NBC26 Special Report: Catfishing
Photo: Video by nbc26.com
NEENAH, WI--It's called "Catfishing." When a scammer fakes an identity online to reel you into a relationship. Notre Dame football star Manti Teo's catfish scandal might be the most famous one, but it happens more often than you may think.
A new report by Glamour Magazine reveals one in 10 online dating profiles is fake, and it's more than lying about a few pounds. A con artist steals a picture from Facebook or another site and uses it to target unsuspecting people looking for love.
We talked to one Neenah mom who was duped into thinking she was dating a U.S. soldier for more than a year.
"When you want something bad enough, anything will sound good. So you kind of just let all the little red flags fall off to the side" said Carol.
To protect her identity, Carol, as we'll call her, still gets emotional when she remembers falling into the trap and in love with a fake personality.
"For you to sucker and prey on women who have such a desire to be loved and wanted and needed..." said Carol.
Like so many single moms, Carol struggled to meet someone and turned to the Internet to find love. She started dating online.
"I really wanted someone to love me as much as I felt I had so much love to give" said Carol.
That's how she met the man who called himself "John Dauser" on the dating site "Are You Interested". Photos were used by the scammer to portray an American solider fighting in Afghanistan. And the scammer knew exactly how to pull Carol in.
"There were the I love you's...And the I miss you's and the I think about you all the time," said Carol.
Their relationship evolved to chatting every day.
"I thought well this is great , he'll come back we're going to start a family together and he'll come here and live. I thought everything was going to be great," said Carol.
Carol was in love. And when "Dauser" asked her to wire him money, she did. She still has the Western Union documents to prove it. She lost thousands of dollars.
But he asked Carol to wire it to someone with a foreign name and she got suspicious. She realized his emails were in broken english, he refused to video chat her, and he kept asking for more cash.
"Something is just not adding up," said Carol.
Then, came the phone call.
"The call was like a boulder hit me," said Carol.
Carol was speechless when the man on the other end of the line spoke to her in what she remembers as a thick Middle Eastern accent. The voice didn't match his descriptions on his profile or his photos.
"I was driving down 41, and I had this horrible pit in my stomach" said Carol.
Carol cut all ties, heartbroken. She's one thousands of victims of one of the most common online dating scams. And U.S. Army Master Sergeant C.J. Grisham knows what it's like to be a victim too. He found his picture atached to a fake profile.
"So I clicked on the link and there's my pictures on there and my name and it had the right name, but everything about it was wrong," said Grisham.
Now, Grisham is the author of " A Soldier's Perspective". It's a blog, full of soldier photos that have been used in dating scams. It serves as a warning to both women and real soldiers.
"They ask you to wire them money. Soldiers don't have access to Western Union and Money Gram in Afghanistan," said Grisham.
The U.S. Army just posted another nationwide alert to be on the look out for cyber crooks posing as combat solidiers overseas.
As for Caro, she says she's learned her lesson. And there's a happy ending to her story.
"I met someone online but I have actually met this person in person. And he's wonderful," said Carol.
If you've been scammed, there may be no way for you to get your money back. Carol reported it to the FBI, but never got hers back The FBI investigates some of these cases, and you're encouraged to file a complaint through the Internet Crime Complaint Center.