CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) – A North Carolina man’s family is searching for answers and justice after he died in Mexico months after moving there for what his family says was a romance scam.
Frank Mazziotti’s mother got a late-night call in August from her 44-year-old son’s new wife in Mexico. The call was devastating news. Frank killed himself, his mother was told.
“I said, ‘No. What are you talking about?’ And I just kind of went all to pieces when I realized she was being serious,“ Frank’s mother, Louise Mazziotti, recalled.
Frank and his new wife, from Mexico, were married a year before that phone call after meeting on an app called Clubhouse.
“I know he loved languages. And he spoke Spanish fluently in French and Italian, and so he loved to talk to people in different languages,” Louise said. “So, he got on that app and met Lucia. And there was like a fast romance.”
He divorced his wife of 11 years, paused his local business, sold his home, and made plans to move to Mexico.
“The whole thing was troubling to me. I didn’t want him to go. I tried to get him to rethink and give himself time,” Louise said. “I said, ‘Frankie, I have a bad feeling about this.’ I said, ‘I don’t think you should do this; I think you should give yourself time to decide what to do.’ And he said, ‘Well, she keeps telling me how much she loves me and how much she can’t live without me.’”
Frank’s older brother said he believes he uprooted his life for love.
“He went down there for love. He ended up being killed,” said Frank’s older brother, Michael Godfrey.
The family started making plans to go to Mexico to bury Frank, but the U.S. Embassy urged them not to make the trip. Louise said the embassy told her it was too dangerous.
The U.S. State Department classifies the state of Tamaulipas and the city of Matamoros, where Frank died, as a ‘do not travel to’ – citing crime and kidnapping risks.
Not only could the family not go to Mexico, but they learned Frank’s body had already been cremated, despite a law that should have prevented exactly that.
Mexican law says a body cannot be cremated for a year, a law that was not enforced in Frank’s case.
The details of Frank’s death continue to prove difficult to track down.
The U.S. Consulate in Matamoros reports the prosecutor’s office in Mexico concluded his death was a suicide. They cite findings of chemicals on his right hand showing it had been used to discharge a firearm and an entrance wound on the right side of his head.
However, the Consular Report of Death Abroad lists Frank’s death as an “accidental or violent death.”
“It was horrible to try to look at those pictures that I saw of him. But the way the blood splatters and all that, there’s no way he killed himself,” Louise said, “That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done is look at my son like that.”
His brother agrees.
“I think he was led to believe something that wasn’t really true to the heart. And she took his heart,” Godfrey said tearfully.
While the mystery of how he died may never be solved, the family believes Frank is the victim of a romance scam. They hope Frank’s story is a reminder to be cautious of who you meet online.
It is a type of scam that the U.S. State Department told WBTV is prevalent in Mexico.
“Just realize that there’s so many scams being perpetrated that the odds are not in your favor, that this is going to be a legitimate interaction,” explained Identity Theft Resource Center President and CEO Eva Valesquez.
If you do decide to travel to meet someone you met online, the Identity Theft Resource Center recommends approaching it as if you are meeting a stranger.
“Think about all that goes into traveling to a foreign country and filling out all of the paperwork. Perhaps you get a guide; you make sure that you know that you’re in an area that is safe. You’re putting all of this research and effort in,” explained Valesquez. “But I think what people think is, ‘Oh, I know someone who lives there. Therefore, I don’t have to look at all that.’”
Valesquez emphasized it is critical to treat online relationships with as much, if not more, scrutiny than in-person relationships.
“I wish they understood how it can derail their entire lives again, not just their finances,” said Valesquez. “When it comes to these one-on-one, relationship, and romance scams, the only person that can save you is you, and the only person that can protect you from them is you.”
The Identity Theft Resource Center, which the Department of Justice funds, sees romance scams as the biggest non-violent crime crisis in the United States in 2023. The Center said the younger generation is often the victim.
“I know plenty of young people—–I have children that fall into this category—who they feel a digital-only relationship has just as much level of importance and just as much weight and trust as one where they are interacting face-to-face,” explained Valesquez. “And I am not going to dismiss those relationships and say they’re less valuable, but I am going to say that I would proceed with caution.”
If you or someone you love has been a scam victim, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center via their phone number, (888) 400-5530, or through their live chat.
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