CENTENNIAL - A Centennial woman says what she wrote in her online dating profile may have made her an attractive target for a romance scam that cost her $510,000.
Joy, who asked to use only her first name because she's a scam victim, says she signed up for Match.com after separating from her husband. She believes listing her marital status as "recently separated" and then changing it to "divorced" may have signaled she was easy prey for scammers.
"This is the worst experience I have ever gone through," Joy said. "The worst in my whole life."
At first, her interactions with "Michael Vinci" seemed promising. He claimed to be an international business man. They exchanged emails and even phone calls.
"The love letters were unbelievable," Joy remembers. "He reeled me right in without me even realizing what was going on!"
After nearly six months, "Vinci" asked for a short-term loan to wrap up a business deal, but the amount of money he asked for was astonishing – more than $300,000. Joy said she had the money from her divorce settlement and had planned to use it to buy a house.
"The minute I wired the funds - and we were on the phone - and it was as if - it was like a brush off," Joy said.
Because she took the money from an investment account, Joy said she also owes taxes to the IRS and the Colorado Department of Revenue.
"The financial aftermath of this is so horrendous," Joy said. She could not buy a new home for herself, and she is now living with a relative out of state.
Federal internet crime investigators receive thousands complaints every year about online romance scams. Victims reported more than $82 million in losses in 2014. The vast majority of victims are women over 40-year-old.
"We are all vulnerable in some ways, and this vulnerability for a match with another person gets almost at the core of who we are," clinical psychologist John Stapert said. "So the stakes are high."
Stapert says the desire to be loved can be most intense following a breakup.
"You suspend not only your own rationality but the rationality of people who know you and care about you," Stapert said.
Match.com, the dating site Joy used, offers extensive advice online about romance scams and puts disclaimers on emails between subscribers to encourage safe internet dating: http://www.match.com/help/safetytips.aspx. But the warnings only work if users heed them.
"Our best and only defense is ourselves," cyber security expert Michael O'Shaughnessy said. "We have to be aware."
(© 2015 KUSA)