CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - While millions of people celebrate love on Valentine’s Day, millions of others find themselves alone, longing for companionship. Scam artists continue to prey on lonely victims through online relationships destined to end in heartbreak.
Tricia Williamson, 60, of Hanahan is one of thousands who’ve fallen victim to this type of scam. It nearly cost her everything.
“I am embarrassed to say that I fell for the biggest scam in the world,” Williamson said.
Williamson, like so many other victims, found herself in a vulnerable position. After 36 years of marriage, her husband, Rusty passed away from cancer in 2010. Tricia struggled with being alone for several years, but a friend request on Facebook changed her life. A handsome, older man in a military uniform started messaging her through the social media site. His profile name was George Chandler AD and he told Williamson he was currently stationed in Syria.
" I have a special place in my heart for the military," Williamson said. “They’ve done so much for us.”
Williamson admits she started looking forward to the messages online and even started to have feelings for this man she’d never met. She believed those feelings were mutual.
“He had asked me to marry him and move to Georgia,” Williamson said.
As their communication grew stronger, the man told Williamson he would be coming home soon, but wanted ship a box of his personal items to her for safe keeping. After Williamson agreed, he told her he needed some money to make sure everything made it safely from Syria to the U.S. Williamson sent $3,000 to a man she believed was serving his country overseas, but that was only the beginning.
“Then it got to where it was $3,000 for this, $3,000 for the airplane flight, insurance on the box and everything,” Williamson said.
What Williamson didn’t know at the time is that the man in the picture was an imposter. The picture is actually of a retired Sgt. Major in the U.S. Army named Raymond F Chandler. Williamson was only talking to one version of the same man. A quick search on social media sites produces dozens of profiles with the same man’s picture, going by the name Raymond Chandler, Chandler Raymond, George Chandler and others.
When Williamson did begin to question his motives, this online romance took dark turn.
“He threatened me, that I had been sending him this money and I was going to be arrested for money laundering,” Williamson said. “He would say ‘They know where you live.’ Then my heart started pounding. I got scared.”
Tricia couldn’t tell anyone and she suddenly feared for her life and her family. For several months, she continued to wire money to a Wells Fargo account in Texas. She believed the payments would keep her family safe. Williamson estimates she paid $65,000.
Williamson was embarrassed and scared to tell anyone, including her family. She’d lost almost everything, including her house and family restaurant. She finally told her family and then reached out to friends and the Hanahan Police Department. While the case is being investigated locally, because it crosses state lines, detectives have reached out the FBI.
After finally filing a police report in October 2016, Williamson and her family began the process of putting her life back together. She’s hoping her story will save someone else the same kind of heartbreak.
Statistics show Williamson is far from alone when it comes to being victimized. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), tracks cyber crimes and its data shows romance scams account for some of the largest financial losses for victims. In 2017, the IC3 report shows 15,372 reports of romance scams with losses totaling $211,382,989.
This kind of imposter scam using military identities is so rampant, the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command receives hundreds of victim reports every month. The CID also has a webpage devoted to information about this type of scam.
For more on the growth of online romance scams, click here.
If you have a scam story to share, email Kyle Jordan at Scams@live5news.com.