HOUSTON - When she met the man of her dreams on an online dating site, she thought it was a love that would never end.
“I believed that I found my soulmate,” said Jean, a 55-year-old grandmother and divorcee.
Jean began communicating with a man named David Gold and she believed her prayers of finding true love had been answered. Gold said he was a widower raising his teen son on his own.
“I finally found my other half that's really going to treat me (right and appreciate me) for who I am. (A man) who's gonna love me,” Jean said.
She dreamed of a future with Gold and his young son, Richard, which included the promise of a luxury home in the Houston area, along with millions of dollars.
“He got paid for his job and it's over $4 million," Jean said. "He wanted to put it in my account just in case something happened to him that me and Richard, his son,would be taken care of.”
The truth is, the man claiming to be David Gold is a fraud. David Gold doesn't exist and neither does his son Richard.
There's a Houston twist to this scam, which caught everyone at KPRC off guard.
The man claiming to be David Gold is actually a scammer using our Frank Billingsley's photos to create a fake online identity.
Exposing a romance scammer
Jean's son actually helped unravel the scam by doing a reverse image search of Billingsley's picture, which had been sent to Jean by the scammer. One of the many images the scammer had sent to Jean was Billingsley's professional KPRC headshot.
“Once I saw the news reporter -- the weatherman -- I couldn't believe it," Jean's son said. "I ran downstairs with my laptop and showed my mom. I was like, 'Look mom, this is the guy you've been talking to and it's been faked the whole time.'”
The duo reached out to Billingsley to ask him if he was actually the person who had been talking to Jean online. By the time they found out David Gold was a fake, Jean had already been scammed out of thousands.
“I get this email from this woman asking if I'd been talking to her online, weirdly, on my anniversary -- on 12/12 last year," Billingsley said. "I said, ‘No, that's not me.’ She said, 'Thank you for answering me. I've been scammed for everything. I have nothing left.'"
Billingsley said he's been contacted before about someone using his images online, but this one was different, since Jean had lost her life savings as a result.
“It’s sad and a little frightening when anybody can grab your pictures and start creating a whole other life out there, using your identity,” Billingsley said.
How the scam unfolded
Remember the millions the man pretending to be David Gold promised Jean?
Well, in order to get that money, Jean was told she had to pay $40,000 in service fees.
After the man claiming to be Gold sent Jean the bank form showing he was going to allegedly send her over $4 million, she soon received correspondence from someone posing as a manager of the bank where Gold’s money was purportedly being held.
“I got a nasty email from a bank manager saying that David can only pay $10,000 but we owe $40,000," Jean said. "But David only had $10,000, so I needed to come up with the difference for them to release the money into my account."
Recognizing the signs of romance fraud
Jean's son said looking back, there were signs he wants other sons and daughters to watch out for to help keep their aging parents protected.
The first tip was the long romantic emails his mother received from the man pretending to be David Gold.
“It was just like paragraph after paragraph of some petty love novel -- something you would read in a book -- just dramatic," Jean's son said. "It just seemed too fake.”
Another thing that tipped him off to the fraud was the bad grammar in the letters.
“You could tell the grammar was fake," he said. "Their first language wasn't English.”
Another suspicious occurrence was that the scammer and Jean spent time on the phone texting and messaging via apps, instead of talking via phone calls or video phone chatting.
“She was constantly glued to her phone, but when I asked her why they didn’t talk on the phone, it was always an excuse," Jean's son said. "I was like, ‘Ma, why don't you just call?'”
Jean is sharing her story to make sure others don't fall victim to the same type of scam.
“They don't care about you," she said. "All they want is just money, so don't do it.”
The fact that Jean was asked to send money to a man she had never met in life was a huge red flag for her son.
Fighting back against romance fraud
The FBI warned these types of romance scams are becoming more popular by the day.
In 2018, Texas ranked No. 2 in the number of victims who reported internet crime complaints, totaling in $362 million in losses reported by victims of confidence fraud and romance scams.
If you or someone you know has been a victim, the agency urges that you report the crime immediately at https://www.ic3.gov/complaint/splash.aspx.
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