WASHINGTON, D.C. — For Kate Kleinert, it started with an unexpected Facebook friend request in August 2020.
“His name was Tony,” said Kleinert. “Well, that’s what he told me.”
Kleinert, who is from Glenolden, Pennsylvania, said she had never even thought about finding new love since her husband Bernie died in 2009, but she said things blossomed quickly with the supposed Tony.
“He told me he was a surgeon working in Iraq through a contract with United Nations and that he has two children, a little boy and a girl,” said Kleinert. “Tony had the kids get in touch with me through email and they started calling me mom, which is my Achilles heel because I didn’t have children of my own.”
Tony said he wanted to marry Kleinert and build a life together – and then he started asking for money.
Kleinert ended up sending him gift cards and used money from her late husband’s life insurance policy, social security checks and pension, totaling nearly $40,000.
“My savings were gone,” said Kleinert. “I kept doing this because he swore to me he would repay me the minute he got back to the states and even sent me his passwords to his account at Bank of America… I had sent him a total of $39,000, which to some people is not much, but to someone in my position it’s a great deal.”
Sadly, after suspicious stories of Tony getting arrested and being unable to reach him, Kleinert realized she had been scammed.
She said it turned out the photo he sent her was really of a doctor in Spain.
“The loss that hurts the most was losing his love and losing the family I thought I was going to have,” said Kleinert.
Kleinert’s story is one of millions about fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) every year – a problem that has been exacerbated during the pandemic.
“Fraudsters saw an opportunity and they pounced,” said Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.), Chair of the Senate Special Committee on Aging. “They preyed on the fear and the uncertainty surrounding the disease as well as the loneliness and isolation that resulted from the pandemic.”
“It’s disgusting and heartbreaking to hear so many stories from so many seniors who have had to deal with the challenges of fraud,” said Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC), Ranking Member of the Senate Special Committee on Aging.
Consumer protection agencies said scammers are pushing everything from fake cures and treatments for COVID-19 to romance schemes like the one that targeted Kleinert.
The FTC said while young people overall report falling for scams more often, seniors report losing far more money.
“Older adults reported much higher individual median losses than younger adults,” said Lois Greisman, Associate Director of the Division of Marketing Practices for the Bureau of Consumer Protection at the FTC. “The economic harm is enormous.”
Kleinert said she has been frustrated by the lack of options in holding the supposed Tony accountable and in trying to get the money back.
“I want to be an ambassador for this cause because it’s so devastating, but many people have been through this but have not spoken about it,” said Kleinert.
If you or a loved one has been the victim of elder abuse, you can call the National Elder Fraud Hotline at 833-FRAUD-11.
Cox Media Group