Hagerman woman warns others of romance scams after being swindled out of thousands

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HAGERMAN, Idaho (KMVT/KSVT) - Love is in the air, as Valentine's Day is a week away. However, scammers and con artists continuously work to get some money. A Hagerman woman warns others of the romance scam after being swindled out of thousands herself.

"Valentine’s Day, everybody would like to someone to be a valentine. So many times people are jumping on online dating sites which could be a great way to meet people but you just have to careful," said Jeremy Johnson with the Better Business Bureau.

One scam Johnson said they see often is what they call a romance scam.

"People entering in a relationship online and unfortunately that person on the other line doesn’t have the best intentions," she said. "They’re convincing this person as they’re building a relationship is they need money or that they need goods or things like that to be sent to them to continue the relationship and that’s where we see, unfortunately, a lot of consumers losing money."

That's what happened to Kathleen Napolitano, and it all started with a friend request on Facebook.

"I was on Facebook and I'm not sure why, I got a friend request from a man," she said. "It was just a picture of a car there was no picture of a man and I did accept it... We became friends and then apparently started a relationship, an online relationship and after about one month, he claimed that he needed money."

She said she had an online relationship with a man that claimed to be Gary Bale, going on for about five months.

"He was an offshore underwater welder, needed water supply and I sent it to him, two times and then the last time, he asked for $5,000 for a helicopter medical transport to come here," Napolitano explained. "He claimed he had a stroke and I believed him. Very convincing, very convincing."

She told KMVT she figured it was a scam after she sent money the last time.

"After I sent the third amount of money, the $5,000, I was still in Walmart... And something just hit me. I knew. I knew," she said.

It was a hard lesson for her and her bank account.

"I lost $8,800, but many have lost upwards of a half-million dollars," she told KMVT.

The BBB said they've seen consumers lose $10,000 to $20,000 on this type of scam.

"You just want to be careful with who you’re meeting up with and what their story is and definitely be hesitant to giving a lot of personal information out or send money until you feel comfortable or really know the story," Johnson advised.

After being scammed, Napolitano started researching the incident.

"They primarily target middle-aged women and men, widows, the vulnerable, the lonely and that’s my biggest message, is do not talk to strangers," Napolitano urged.

Johnson advises talking to these people on the phone, vet them out and try and video chat them as well.

While Napolitano fell victim to this scam, she wants others to learn from her story.

"This isn’t about me at this point, what is done is done," she said. "I won’t get my money back. It’s about helping other people at this point. That’s the biggest thing."

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