A Largo, Florida, senior is "almost penniless" after a con artist posing as an online love interest reportedly swindled her out of $185,000.
Catherine Short, 71, met the man on the dating site ChristianMingle.com and carried out a months-long courtship with him, according to a Nov. 13 report by Fox 13 in Tampa.
"He said he was a widow, and that he lost his wife and he was looking for someone to build another life with," Short told the TV station.
After earning Short's trust, the man started asking for favors -- initially, he told her he needed gadgets like computers and phones to donate to underprivileged children in Africa, then upped the ante when he asked Short to send him money for what he said was an outstanding hospital bill in Panama.
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Short ignored warnings from her relatives, who told her she was being scammed.
"I sold my house in Largo and sent every penny of it to him" to help him pay the claimed hospital bill, Short said. "I am financially ruined."
Con artists target senior citizens in particular for several reasons, according to the FBI: They're more likely to have "nest eggs" for retirement and solid credit, and they were raised at a time when people were generally more polite and trusting.
"Con artists exploit these traits, knowing that it is difficult or impossible for these individuals to say 'no' or just hang up the telephone," the bureau explains in a guide about common fraud targets.
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Seniors are also less likely to report fraud to the police. While they may be ashamed at being swindled, they may also be hesitant to go to the police because "relatives may think the victims no longer have the mental capacity to take care of their own financial affairs," according to the FBI.
As for the con artists, they're often based abroad, beyond the reach of American law enforcement agencies.
"Statistically in these types of scams, we have a low rate of identifying the suspect. It's very, very difficult." Sgt. John Spoor, financial crimes supervisor at the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, told Fox13.
Short told the TV station that she decided to go public with her story so that others aren't taken in by similar scams.
"I don't want somebody to go through what I'm going through, which is a nightmare," she said.