This episode of the podcast Criminal is about online dating. I'm a big fan of online dating. I met my long-term boyfriend online. My mother has been getting back out there with the help of online dating. All in all, I'm pro-online dating. Or at least I was before I heard this episode.
Karen Miller, a 60-year-old retired Simi Valley, California resident, had lost her husband a few years previously and wasn't looking for anything romantic when a stranger named Gil Harper in London requested her friendship on Facebook. They started chatting. He said he had stumbled across her profile while searching for an old friend and that he had thought she had a nice smile so he thought he'd send a friend request. They started talking a lot. Gil said he was 63 years old, lived in London and was a contractor. At first they kept it light, talking about country music and a shared love of travel, but the conversation soon turned personal. Gil said he too had lost a spouse. They talked about how hard it was to be alone.
Soon they were chatting every day. Karen started to really look forward to it. "I was flirtatious with him because it was fun to think that there was this person over there in another country who found me attractive." Karen says. She started to wonder if finding love again was possible. After about three weeks Gil asked if he could come visit Karen in California. Karen agreed and figured it was time to tell her sons what was going on.
Karen texted her sons that she had met someone. Karen's son Chris was happy to hear his mom was happy but was concerned when she told him she had met this man on Facebook. Gil only had one photo, very little information and only one friend on his Facebook profile. Karen. Something didn't feel right to Chris.
Chris asked his mother to ask Gil for more photos. Gil complied which made Karen feel more confident but Chris was still ill at ease. Why would a man fly all the way to California to meet a woman he had never even spoken to on the phone? Karen says she had asked Gil to talk on the phone many times but he always deflected and changed the subject. With her sons on her back, she insisted on speaking to Gil on the phone. He gave her a phone number where he could be reached.
After calling and digging Chris discovered that Gil was not a 63-year-old widow from London. Gil was a scam. The formula is the same. They go after women over 50, and when they set up meeting in person they say they've lost their passport, or that there was an accident on the way to the airport. Then they say some terrible accident has happened and that they need money for some kind of emergency. Luckily it didn't get that far for Karen.
Gil's Facebook profile isn't up anymore. Right before he deleted it, Karen got a message from him saying "Well. I just don't think I can be was someone who doesn't. Trust me." Karen says she told him to, "Go get a gun and blow as his F-ing brains out."
Bonus info: The episode also features an interview with Barb Sluppick, founder of romancescams.org. Barb was herself a victim of a romance scam and created the website as a resource for others who have been scammed and to help prevent future scams.