An elderly widow has spoken out to warn people over the dangers of ‘romance scammers’ after losing over $70,000 a man who convinced her they would start a new life together.
Jennifer Dennis, 76, from Georgia, wired her life savings to ‘Caleb’, a man she met online posing as a Red Cross doctor, in hopes of buying a house with him in North Carolina.
The fraudster led her to believe he was working in Yemen and wanted to live with her on his return, fostering her trust through months of messages where she even told him he was her ‘dream come true.’
But the pensioner’s dream rapidly turned into a nightmare after she sent the money, plus $8700 for expenses, only to discover the house she thought she was securing was never up to sale, and her online partner was a swindler.
‘I’m out all that money and I don’t think I’ll ever get it back,’ she told ABC11. ‘At 76, I don’t have a whole lot of future.’
Jennifer Dennis, 76, said she was swept off her feet after looking for companionship on Facebook, and wired her life savings to a man posing as a doctor that she had never met
The pensioner met ‘Caleb’ online, who claimed to be a surgeon in Yemen working for the Red Cross who convinced her he wanted to start a new life in North Carolina upon his return
In heartbreaking messages, Dennis shared her excitement at the prospect of living with the con man in Cary, North Carolina, and left her family home in Georgia after wiring over $70,000 for a new home
Romance scams targeted upwards of 70,000 people in 2022, costing victims a staggering total of $1.3 billion, according to the FTC.
Dennis said she was open to the con man’s advances after meeting him on Facebook because of the pain of losing her husband of 33 years, saying: ‘Everything about the house and the area reminded me of my husband, which was just heartbreaking.’
In a GoFundMe she has set up after being defrauded, Dennis said she initially looked online for companionship, ‘to be able to talk, to share how our days were going, things like that.’
She says that ‘Caleb’ allowed her to let her guard down and claimed that he was a widower as well, building her excitement over a potential new relationship.
‘He was coming back to the states real soon, and he was wanting to settle in a new area because he had lost his wife,’ she recalled.
He proposed they buy a house together in Cary, North Carolina, in a deal that would see the ‘doctor’ pay $600,000 towards the property and she would pay the remaining $70,000.
She said she is still bemused how she fell for the con, admitting that ‘it all looked legitimate’ to her.
Messages between Dennis and the scammer, she told him she felt ‘so much joy in my heart to have a home with the love of my life.’
In others, she admitted she is ‘not very savvy about computers’, but told him: ‘You are all I want too. I want to see your happy face.’
The whirlwind romance swept Dennis off her feet, and she and her son Raymond packed up all their belongings and drove to their new home.
But as soon as they reached their destination, the duo were floored to find out that the home she had paid for was not even on the real estate market, and it quickly dawned on the 76-year-old she had been fleeced.
‘When I noticed that someone was still living in the house and knocked on the door, I automatically knew that it was a scam,’ Raymond added.
The widow’s son Raymond, who packed up and moved with his mother, said it quickly dawned on them that they had been conned when they arrived at their ‘new home’ to find it was not even up for sale
In messages before she realized she had been conned, Dennis told the scammer how excited she was to start the next chapter of their lives together
After contacting the swindler, he initially told Dennis he had been beaten up, before all contact ceased
After realizing the house as not up for sale, Dennis told the man: ‘I’m living in my car now. January is really cold at night. You have abandoned me?’
After reality set in, Dennis told ‘Caleb’ he was ‘an evil man’ for what he did to her, adding: ‘What goes around comes around. Karma’
Dennis said the lies continued when she contacted her ‘partner’, saying: ‘He sent me a picture of him – (he had) supposedly been beat up.’
‘That was the last time I heard from him,’ she added. ‘We didn’t have any place to go. We ended up in our car sleeping.’
In heartbreaking messages after the romance scammer ceased all contact, Dennis told the man: ‘I’m living in my car now. January is really cold at night. You have abandoned me?’
In follow up texts after reality set in, Dennis told ‘Caleb’ he was ‘an evil man’ for what he did to her. ‘What goes around comes around. Karma,’ she added.
With nowhere to live, a generous local from their church gave them a camper to live in, but Dennis is now left to deal with losing her life savings and the humiliation of being conned through her emotions.
‘I think that it’s devastating for me, but I have my son, which has been a blessing,’ she said.
‘Some women are totally alone and they get scammed like that.’
She said she has now contacted the FBI, and admits she has little hope of recovering her money.
In her fundraiser, Dennis said the loss of her family home in Georgia has been devastating, adding: ‘I know I made the mistake of trusting someone, but now I have no home, no life savings, and I am living in a strange city.
‘I think that if I can just get an apartment and a little help getting back on my feet, I know I’ll be okay.’