Iowa woman tricked out of $112,000 after looking for love online

CLINTON, Iowa — A Clinton woman is out more than $100,000 because she fell in love with a man she met online who, police said took almost everything she had.

Police said 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, who WQAD named Linda to hide her identity.

"[It felt] good that someone was out there for me, that I could find somebody," Linda said.

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," Lindasaid.

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. 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," Linda said.

They were separate charges to places like Best Buy, Von Maur, Verison and Federal Express landing Linda 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," the head of Clinton County's Seniors vs. Crime unit Randy Meier said.

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," Meier said.

Broken-hearted, and flat out broke, Linda 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 said 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 said 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 said 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 said the best thing you can do if you're already in a scam is to stop sending things immediately and to contact police.

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