RANKIN COUNTY, Miss. —
The widow of a local news icon has a warning about online dating.
It’s been two years since 16 WAPT’s Bert Case passed away. His widow, Mary Wieden Case, is ready to start a new chapter in her life, but she recently found herself the target of two different catfish scammers in one month.
“I haven’t dated since forever. The last person I ever dated was Bert,” she said.
Mary was a news anchor at 16 WAPT when she met Bert in 1980. The couple was married for 32 years when he died in 2016. Now, a little more than two years later, Mary finally feels like she’s ready to meet someone special.
“Bert would be proud of me for getting out there too,” Mary said. “I mean, he wouldn’t want me to sit around, not that I ever do, but you know, he just wouldn’t want that.”
Mary downloaded a dating app.
“So, I thought, ‘OK, I would like to see if I could find someone to take me out to Easter brunch,” Mary said.
Almost immediately, she met a handsome man online.
“Who I call Beautiful Man,” Mary said.
He said he lived in Missouri. They emailed back and forth for several days, but he didn’t want to talk to Mary on the phone or do FaceTime. A Google image search of the man’s photos revealed why.
“It was not a guy in Missouri, but rather an accomplished professional photographer in Portugal. But the man in Missouri was posting this guy’s picture,” Mary said.
Mary cut off contact with “Beautiful Man,” who wasn’t who he claimed to be. Pretty soon, a second man from the dating app started emailing her.
“Nice-looking guy, seemed real solid, lived in Madison and is an industrial engineer,” Mary said.
He told Mary he was from Sweden, a widower and lives nearby. He emailed back and forth with Mary for a couple of weeks, but was too shy to set up a date or even call her.
“I’m thinking, ‘This all doesn’t smell right,’” Mary said.
But he wasn’t too shy to ask her in an email if she had money.
“He wanted to know, ‘Was I financially needy, comfortable or blessed,’” Mary said.
A Google image search of his pictures turned up nothing. She took her curiosity a step further.
“I spent an evening looking through the tax rolls in Madison County and didn’t find him, so, I sent him an email and said, ‘Who are you? There’s no record of you,’” Mary said.
That email seemingly angered the man. He called Mary in the middle of the night to confront her about her search.
“I remember saying, ‘That doesn’t sound like a Swedish accent to me.’ ‘Click’ goes the phone,” she said.
Soon after, he sent Mary another message. He claimed to be on a business trip in Turkey and needed her help.
“’Darling, I really need your help, my dear. My computer is broken and I can’t get one in Turkey and their stuff doesn’t work with my hard drive,’” the man said in the message.
He asked Mary to go to the Apple store, buy an iPad and computer and ship it to him in Turkey.
“So, I go to the Apple store and I go, ‘This isn’t quite right.’ And the guy goes, ‘Yeah, you’re being scammed,’” Mary said.
Mary is certain the two men were catfishing her. A catfish is someone who lies about their true identity online, deceiving others and sometimes scamming them out of money. It’s a crime that can be difficult to prosecute.
“They do a lot of things to mask their IP address to hide who they are. It takes oftentimes, a long period of time and a lot of investigative resources to locate these guys,” Jay Houston, lead cybercrime investigator with the Attorney General’s Office, said.
Cybercrime investigators said catfish target everyone, regardless of age or gender, and they warned people to be suspicious of everyone they meet online.
“If it seems too good to be true, it is,” Houston said.
“Be very skeptical and for God’s sake, don’t ever give a cent to anybody,” Mary said.
The ordeal has not spoiled Mary’s hopes of meeting someone special.
“When it happens, it happens. If it does, it does. I hope it does. Just because it’s natural. Some people want to sit around by themselves and mope. I don’t,” she said.
Investigators said scams carried out by catfish are underreported because the victims are too embarrassed to talk about it. Investigators with the AG’s office said if anyone thinks they’re being catfished, they should report it to the social media app they’re using.