A dating site scammer is facing up to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to swindling £2.2 million ($2.8 million) from a Holocaust survivor.
Peaches Stergo, 36, “lived a life of luxury” thanks to the enormous cash sum she scammed out of the 87-year-old.
The pair met on a dating site in 2017, with Stergo urging her victim to wire substantial sums each month, claiming her bank account would be frozen otherwise.
Records show the pensioner sent as much as £40,247 ($50,000) a month and signed off 62 cheques to the woman in four and a half years.
Authorities showed Stergo, who lives in the US state of Florida, used the money to buy designer clothes, a boat and multiple cars, including a corvette.
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Stergo initially asked for financial support citing the need to pay a lawyer in order to have funds from an injury settlement released, investigators said.
But according to the indictment, the funds never existed and she consistently demanded increasing sums from her victim.
Court filings also show Stergo impersonated a TD bank employee and faked bank statements to support her claims and trick the elderly man. She has pleaded guilty to one count of wire fraud.
It carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison and, in connection with the guilty plea, Stergo agreed to pay back £2,278,208 ($2,830,775), along with over 100 luxury items she purchased, including Rolex watches, designer purses, clothing, and large amounts of gold and jewelry.
US Attorney Damian Williams slammed her actions. He said: “This conduct is sick – and sad.
“Using the millions in fraud proceeds, Stergo lived a life of luxury, purchasing a home in a gated community and a Corvette, taking vacations at hotels like the Ritz-Carlton, and buying thousands in designer clothing, while at the same time causing her elderly victim to lose his apartment.”
Experts warn romance fraud crimes are on the rise across the United States but are preventable.
According to consumer group Comparitech, over 73,000 Americans were scammed for an estimated £805 million ($1 billion) in 2022.
AARP Florida representative Karen Murillo said isolation remains a key factor among those targeted in romance scams.
She told Fox 35 Orlando: “The first step is always having that open line of communication and maintaining that relationship with family members because isolation, both real and perceived are really a first factor or a warning sign in it and of itself.
“There’s typically a sense of urgency and some reason why the money chain has to continue.”
Silver Law Group managing director Scott Silver urged potential victims to watch out for “red flags”, including demands to invest further funds to have earlier loans returned.
Silver also urged people feeling they are being taken advantage of to speak out and trust their instincts.
He said: “If they’re being told the only way to get their money back is by investing additional funds, that’s a huge red flag.
“Don’t be afraid to speak up if you’re worried that somebody is taking advantage of you.
“And if something doesn’t make sense, respect your own spidey senses – speak up, speak to family members. There’s a lot of resources out there.”
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