I wanted to when we came back from Europe. And I really made the decision that if I'm going to have children, I want to raise them myself. I found that being a stay at home mom, I did it for eleven years was harder work for me than going off to the Pentagon. But I loved it. I loved being home with the kids.
So I did that for eleven years. And then when Lou was transitioning out of the Air Force, he got a position with the Department of Defense as an independent contractor and he went to Bosnia. He didn't have benefits at that point though. And so we decided that I was going to go back to work and I went into banking. It was a great job initially.
Then when I got into the big commercial banking, it got very stressful. My customers were always angry when we got bought out by the big companies, and I was the first one that they yelled at, and I didn't like that. I love my customers, but I didn't like the corporate culture there. And so I took a huge pay cut and I went to the school district to be a treasurer for the school district, and again, just for benefits. So I've had a lot of training in finance and legal and obviously in the intelligence world, but I had a lot of really good background.
So when I was thrown into running the company, I used the resources that were given to me that I had learned over the years. I learned to ask for help. It's very hard for someone that's pretty self sufficient to ask for help. You can't do it all yourself. And I knew that, but I had to admit it and own it.
I was so worn out, though, trying to do that job from six until, say, noon part time with the benefits. But after about a year, I realized I was making more in a month with the company that I was making a whole year working for the school district and thinking, I don't need to be doing both. That's great. I heard you say that you were doing this all on your own at one point. And sometimes when we do things on our own, we need somebody to talk to, to talk to about our business and talk to about our family.
I mean, you lost your husband, so there's a certain level of companionship that I know you were still desiring and wanted to kind of look for when you were ready and you had gotten to the point. And then you decided to do what is very popular and many people do, including myself. Online dating. Can you tell us about that? I kind of got pushed into it.
It was some of my girlfriends who kept saying, this is about six months after Lou died. And they said, Deb, you need a life. You have to do something other than work. Because literally I was working 20 hours a day. I was so busy, I hadn't really been able to grieve Lou Dyne because I filled my life with busyness so that I didn't have to be still.
And honestly, I think I was a little afraid of having somebody in person. I'd been married almost 26 years, and I wasn't ready for a physical relationship. I really just wanted a friend or someone that I could talk to. And I hear this a lot from widows, and again, I hate that word, but that's what everybody describes it as. They just want someone to go to dinner with.
They want someone to talk to. And so my friends said, here's a safe way to do this. They said, try online dating. I had heard from many friends that they'd had very good experiences with online dating. I even asked my mom, and I figured if she's the greatest skeptic.
But she turned out to have had a friend who is in her late seventys who had a very positive experience and ended up marrying the man and something, well, heck, if the 70 year old ladies can do it, then I can. I was 52 at the time, and so I jumped in to a faith based site, thinking that it was safe. I had to put together a really good profile, very honest about who I was, and I jumped in. But I really did a set of dip my toe in. I wanted to see what was out there.
I was so surprised at the 55 to 65 year old men and the pictures they were putting out, and the wife beater T shirts and hanging on motorcycles and nothing against motorcycles, but I'm just not a motorcycle person, and I couldn't write worth the fifth grader. The language was atrocious. And I'm thinking, what am I getting into? Because my husband was a brilliant guy, and he was a briefer for the Chief of Staff of the Air Force at the Pentagon. And I'm thinking, oh, my gosh.
Then I got a response from one guy, and it was his handsome Brit from London. He was a widow. And the pictures he was athletic, and he had a son, and it was just like, oh, I can do this. International business. I could do this.
So I responded, and it was interesting because the first email I got from him, there was one line in it, and I recall thinking that was a little odd because the very last line was, you can call me Eric Cole. And I thought that was a really weird way of saying my name is but then I asked him about it, and I attributed it to him being from England, and he said, yes, that's Franco Lingua, which is the language of the country or whatever, and thinking, okay, that's kind of interesting. So there were things that I attributed to him being from Britain, from England, that he would say different things that would be okay because he was not American. No, this was right before Thanksgiving, and we spent the whole day chatting. We were on Yahoo Chat.
It was a little bit different back then. There wasn't Skype and FaceTime and all that. So we were yahoo chatting, which is like instant messaging. And I remember spending all day Thanksgiving. My mom and dad were here, and dad was outside doing something.
Mom was inside cooking. I was describing to my Handsome Brit all about Thanksgiving and the dinner and the food and the activities, and it was so fun. I'd be running back and forth on my computer to the kitchen, and it was cool thinking that I was educating this young guy about Thanksgiving in America because he was supposed to come for Christmas. That was the plan. He got a job out of Houston.
It was taking him to Malaysia. It was supposed to be moving hardwood trees. He was a contractor, independent contractor. I understood what he did because I had investments in hardwood trees in Costa Rica, which he didn't know about. So again, I was doing my homework.
When I researched him. When he told me about his company, I looked it up online. I actually called them and asked them if they had a fellow named Doctor Eric Cole working for them. And they said no. And so that should have been a flag for me, a red flag.
But instead I'm thinking, well, he's an independent contractor. He doesn't really work for them. He wouldn't be on their roster. So again, it was plausible. Right.
We're trying to reason it out in our mind, right? I did, because I wasn't going into this thinking that there was going to be fraud. I had never heard about online scamming fraud. Not back then. As humans, we want to think the best of other humans, of course.
And I'd only heard really good things about this platform. So I figured, well, it's good. It will be good for me. And it was fun. It was really fun.
It made me feel like I was not sure 16 again because all those are not enough. Although that did come up when you put yourself out there. And I was 52. I hadn't dated in a long time. Those not enough that you're not smart enough, pretty enough, skinny enough, all those not enough that we write in our minds, those didn't surface when I jumped into this.
And then I gave myself a talking to and said, good grief, you've had an extraordinary career and you've got wonderful family and just you're a good person. Just do this. Did he ever make you feel like you had to question those things that you felt at 16, or did he build you up? He built me up. He sent me poems.
He wrote he sent music. We would listen to the same music at the same time. He wrote the most beautiful letters and notes. And honestly, we would be instant messaging for hours. And so it was, for me, a form of therapy.
Although I have a friend whose husband was a therapist and she said I could have done it a lot cheaper. But I found that writing for me was just a way to release a way much better for me than speaking it out loud. I have 4000 pages of journal. I kept records of everything we talked about and thinking I was creating family history. I have four volumes, five volumes of printed emails and chats and all those kinds of things which could have turned out to be evidence later on, but it didn't happen.
You still have those? Oh, yes, I do. They were recorded. They're actually in printed volumes. They're books.
They're printed books. And I don't look at them regularly. It's just when I get a media, someone wants to come in and film what happened, and they'll want to see them. And it's interesting because writing is a very good way of releasing any sort of trauma, and it was a way for me to separate what happened from me, from my life. It's a reminder of it.
It's a little bit triggering sometimes to read what was said, because Hindsight is 2020, and I can look back and think, oh, my gosh, that should have been a flag, or that should have been an indication that there was something going on. But once you're into it and here's the thing, there is a psychology of a scam. It's very manipulative. And these guys are not bumpkins sitting on a bench somewhere in Nigeria. They are well educated, university trained salespeople.
Their job is to get money from you. And in my particular case, it went on for two years, almost two years, and I never saw him. But I understood that in a way, it was safe because he wasn't here. In a way, it was very frustrating because he wasn't here. When people ask, well, how could you send him the money?
Because I'm one of those damn Yankees who rarely gave money to anybody. It started off as a friendship. It started off as a business kind of a thing. It was never giving him the money. It was loaning.
It was a loan. It was kind of like a bridge loan, essentially, until he got here. It was a lot of money at the end, and I didn't realize how much, but about midway or three quarters of the way through when you start looking at it. And I was getting frustrated, because every time you were supposed to be here, something came up. And it was extraordinary.
It was the ups and the downs. It was emotional up and down that I think probably did me in. You get your hopes up, and I find that you run scenarios through your head of, oh, my gosh, I can't wait to give him that first hug and see them in person. And then you're let down. It's a great build up because he had a family and a son in England, and I got hotel reservations for his sister and his son, and then all of a sudden, the plans changed, and I'd have to go and cancel all those or I would be at the bank.
And honestly, I was a bank manager, so I knew these folks I was working with, and they got so excited about the story. They're like when's it coming? When is the family coming? And even though I was sending extraordinary amounts of money, it was never like, deb, what are you doing? Because they were part of it.
They had lived it with me. My accountant had lived it with me, thinking that, okay, this is a good business expense, and when it comes back, we'll figure out how to work it out. Did you chat with the family. Did you chat with the son or the sister or anybody on Yahoo Chat? I remember one night I had three open screens.
One was with Kenny, his son and his sister Mary. One was with him and one was his attorney. And I typed really quickly and I was going back and forth between all of them and I would use those chats. I would ask Mary about Eric, about his, you know, his wife who died. I asked about that.
I wanted to get to know him from someone else's point of view and the same with him, about her and then Kenny. It was interesting. One night I was chatting with Kenny and Mary, and I could hear the difference in my head between this young boy and then his aunt. When he would come on, it was like fun. And we were talking about his dad making pizza and he was going out to play ball and all these things.
And then I would get marry on saying, okay, he hasn't done his homework yet and we've got to get this stuff done. It could have been it was probably multiple people, because there is no he in this scenario. It is a day they work in teams. And what I thought might have been a family and here's a really big red flag for me now is the pictures being used were stolen. That's called impersonation, okay?
So that picture of him was stolen from someone's Facebook profile. For instance, the picture of Kenny and the dogs in the house, those are pictures that were stolen. So here's my AHA moment. Be careful. Make sure that your privacy settings for your social media are clamped down, because scammers will go and it's very easy.
I do it with my show. I can go into someone's Facebook page and save one of their pictures and then use it for my show. If you don't want that to happen, particularly this is important with children, with grandchildren. I never post pictures of my grandchildren. I don't even talk about them.
If my girls want to do it, they can do it, but I don't, because the scammers will create families that's enticing to those that are full of heart, that are family oriented, that want to have a family again or want to continue their family. And so be really careful about what you're putting out there because like you said at the very beginning, you Google yourself, google me, I'm out there all over the place, but I don't have pictures of my husband out very often. I never put out pictures of the grandkids. I don't talk about my kids often because it can be used against you. My current episode actually is about situational awareness.
Part of the conversation is about what we post on social media, what is in the background. I don't tag myself anymore when I'm in places that's easily setting myself up to be stocked. It's. Like here. This is where I am right now, if somebody is interested in following me or whatnot.
Privacy settings are important, just like you said. So that is a really don't ever. Tell anybody when you're leaving, when you're out of town, because hello, your home is vulnerable to being attacked at that point. Yes. Well, there's a lot of here's.
My kids, first day of school, they hold that sign up saying the name of the school, the grade they're in. You have to be one step ahead of them. And again, as humans, we don't want to think other humans would ever be bad to us because we would never be bad to people. So we can't fathom somebody hurting us. But not everybody thinks like us.
They don't think like us at all. There's no conscience in what they're doing. Their goal is to get money. And it's not a million dollars from one person. It's $250 from a million people.
And they are very good at what they do. Yes. I was wondering if he was sitting there because Yahoo Chat is not video, right? It's just like it's just texting. Yeah.
I'm wondering if he was sitting there being these three people all at once and having these individual conversations with you. I don't know if it could have been three people because, like I said, they work in teams. They are actually very well trained because there's a group that are good at the initial contact and the building and the relationship. Then there are the guys that are really good at getting the money. Then there are guys that are really good at closing.
Then if someone is antagonistic, if I say, I've run out of money, I can't do this anymore, then there's a group that comes in, there a little more aggressive, and they make you feel guilty and they make you feel afraid. And so that leads you to what? I ended up I wasn't pressured into this, but I was kind of pressured into getting more money to them. I asked my parents. I went outside.
Fortunately, I had friends that said no. But my mom and dad, bless their heart, they said yes. They lent me $100,000, and that was the only money of all of it that I felt so bad about, because at the end, I realized my last suit has no pockets. I was not going to take any of that money with me, although it would be nice to have it in my retirement accounts now. But I felt so responsible for my parents.
And the good story there is I paid them over multiple times, and we were able to buy a home for them this past year. So that part of me doesn't feel guilty anymore. But he used me to do that because his goal, or their goal, was to get as much money out of me as they could. At any point were the words I. Love you said oh yes, from very early on.
And I remember hearing it for the first time, thinking, oh, am I ready for this? And is he ready for that? I questioned that and then initially I'm not sure. You don't want to hear it because you do want to hear it. You do want that validation.
It came quickly and that's what they do. It's very fast, the relationship. Now obviously I can look back at it. It happens very quickly and it's within two weeks. And I used to say, if you haven't seen the whites of his eyes within two weeks, it's a scammer.
But then I have a friend who was taken in person and that's when I realized that there are bad guys in person within two weeks of an online relationship. If you haven't seen him, he has got you the manipulation. We call it the amygdala. Hijack. And when I say we, I'm on the board of Directors of Scars, which is a society of Citizens against relationship scams.
For the last ten years I've been working with Stars and I've learned so much about the manipulation and the characteristics of a scam and the characteristics of a scammer. These criminals and the playbooks and what they do, and the scenarios change a little bit. It could be a guy on an oil rig, it could be a doctor for the UN. It could be someone in the military, which really gripes me because I'm former military and I've got kids on active duty. That's stolen dollar in my opinion.
But the storylines are the same. Most of them are widowers, they have a child, they have maybe a sibling somewhere and they need your help. Within two weeks of that initial contact, that manipulation is started, that Amygdala Hijack has started. And I always say that my heart ruled my head because the things I was hearing just made my heart healthy and happy. Through the two years of the relationship and all the wonderful things that were said and the communication that we had, even though the scam was devastating, at least part of me had been listened to.
I've tried to change the narrative. I don't want to be known as the woman that got scammed at a million dollars. The scam was an important part of what happened to me, but it wasn't going to define me, it wasn't going to define who I was. It happened. But what's important is that even if you've lost a dollar, you've been a victim of manipulation and fraud.
And it doesn't matter how much, it matters that you speak up about it, because the scammers are on their way to the bank, because no one is speaking up. And that's why we need to stand up and speak up every time something happens like this. Would you say this is like an abusive relationship with the manipulation, the gas, lighting? A lot of times they control finances, but they wanted you to give you the money. They wanted me to give him the money quickly, and it's fast.
There's this urgency about it, too. And they get you wrapped up and like, you got to do it today. I got to get this now because they're going to throw me in jail, or I can't get my stuff through customs because I don't have the money. So there was always this sense of urgency. And I recall leaving my job at lunchtime and running to the bank to try to do a wire transfer quickly.
Tell me about the first time you sent him money. What was it for? I didn't send him money the first time. The very first time was I actually sent a check to the dating site. Well, he had a friend who was an engineer, and he was having trouble getting onto the site.
He said, hey, would you send a check to the dating site to get him on? I'm thinking, sure, the more the merrier. So I sent a check to the dating site, and now I realize that that was really wrong because that validated that profile, because now he's a paid member. Wow. He's not a free member.
He's a paid member. And because he's a paid member, that gives you a little more accessibility to profile. Some things, they start small. The next bigger one came a few weeks later, and that was to set up a power of attorney. Again.
Here we're having this business relationship, and he's coming back to the States. So he got me involved with his attorney, and they wanted to set up a power of attorney so that I could open up accounts or do accept money or whatever it was. I think $5,000 originally, but they wanted it split up, so it was $2,500. Ask through Western Union. And I'd never done anything with Western Union, but it was fast.
It was like, do this quickly, debbie need this today. Can you get down to the store today? And he gave me a name that wasn't his. It was an odd name, a really long it wasn't African necessarily. It could have been Malaysian or whatever.
But I remember sending money through Western Union to this one fellow, and I asked him, I was like, Why is it not your name? Because I had to put for the benefit of Eric Cole. He said, It's my friend that's living here in Malaysia. And he's he's got access to that. He can get it more quickly than I can.
Rationalize, he always had a reason why. And I was like, okay. So I did that. But I felt really odd. And that was the first TIFF, as I called it, about money.
And he had a way of calming me down and saying, this is necessary. We need this to do blah, blah, blah, and it'll be over soon, and I'll pay you back. There was always a promise to get paid back, and I think that's why I did it, because I always had that knowing. I thought that it was going to come back to me with interest. He was going to get paid quite a lot of money for doing what he was doing.
Why didn't he pay for his friend's membership? Because his friend was in Europe. His friend was overseas. He was overseas. He needed the check to be sent in.
It was an American company. I was here. Debbie, I think we're going to take a quick break and hear a word from our fabulous sponsors. They have an answer for everything as to why. And I think that's a really important point that we mentioned.
And we want it to be true. We want it to work out. So what I call pink flags were probably hard reds to a lot of other folks looking in. But for me, they were pink, yellow and pink flags because I wanted it to work. I wanted him to be here for Christmas.
It got to a point where he knew so much about me that I considered him part of my family. And I used to say I would do almost anything for my family. Be really careful. You don't want to do almost everything for your family, especially family that you've not met. What was his excuse for not being there for Christmas?
Do you remember? Oh, well, it was something happened with the shipment. It was either a customs thing or a health thing. The excuses are especially over two years, he had an awful fever. One time, his attorney's daughter had a miscarriage.
Kenny got hit. His son was hit his bicycle. He ended up in the hospital. Eric ended up in the hospital. I couldn't even tell you now what all the reasons were for him not getting here.
And did you have the million dollars in your bank account to give? Never. I came up with it. I found it. I sold retirement accounts.
I sold jewelry. I worked with his sister. This is a thing. His sister, who we know is a false character too. She and I would be communicating.
We would be on Yahoo chat and she would say, I'm going to sell this piece of jewelry, and this piece of jewelry worth $10,000. You come up with half of it. I come up with half of it. So it made me feel like someone was in it with me. I wasn't doing it all by myself.
And that's what they do. There is no other person helping you out. It is just you. But in our scenario, I would do this, mary would do this. We would get the amount of money that Eric needed to finalize whatever was happening.
And so I had a partner in this, and it was her, but her was probably one of them. And so there was never a partner. But I did it. I did it because I felt like he was my family. I felt like I was in love with him.
And it seems silly, but it's amazing how you can have feelings for someone just through writing. It's almost like having a pen pal. How close can you get to a pen pal? You've never met them in person. But I felt like I did.
And again, because I never had the idea that someone was taking advantage of me. It never crossed my mind. And I want people to understand that it happens every day. Every second of the day someone is being taken advantage of and we have to be aware, but we have to have our radar out there. And I said, beware and be aware.
Just be aware. I hope it never happens to you, but it could happen to your mother, your brother, your spouse. I work with women that are married and they were taken by playing Words with Friends. Game sites, social media sites, any social media platform. We've seen it on Tinder Swindler, right?
It was on Tinder. It's on WhatsApp? WhatsApp? And Google Hangouts. I had a girl that's in Vietnam, she was taken on a translation site.
She was helping a gentleman from England who was coming over and was doing some banking and he needed some banking linguist. He wasn't really coming to Vietnam to do any banking, but they became friends. And when something happened, she helped him out. Well, in that culture, because she helped him out with her with family money. Her husband kicked her out of the house.
She's a mother of a little baby. And until she got involved in our support group, he didn't believe that she didn't do that on purpose. Because here's the other story about the victim blame. Victim blaming is hugely detrimental to the victim because in this particular case, the only thing I did wrong was write back and say hello. Anything anybody does wrong on a Facebook request, it's accepting a Facebook request from someone that you don't know or someone that might be a mutual friend of someone in your group.
You have to be really careful on Facebook because they can get into women's groups and become a friend with somebody. Because we all want to have friends, right? Well now they've got credibility because they're a mutual friend of five women. And when I get those requests, I'm looking, I'm going, Guys, do you really know who this person is? Because I'm getting the Scammer vibe and I'll call my friends and say, I think you need to get this person off of your list.
So we don't need 5000 friends. We only talked to ten of them. That is so true. I think I have like 160. And that's family and friends, which is probably a lot, but I do know most of them.
But it's not thousands. No, I mean, because you don't just have a thousand, because those thousand have friends. I interviewed a young gal and I asked her, I said, Why is it so important cause she writes a lot. And I said, why is it so important to you to have followers? Because they want that instant attention.
They want that YouTube viral moment, and they don't care. And they think they're growing up thinking they're safe online. I have a huge worry about the children and the millennials, even the millennials now who have grown up on the internet. They're being taken in what we call it's called pig butchering. It's the cryptocurrency investment scams.
And they're being taken so quickly, and when crypto, the money is gone, there's a chance maybe they can clawing it back and getting it back. But for the most part, very smart young people are being taken in investment fraud. We were talking earlier about our youngsters. The reason for setting the privacy for kids is because they're putting themselves out there. They're showing that I'm playing lacrosse at 03:00 at Park Boom High school.
And now we know what they look like. We know where they're going to be at what time. We know exactly where they are. And that leads to trafficking. They are being picked up by predators, and they're gone before the parents even know it.
So our kids need to understand why this is vitally important to protect themselves. And it's not important to have 50,000 viewers because you don't know them. You don't, and it doesn't matter. My husband and I were talking last night about everybody. We want our reel to look like somebody's R-E-E-L.
Highlight reels. Facebook and tinder and instagram and all that. Those are highlighted reels. Reels no one's going to put out there that they're having a crappy day and there's dogs doing backyard. They want to make you know that they're building this incredible house or they're on this incredible vacation and isn't their life wonderful?
That's not real real, especially our young teenage girls at the a very vulnerable age. Because you want to be accepted. You want to be part of the group, you want to be pretty. My ideal back then was the tall, skinny blonde, until I interviewed a friend of mine who's from England who is tall and skinny, and she got bullied her whole childhood, and she didn't want to be tall and blonde and skinny. So we think it's always better on the other side, but we're opening ourselves up for being taken advantage of.
And I have always been very open to kind to people, but we don't think their way. And right now, the fentanyl crisis online is huge. That's how they're getting these kids through Snapchat. You can buy them online and it's killing our children. Like this topic, there's not enough conversation about it.
There's not. And Dr. Tim McGinnis and I talk about this all the time. When we were kids, we had to take driver training before we could get behind the wheel of a car. If you apply it to the internet, there's no training about internet safety ever.
And last year, two years ago, when the pandemic hit and we isolated all our kids at home, now we've got four and five year olds, six year olds, elementary school, preschool, online with no training. And you don't think the predators are out there? You don't think that during the pandemic, the scammers were out there in huge numbers because people were looking for friends, people were looking for companions and playing games. And the amount of fraud that took place in the last couple of years skyrocketed. And it's hard to catch them.
The difference between my story and many stories is that on September 10, 2012, he came online and was writing to me and said, how do you feel about forgiveness? I'm thinking, wow, we've talked about this a lot over the years about different spiritual things. And so I started telling him and we got disconnected. After a few hours, he came back on later on that afternoon, said, can we revisit what we were talking about? Again, we went into forgiveness.
And I got to the point like, Eric, did I do something wrong? Why are we talking about forgiveness? And I look back now, I'm like, why did I think I did something wrong? But we do. We think that it's something we did.
And he came on late after that and said, I have something to tell you that's going to hurt you, and I just need to know that you're going to forgive me. And at that point I'm thinking, well, you don't have to hurt me. You really don't. He said, Deb, I have to tell you that this has all been a scam. And when I heard that, I didn't heard it in my head.
I'm looking at the words going, what's a scam? What are you talking about? He goes, this whole thing has been a scam. And I said you're lying now. Something's wrong with you.
Are you hurt? Are you sick? You have to prove to me that this is a lie. This has been a lie, and that you're telling me the truth now. And that's when he said, I will come onto Yahoo Chat.
There's a camera option on Yahoo Chat. Oh my gosh, I've been asking for that for two years. So he walked me through and on my screen I have two big screens here. Visualize. I'm looking at my handsome brit and that pops this little screen and I'm looking at this dark haired, dark eyed, dark skinned young man with a big smile on his face.
And it was like I hit a brick wall and think, oh my gosh, what has happened here? Unfortunately, I picked up my phone and I took a picture of him. I have one picture of the real guy and that's actually in my book. The woman behind smile, it's this young guy and a big smile on his face because he's like, well hi, can we keep this going and I'm thinking, Are you out of your mind? I said, of course not.
And he said, Is it because I'm young and black and from Nigeria? And I'm thinking, well, maybe I said, no, you stole a million dollars from me. You stole my life. And it was worse for me than when Lewis died, because now I had willingly participated in giving away most of my money. But my heart, I gave my heart to this person and my all, and I told them everything about me and the family over two years and thinking, oh, my gosh, how am I going to fix this?
And then my intel hat kicked in, my legal hat kicked in, my banking hat kicked in. How can I get back the money? How can I get him arrested? And how can I keep him going? Because I'm thinking, well, I watched a lot of FBI shows.
You keep them engaged because they're going to catch him. And I didn't let on that I was going to try to turn them in because he said that I'm trying to protect my siblings. I'm thinking, Is that the real story? Is there a real story here? Because I've even been told since then that the whole confessing part of it was still part of the scam.
I don't know if that's true or not, but honestly, if I can be grateful for one thing, it was that he did that he confessed and that he came on in person because for me, it gave me a face to what happened, and I could immediately it was my gift from God. I could shut down my heart from the story because I always felt that if he had just dropped out of the face of the earth like most scammers do, it would have been like Lou dying. It would have been like Lou leaving the house and never seeing him again. But at least I had some closure to it. People ask me, do you know if they caught him?
I don't know. I don't care. I believe there's an afterlife and he's going to have to deal with what he did. I just I remember asking him to stop hurting people, stop hurting women, and he said he would, but I don't believe that for an instant now. But it was an extraordinary situation.
When I went to the FBI, they told me, unless you can get him here to the United States, there's nothing we can do. I shut down. That's where the whole woman behind smile came up when I first started that because I figured, oh, my gosh, if the FBI can't do it, nobody can do it. And I didn't want to tell until I did. And now it's changed a little bit.
The FBI can do some things, but until people start to speak up, the government is not going to know how bad it is, so they're not going to put any resources towards it. Law enforcement doesn't know how to deal with someone walking in saying, I was scammed. We don't even tell them to say that anymore. We encourage our victims to go in to get a police report, but just to get a report, an informational report, so that they can report it as fraud. It's financial fraud.
Don't say it was an online scam, because the guys in the back are laughing at you. They don't understand unless they've had someone in their family taken. It's financial fraud, and it is huge, and it is happening to everybody, and it will happen to everybody if they're not careful. But I am curious as to who was the first person you told. My mom and dad.
Your mom and dad? I called him up. I was sitting here by myself, and when this happened, it was a gut punch. I call it running into a brick wall. It was a reality check in a big way.
I called my mom and dad because they were the first ones to be there for me when Lou died. They were also part of this because they'd given me the money and they kept waiting for him to come. I think if you asked my dad, he would have said that at one point he thought maybe there was something wrong. But for two years, he goes, who can hang on for two years? He said, there's no way this guy is a scammer.
After two years? Silly us. I called them and they were here the next day. They went over to the FBI with me, and they've been with me the whole time. They knew the whole story.
I didn't tell my kids. I didn't tell my brothers and their wives. I didn't tell anybody because I was so embarrassed that it happened. I'm like, I'm so well educated, and I knew from banking why didn't I see what I didn't see? And it's because of that major hijack.
That the psychology of the whole thing. And that's why there's no reason to blame victims. Once they said hi or hello, it was lights out. And I have people contact me now saying, my mom's involved. How can I stop her?
It's very difficult to stop someone if you can't get them before it happens. You got to wait until they're broken. Broken, because they're not going to hear you. They're not going to accept what you're saying. The doctor Phil programs drive me nuts because even though he's got the evidence and can show it, they're confronting the victim on TV, in public.
You're humiliating them in public. The only thing you're doing is you're making the family feel good because they outed you. That does nothing for the victim, and in effect, the victim, as soon as they get back home and the scammer criminal is in contact with them, they're back with them. And victims are very difficult to work with sometimes because out of 100, a third of them are going to be in denial that, nope, this isn't the scammer. He's going to come to me and they're going to stay in it.
A third are going to be really angry and angry at those of us helping, and then a third are going to be the realist who said, yes, this did happen to me. I'm not going to get the money back. How can I recover and how can I be there to help someone else that's gone through it? I have a question. I know in your situation, you are able to pay back your parents the money you had borrowed, but a lot of people are not able to do that.
What are comforting words that you have for those people? Well, first off, realize you weren't to blame. Second of all, this is not going to make you feel better, but you're probably not going to get your money back. Although the Western Union was able to give back some money, there are some ways to get it back, but not a lot. Take care of yourself.
Now, you might have to reset your expectations. If you're 60, 65 and you gave your retirement accounts, you feel like there's not enough time to recover. Well, here's the happy thing is most of us are living another 30 years. We're living through our eighty s and ninety s. We do have time.
We may not retire in the way we thought we were going to. So reset your expectations. Make sure that you're taking care of your health. Get some exercise. Find a friend.
Find someone that you trust that you could talk to. You can't do this on your own. Join our support group at Scars. Know that you're not alone and hear other people's stories because together you're strengthened. I like to say I turned my pain into my passion and my purpose.
For me, I strongly feel it happened for a reason. And people say, oh, that's woo woo. But for me, it was important. It happened because when I realized that it wasn't just about me anymore, that I could have a voice for others, that empowered me beyond any dollar amount. Because I want to hear from people that say, I heard your story and I recognized what was happening and I got out of it.
Rather than thank you for your story, I heard it. I wished I'd heard it before. Now. What do I do if someone is victim blaming you and it's a friend? They're not your friend.
Friends don't hurt friends by doing that. Family members. It's especially difficult for family members to understand because they may be thinking that they're going to inherit something. Well, you're not guaranteed an inheritance, but you are guaranteed your mom and your dad for a little while. So help them out.
I remember my son's, my oldest son, he became included when he heard the story. And I made sure that he knew I wasn't going to be moving. In with him. I loved him. But many women have lost their homes.
They've taken a mortgage, a second mortgage out on their home. They've refinanced and given money away. They might need a place to stay. We've been talking about individuals scanning other individuals. What about organizations?
So here's what I'm going to I'm thinking about this. This came to my mind, and you may be able to talk on this topic and maybe not. I know somebody who sends $10 a month to this organization who gives the money to this child in Africa. And then in return, this child in Africa will send a picture and a little note to say thank you. Here's what's going on in my life and school and things like that.
And I think I've been doing this for a few years. I think it's like $10 a month. So if you do the math, $10 a month for a few years is a lot of money, especially if that's more than just one person you're hitting up for that. How does somebody determine in regards to an organization who is really legit and who's not? Does that make sense?
It does. You've got to do your homework. I know of organizations like that that are credible. I have one good friend here in Palm Beach that she has an education group, and they sponsor they set up schools in Uganda and Kenya and whatever. And I know them personally.
I met her. I see what she does. When the pandemic hit anybody that was contributing to the education fund, it got stopped because there was no school. And my friend made sure that they were not just sending boatloads of money over there that weren't going to the purpose. So really vet the organization, because that does happen.
And look at the organization. How much of that $10 actually goes to the child? Same thing with the big organization. I don't want to name them out, but during hurricane season here, there are a lot of organizations that are looking for money. Well, how much is going to the administration of that organization versus the people that have been hurt?
So there are good ones out there, there are bad ones out there. And in the Scam world, you have people that want to have investigators go out and try to find them. Well, Scammers could be part of the money the Western unicott tagged because it's possible that some of those franchises were owned by the Scam organization. They're organized crime. These guys are into everything.
They have trillion dollar budgets, and they fund terrorism. They fund Boko Haran. They fund a lot of nefarious things that good hearted people would just be mortified to know that their money used for those organizations. But just do your homework before you part with any of your money. Pay yourself first.
Set up that betterment account or whatever, that retirement account. Take care of yourself and don't give it away. Oh, my gosh. I wish I could have, should have, would have. I can't get back what I lost.
I learned a lot and that's priceless to me. If you give money to someone, consider it a gift, it is not going to come back unless you have it in writing and you have some legal background to get it, especially online. They are so good at creating fake platforms, landing pages. The scamming and fraud is so incredibly effective. They've got so much money, technology.
They are way beyond us and they don't have that conscience that we have. Their goal is to get whatever they can from you. If they could do for good what they do for bad, they would be phenomenal. Absolutely. Thank you for being here.
This information is incredible. I appreciate your bravery and everything that you have overcome emotionally and whatnot to get to where you are today, to where you are giving back and sharing your story and helping others. And I would like to end this episode and I know you've touched upon a lot of positive things, but in one segment I would like to end this episode by talking about for you what positive came of this experience. Because in the positive is where we find the healing. For me, once I got past that, it was just about me and losing the money and realized that what I could say could help one person not get involved or one person to recover.
I want people to know that I'm a real person. I've had real problems. I've made real big missteps. They're not mistakes. I have failed, but I want to fail forward fast.
You hear that? Get through it. If you're in the middle of a hurricane, yeah, there's a quiet time, but the worst is going to come. Get through it fast. Learn from it.
Through this pain, I was able to find something that I really love and that's really helping people and being an advocate for good where the voices have been silenced. When you meet with people that have been through the same thing, you have a bond, an instant bond, and you have been through something that was horrific. But you're a thriver now and you're speaking up to help other people that have been through it. And I've had many, I guess, where I'm thinking, oh, my gosh, I'm grateful that I didn't go through what they went through so you can always find the good in it. And for me, the good was I wasn't hurt physically.
I still had a roof over my head, I still had my company and I was able to pull through. And my relationship with my parents is extraordinary. I realize that family is important, but don't get sucked in by someone that's trying to be your family and they're not. One thing I learned is you don't want to compare your trauma with somebody else's. Your trauma is your trauma and it's going to affect you how it's going to affect you.
And just because somebody went through something that you might see as more extreme does not minimize the emotional and mental and psychological pain that you endured or are still enduring during your healing journey. That's true. And that has come up in our support groups. Initially when people come in and they're just angry and want to get it out, they're like, well, mine was worse than yours. Well, that's not true.
Yours was terrible for you and it's based on what were your experiences as a kid or growing up. All those things compound. And that's why we really recommend seeing a trauma therapist and figuring out what has happened in your life and how can you best recover for you, because recovery is an individual thing. Most people don't reengage in a relationship because they've shut off their heart. And you're never going to find love if you shut off your heart.
And I am very blessed. I've been married, it will be seven years in October. He supported me from the very beginning and that's what I needed. I needed a man who told me the truth on the second date about something that happened to him. Even those friends said, don't tell.
I'm like, you know what? You're the first man that has really been honest with me in two years and I fell in love with him at that moment. There is hope. You can be happy after this happens, but you got to work on yourself first. You can't take your baggage into a relationship, so know that there's joy after trauma and after an event like this.
And it doesn't define me. It just made me a better person and I try to remember that and be grateful for that every day. That's wonderful. I love it. Debbie, thank you so much for being my guest today.
It's been my pleasure, Jen. Thank you so much for having me. And thank you for helping us spread awareness of this because it's happening every day and we need to slow it down and hopefully stop it one day. Absolutely. This is Jen Lee with the I Need Blue podcast.
You can find all of my episodes on all of your favorite podcast platforms as well as my website, www.blue.net. And remember, you are stronger than you think. Until next time, thank you for listening.