A 70-year-old woman from Coeur d’Alene in Idaho who had fallen for a romance scam was kidnapped by the men who had “catfished” her and has now died shortly after being able to return home, according to her family.
Diane Webb had been introduced to dating apps three years ago by her granddaughter, the family told Spokane, Washington, TV station KHQ-TV, thinking the woman might find a spouse after being single for 40 years.
The idea initially seemed to prove successful, as Webb fell in love with a man named Michael, whom she met on an unidentified dating app.
Michael—who the family now knows wasn’t a real person, but a fake profile created to trick women looking for love and companionship—was said to be based in Nigeria, so for three years the two did not meet in person.
But in three years of talking, Webb’s family told KHQ-TV that the man would often ask the woman for money, for a variety of reasons that are often brought up by romance scammers —which usually range from paying for health fees resulting from a sudden incident to asking for support to afford a plane ticket.
According to Webb’s daughter Monica Grimm, Michael had often told Webb he would come visit in Idaho, but “on the day he was supposed to show up he would tell her ‘I’m at the airport, but I don’t have money to get to you. Could you just give me a little?’ He was in Africa the whole time,” the woman told KHQ-TV.
Eventually, Michael convinced Webb to distance herself from her family, telling her they didn’t value her as much as he did. According to the woman’s family, Webb turned her back on her relatives and even sold her home under the pressing requests of Michael.
Then in March this year, according to the family, Webb traveled to Nigeria to meet Michael, aiming to stay for three months. But instead, the woman was held captive by the same men who had catfished her, was physically and mentally abused and fed only potatoes and beer, until July.
Catfishing is when a fraudster creates a false personal profile online to trick someone.
On July 9, Spokane Airport security called Webb’s family and told them that the woman was back home after one of her captors, whom she had befriended, bought her a ticket back to the U.S.
“He felt bad for my mom being 70 and as sick [as] she was. He told her I’m getting you a ticket and sending you back home,” Webb’s daughter Melinda Thomas told KHQ-TV.
But Webb’s return home was no happy ending to a frightful story, as the woman has recently passed away due to malnutrition.
Newsweek has tried to contact the FBI for comment.
Though Webb’s story is an extreme example of the consequences of romance scams on the lives of those who fall prey to them, thousands of people report cases of catfishing and dating scams every year.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, reports of romance fraud hit record highs in 2021, with median individual losses at $2,400.
Between 2017 and 2021, people have reported losing $1.3 billion in total to dating scams.
The FBI recommends the following tips to avoid being scammed while dating online:
– Research the person’s photo and profile online to see if their details match elsewhere;
– Go slowly and ask lots of questions;
– Watch out for people asking immediately to take it off the dating app and use other means of communication;
– Beware of any attempt by the person to isolate you from friends and family, request inappropriate photos or your financial information;
– If the person always promises to meet in person but then never does, coming up with some excuse why they can’t, that’s a red flag you should take note of;
– Never send money to anyone you have not met in real life.