An 89-year-old Prescott woman was scammed out of $40,000 by a man she met online and convinced her to deposit the money in an account after striking up a romantic relationship online, the Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office said.

Sheriff’s deputies were called to the woman’s home on March 31 on a report that she had been the victim of online fraud, the Sheriff’s Office said in a press release.

The woman, who was not identified, made contact with an unknown man over the internet, which evolved into what was described by the Sheriff’s Office as a romantic online relationship. The man told the woman he worked from the United Nations as an “American General” and was trying to escape from Syria, officials said. The Sheriff’s Office did not say how the two initially connected.

In October of last year, the man started asking her for money in order to leave the country and come be with her in Prescott, the Sheriff’s Office said.

The woman complied, and began depositing thousands of dollars into specified “United Nations” bank accounts, including a $10,000 deposit in early March, and a $30,000 deposit completed on the day of the report to the Sheriff’s Office, officials said. The Sheriff’s Office was alerted to the last deposit shortly after it was made, but officials did not specify who had alerted them.

Sheriff’s investigators obtained a search warrant last Saturday and then were able to freeze the man’s account with a balance of $28,000, officials said.

The process to retrieve the remaining money from the account is underway and it will be returned to the victim, officials said. However, thousands of dollars had been withdrawn and likely will not be recovered, officials added.

Sheriff’s officials identified the fraud as a “Sweetheart Swindle,” and said the suspect’s poor grammar and spelling, common to these types of schemes, should have been a clue for the victim.

Sheriff’s officials provided some of the common methods of identifying and preventing this type of online fraud, noting that such scams target both men and women.

  • A person requests that you wire money or cash a check or money order for them.
  • An online “relationship” becomes romantic extremely quickly, with quick pronouncements of love or close friendship.
  • The person claims to be a U.S. citizen who is abroad, very wealthy, or a person of important status.
  • The person claims to be a contractor and needs your help with a business deal.
  • He or she makes excuses about not being able to speak by phone or meet in person.
  • The suitor quickly asks you to communicate via email, instant messaging, or text messaging instead of the online dating sites’ messaging services.
  • They claim to be American, but make frequent spelling or grammar mistakes that a native English speaker would not make.

The Yavapai County Sheriff’s Office advised that family members help monitor an elderly family member’s bank accounts, email and regular mail, as well as telephone calls if they suspect their loved one may be susceptible to such fraud. Officials said they previously had been notified by family members in other similar cases and were able to prevent the fraud.

Read or Share this story: