Online scammer tricks elderly women into giving away thousands of dollars

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RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – There have been plenty of news stories where parents are told to keep a close eye on their children while they're online, but it turns out that older children may also need to heed the warning and keep a close eye on their parents.

A local 72-year-old woman is out hundreds of thousands of dollars after a social media scam drained her savings account.

"She met him online in August," said the daughter of a mother scammed out of $250,000. "And then the money started going in September."

CBS 6 promised to protect the woman's identity because months later, her mother is still online and still in denial.

"I would guess over $250,000 dollars," she said.

In late 2016 the family became aware there may be a problem when the family matriarch began asking family and friends for money.

"Thousands, $30 – 70,000 dollars."

Two daughters quickly figured out something was happening online.

"She was kind of secretive about it, supposedly it was some man she met online and they had some investment," she said. "We're worried for her safety."

They have no doubt it is a scam, but their mother has fallen for it, hard.

"He has a fake profile on Facebook, he came up with a picture that looked like someone she may be interested in."

It turned out that he also promised the mother $1.7 million dollars.

The daughters discovered another reason to be concerned.

"She would have different accounts at different banks other that the ones she normally used."

The daughters said their mother put large amounts of money in these accounts.

It turned out she was getting something in return – roses.

"We've found like boxes of flowers."

The family worried her entire life savings may be wiped out by a man she's never seen in person.

"It's just mind blowing that this can happen to anyone."

"It is mindblowing," said Gene Fishel, Chief of Computer Crimes in Virginia.

Fishel has spent years investigating cyber crimes for the Virginia Attorney General's Office.

"Romance scams are particularly nefarious because what the criminals doing are they're preying on the emotions and the sensitivities and the feelings of the victim," Fishel said.

The dozens of roses are part of that game, "to get someone hooked on that emotional side and then they can start bilking them for money over time."

Fishel said criminals follow a certain pattern, and opening multiple bank accounts is part of their tactic.

"The Criminal will direct them to do certain things like that, to open up additional bank accounts, especially if they think someone in the victim's family's catching on to what's going on," he explained.

The family learned that there seems to be nothing that can be done – by themselves, the banks or state government.

"The people at her credit union knew she was being scammed but couldn't do a thing about it," she said.

Fishel said the Attorney General's office receives dozens of similar complaints each year but it is difficult to get their hands on the people behind the scam.

"It's difficult because a lot of these scams are perpetuated from overseas."

Cases like this one are usually turned over to federal agents.

"To the FBI or Secret Service investigates these sorts of things and so that's kind of where it goes from there," Fishel said.

Even now the family is trying to find a way to break the online bond between their mother and her swindler, but they find themselves legally in a grey area -- and emotionally as well.

"My mother was very conservative with her money and to think somebody could con her out of so much, is just unbelievable."

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