A 69-year-old woman from California thought she had met the man of her dreams and was even planning to marry him until she found out her future husband was a 26-year-old scammer from Nigeria.
Laura Francis told that a man named David Hodge contacted her on Facebook. The man told her he was a military surgeon on a secret mission for the marines in North Korea to help soldiers injured by explosives during the war.
He had told her that his ex-wife had cheated on him and after being in a relationship with a younger woman he was looking for someone more mature. Francis would spend the next few months getting to know this mystery man via text messages and Google Hangouts.
She described him as charming, handsome and romantic. He sent her love letters daily and sang her love songs. When he told her he was falling in love with her, Francis, who was never married, was soon smitten and even spent $10,000 on cool sculpting procedures so she could look as beautiful as possible for her new love.
A few weeks into their love affair, Hodge asked Francis for money. He told her he didn’t have access to his accounts but assured her that once he was off duty he would pay her “every penny” back. He instructed them to send the money through Bitcoin apps – Coin Base and Coin Could Bitcoin ATMs.
“These guys have turned that into a science… they’re good. They use all these scripts to scam women. I’m not a stupid person, but I did something stupid. I was naive and vulnerable’
Francis thought she was speaking to David Hodge (pictured) but she was actually speaking to a 26-year-old scammer from Nigeria. (Note: These are NOT the scammers and these are stolen photos used by the scammers.)
The first time it was $5,500 for a new iPhone. He told her that he had lost his cell phone during one of his undercover missions. While waiting for his new phone to arrive, he asked her to send another $7,000 so he could talk to her on his friends’ phones until his new phone arrived.
The money she sent was part of her daughter’s inheritance. When she voiced her doubts and began to question his intentions, he sent her a bank statement from an Ohio bank showing he had a $3 million balance — which had a Chase Bank PO Box. He also showed her a Marine employment contract and his passport, which she shared with .
When Hodge told her he was falling in love with her and wanted to get married, Francis felt the butterflies too.
He told her he could get an engagement ring through a military program. Part of the process was proving he had a fiancée, which in turn would allow him to be released from his three-year military contract. All that was needed on her part was the $42,568 that would cover the cost of the ring.
After the money was sent, she received a letter from the ring appraiser and eagerly awaited the ring, but the day the package arrived in the box was a sticky cubic zirconia ring with a $9.99 price tag, not the Hodge -picked out a princess-cut diamond.
Francis sent Hodge over $42,000 for a diamond engagement ring, and he returned her a $10 faux diamond ring that still had the price tag on it when it arrived
When Francis confronted Hodge about the ring, he told her that something had gone wrong and that he would fix it.
“I wanted to believe all that shit,” she said. He told me “how much he loved me and how lucky he was to have me in his life,” she said. ‘I believed in him.’
Francis told that she did not share their romance with any of her friends or family as she said Hodge encouraged her to wait until they were able to share the happy news of their engagement together.
The daughter of Francis, who was skeptical about her mother’s new love interest – unaware her mother had already sent her new friend thousands – encouraged her to join the Plenty of Fish page.
As she did so, she soon met another handsome stranger, Robert Manguire.
Francis saw on his profile that the man was an oil rig operator and lived in Los Angeles, not far from where they lived – and was intrigued – only to learn he was from Louisiana.
As the couple began to speak more frequently, Francis Manguire said that she was in love with another man but suspected he was lying to her.
Manguire told Francis he could help her sort this out as he had the ability to hack into computers and warned Francis that the person she was in love with was cheating on her. David Hodge really was a man named Dom.
“I felt like I could trust Robert because he was the one who told me that David Hodge is really Dom,” she said. “I told him how much I spent.”
“I did what Robert told me to do. I blocked David and reported his account and then shut it down,” she said.
Manguire then told Francis that he contacted the military where Hodge was stationed to alert them that Hodge was sharing inside information.
When Francis found out that the man she wanted to marry was arrested for espionage and being a spy, she was furious and raised nearly $60,000 to ransom him.
Meanwhile, Manguire Francis said he could help her get her money back from the blockchain, but she would need to deposit funds into a bitcoin account.
“He showed me all the screenshots of the money he got back. He made me run back and forth. I gave him more and more money to get all the money out of the account – $159,400 in total.”
Just as Francis was about to get the money back, she said Manguire had been missing for several hours.
She later learned the ugly truth that she was the victim of an online cryptocurrency scam by two different scammers who lost a staggering $250,000.
“It was all a lie,” she said. “They worked together. They put the whole scam together from the start.’
She added: “It’s really painful because I really cared about the guy. I was in love with David and I was devastated.’
Catfishing is a fraudulent activity in which an individual creates a false identity on a social networking platform to lure an individual into a relationship, primarily for financial gain.
Social Catfish told the photos of the two men were unrelated to the scam. Her pictures were stolen by the scammers and used to fool people online.
When tried to reach both men – whose photos were stolen – their attempts were unsuccessful as their accounts are now private.
Francis said all money exchanged is bitcoin. “The money is mixed into different bitcoin wallets. One reason they use bitcoin is because it can’t be traced,” she said, “but it turns out it can be traced.
She told she is now working with Social Catfish and is trying to get back some of the lost money, which is in touch with the Nigerian government.
“These guys have turned that into a science… they’re good. They use all these scripts to scam women. I’m not a stupid person, but I did something stupid. I was naive and vulnerable.”
Laura Francis told that she met a man named David Hodge on Facebook. The man told her he was in the military and on an undercover mission for the Marines in North Korea. Francis spent nearly $90,000 before learning she was the victim of a romance scam
A 39-page guide “How to make a white woman fall in love online chat” provided by Social Catfish
Francis and her apparent lover would spend hours a day texting each other. The love scam lasted almost 14 months
The alleged scammer also sent Francis his passport with his name and photo ID
Francis received this “faux” letter from Hodge stating that he was a military surgeon
A bank statement that Hodge sent Francis shows he had money in his account
When Francis suspected he might be cheating on her, he sent her photos of himself with the note: “I love you Laura and I’m not a cheat. I’m Davidson Hodge’ (Note: These are not the scammers and these are stolen photos used by the scammers)
When Francis saw Hodge arrested for espionage, she sent nearly $50,000 for his release. The romance scammers appear to have photoshopped the photo of Hodge in the image (note: these are not the scammers and are stolen photos used by the scammers).
Romance scams in the United States skyrocketed from 2017 to 2021
Francis met Robert Manguire, whose profile said the man was an oil rig executive and lived in Los Angeles, not far from where she lived – and was intrigued – only to learn he was from Louisiana. As the couple began to speak more frequently, Francis Manguire said that she was in love with another man but suspected he was lying to her (Note: these are not the scammers and are stolen photos used by the scammers) .
Romance scams are becoming more prevalent, with a staggering $547 million in losses to scammers in 2021 – up from $304 million in 2019 – and that number is expected to rise around Valentine’s Day, a propitious time for scammers to trade Dating apps and social media in search of solitude are swamping singles looking for love and connection.
Social Catfish, a company that verifies online identities with reverse image search, said Francis’ story was not unusual.
Top 3 Signs You’re Being Catfished and How to Avoid It:
1) They seem too good to be true: scammers steal photos of very attractive and successful looking people and create fake online accounts to lure you.
When a handsome billionaire or a gorgeous model suddenly falls into your lap, you should approach them with healthy skepticism.
Fairy tales happen, but why not do a few simple checks?
How to avoid: Do a reverse image search to see if their image matches their name. If the photo is used on many dating apps with different names, it is a scam.
2) They fall in love without even meeting you: No matter how strong your online chatting game is, it is unlikely that anyone will actually fall in love without spending time with you.
To find out for sure, you need to take the relationship to the next level through video chats and face-to-face meetings.
Scammers find reasons why they can’t either.
How to Avoid: Stop communicating with anyone who will not meet or video chat in a reasonable time.
3) You’re asking for money, crypto, or gift cards: The biggest red flag of all is when a person you’ve never met starts asking for money.
Common reasons are bank account issues, medical emergencies, or they need the money to come to you.
Scammers like to be paid with gift cards or Bitcoin, as this is more difficult for authorities to trace.
How to avoid it: This one is easy and foolproof. Never give money to anyone you meet online.
*Source: Social Catfish
“Once money has been sent, it’s often extremely difficult to get it back,” Social Catfish President David McClellan told . “The only option is to either ask these institutions to either reverse the crypto exchanges to return funds, or involve law enforcement or an attorney.”
McClellan said his company is working with the Nigerian government on Francis’ case. “We have contacts in Nigeria – the ESCC, similar to the CIA or the FBI – who are in charge of financial crimes in Nigeria and are actively working on this case.”
The fact that Francis spent much of the money through Coin Cloud, a crypto ATM, said they were able to trace the crypto transaction back to the exchanges. One such exchange was NairaEx, a leading Nigerian crypto exchange.
“Any time we can withdraw funds to an exchange, we can involve law enforcement and file the KYC (Know Your Customer) request to find out who owns the account, and that’s exactly what we’ve done.”
Once the KYC request was made, they were able to trace it back to Nigeria and found more crypto wallets with money still in them.
“That’s really good news if we actually put it down to an exchange,” he said.
No arrests have been made, but the person(s) who scammed Francis have stopped using the crypto accounts.
The company also said it was only able to track an IP address in this case and was unable to verify if another scammer was involved in this particular case.
Because most scam victims don’t get their money, McClellan said Social Catfish is trying to work with law enforcement and law firms to change that.
“If you really think about it, these people are either sending remittances or cryptos or gift cards so these things can be traced,” he said.
Nigeria and Ghana are two of the most prevalent areas where scams like Francis’s originated. The Philippines and Russia are also “hubs for this type of scam,” McClellan points out.
The person’s IP address is how it traces their origin. And over the past three years, these types of fraud have increased by hundreds of thousands, he said.
“Education is super, super important and a huge part of stopping this,” he said. “And every time we think we’ve got a crazy story … next week we’ve got a crazier one … it’s just crazy.”
McClellan said one of the people trying to stop these scams is a reformed Nigerian scammer named Chris.
Chris stole $30,000 from a woman in a love scam. After Social Catfish identified him, he agreed to work with the company. He is now working on the ground in Nigeria to help Social Catfish penetrate the criminal organizations in Nigeria.
The reformed romance scammer grew up poor in Nigeria and cheating was one of the only options he had.
Many of these scammers call their victims their “customers,” McClellan said.
‘It’s really sad. “There’s so much corruption … there’s so much happening that people feel like they’re on their own,” he said.
“Even if you go and work, that doesn’t mean you can get paid … even if you work for the government.”
Your company is now in the development phase of developing software to help law enforcement catch these suspected scammers.
The most common forms of payment for romance scams are wire transfers and apps, including Venmo, The Daily Beast reported.
However, according to a report by Privacy Affairs, bitcoin (70%), tether (10%) and ether (9%) were the most commonly used by scammers.
The most popular social media platforms for crypto scams are Instagram (32%), Facebook (26%), WhatsApp (9%) and Telegram (7%).
Since 2021, most reported crypto scams and losses started with a message, post, or ad on a social media platform.
According to Social Catfish, as of the latest FBI and FTC date released in 2022, the five most “fished” states are California (3,023 victims lost $184 million); Florida (1,738 victims lost $70.4 million); Texas (1,752 casualties lost $65.4 million); New York (1,168 victims lost $57.6 million) and Washington (657 victims lost $32 million).
McCllelan said he hopes some of Francis’ money will be recovered, but how much of the $250,000, he said, “is hard to say.”
Francis is now sharing her story with others, telling them what to look for in the red flags and not to be a victim like she was, many are from the Facebook page Scam Haters United.
“My mission is to help others not fall into this trap,” she said.
She made a list of warnings to look out for and shares these tips with many other victims she encounters.
Red flags scammers should watch out for, says romance scam victim Laura Francis
* Often they use two fist names – i.e. Michael David, Sonia Sue, Leonard Robert etc.
* Your grammar is not proper English – and the accent is NOT that of a US born person
* They will comment on a post you have saying they would like to meet you and ask you to friend them
* You will be very charming and caring. Talk a lot of sweet talk, almost “too good to be true!”
* You will ask many times if you have eaten today
* They usually call you in the middle of the night
*They have lengthy stories about why they can’t access your money but ALWAYS promise to pay you back even though they have NO intention of doing so
* They send fake and photoshopped documents, passports, military ID cards and contracts
* They profess their love for you within a month to 6 weeks and ask why you think you don’t deserve to be loved
* Many or MOST of them are doctors, surgeons and drillers
*They are never in the US for some reason and most of them say they are in the military in another country but are a US citizen (all lies)
* They send cute poems and sayings and always say good morning and send a cute photo or saying
* They ALWAYS use stolen photos of handsome men or beautiful women
* They always want to transfer you from the platform they meet you on to Google Hangouts, Google Chat or WhatsApp – where the conversations are encrypted
* They tell you that they have a lot of money and send you fake bank accounts