$11K later, Jasper woman warns of imposter scams


Just a couple of months after joining Facebook this year, Boots Horn of Jasper, 82, got a message from a man named Mark Davies.

Davies said he admired Horn’s faith, and that she was just the kind of woman he wanted. The two started messaging as friends, then emailing and talking on Google Hangout, which Davies had to teach Horn to use. She’d never had a smartphone or heard of Google Hangout until Davies called her on the app. Soon, Davies turned the friendship toward a romance. Now, four months and more than $11,000 later, Horn has learned that she wasn’t involved in a romance with Davies at all. It was a scam, and she’d taken the bait.

“I just got so sucked into the story,” Horn said.

Davies’ story started innocently enough. He said he was a military contractor in Syria. He had a daughter living in Houston with her grandmother and being cared for by a nanny. He’d been married, but his wife died of cancer (Horn later learned from the Federal Trade Commission’s website that scammers always say their wives died of cancer).

Horn had never heard of internet scams before, so to her, the story seemed plausible. Plus, she was glad for the companionship. She’d just had back surgery and was stuck mostly at home by herself. The two went through several weeks of messaging and talking, with Davies coming up with pet names for Horn like “Winter Moon” and “Pumpkin.” He’d email her long love letters and talk to her about her faith, which he claimed to share. Then, he made the first ask for money.

The story went that his daughter’s Filipino nanny had to return to the Philippines due to the death of her father. He’d found another nanny, but she lived on the East Coast.

Davies needed $1,200 to get the new nanny to Houston, but his bank accounts were tied up. Could Horn please send the money to the nanny? He promised he’d pay her back. Well, everyone gets in an emergency sometimes, Horn recalled thinking. She agreed to send the money.

“I scraped and I scraped,” Horn said. “I cleaned out my bank account to send that $1,200.”

The two continued talking, and Davies promised that when he returned from Syria, he and Horn would be together. He’d send her messages like “Babe, I would know you from 1,000 miles away because I am already connected to you,” and “I can’t wait to see you. I feel like a fat kid waiting for his cake.”

It got Horn thinking how nice it would be to have someone in her life again. After a couple of more weeks, Davies started weaving a new story. Every day some tragedy would happen around his base in Syria with his friends dying in front of him. Once, he even called her and played machine gun fire in the background. Horn knew it was recorded, and she said so, but he denied it.

Then, his war stories turned to him wanting to get out of his contract and come to her. He wanted to hold her before he died, he said. But he needed $10,000 to get out of his contract and come home. His money was still tied up. Could Horn foot the bill? Again, he promised he’d pay her back as soon as he got back to the U.S. He even put her in contact with a “diplomat” who supposedly worked for UPS and would help facilitate the funds transfer.

Looking back, Horn said, she’s pretty sure Davies and the diplomat are the same person as they had similar writing patterns with the same grammar mistakes. At the time, though, Horn was so deep into the story that she agreed, withdrawing the $10,000 from her retirement account and sending it as directed. Now, she said, the only money left is to cover her burial.

Soon, the diplomat was sending Horn emails saying that a package with Davies’ belongings in it had been confiscated by Border Patrol at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, and he’d lost his diplomatic license. It would take $96,000 to get the package back. Horn said she didn’t have the money. The diplomat became rude, telling her that she’d be in trouble with the FBI if she didn’t send the money.

Davies also became more persistent, sprinkling questions about Horn’s communications with the diplomat in among his declarations of love. When Horn said she thought he might be taking her for a ride, he played on her faith. That sounds like the devil trying to come between them, he said. He quoted the Bible, saying “what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

“I thought, ‘What?’ I’m not joined to him,” Horn said.

The scam ended when Horn had lunch with a friend. Despite Davies instructing Horn not to tell anyone about their relationship for safety reasons, Horn decided to tell her friend a little bit.

“I told her I might be getting married,” Horn said. “She was happy for me, but something about my story didn’t sit right with her.”

After lunch, the friend went back to work, but the story stuck with her. She Googled it and came across reports from the FTC that she shared with Horn. After months of messaging and talking to Davies, Horn learned the truth. Horn went to the police with the messages, bank numbers and UPS tracking numbers Davies and the supposed diplomat sent her. But the police told her there was nothing they could do to get her money back. It was out of the country by now.

Horn isn’t the only one to be taken by such a scam. Scammers claiming to be military men and building a romance with unsuspecting females is a popular form of what the FTC calls imposter scams. In 2017, imposter scams accounted for 13 percent of all scams reported to the FTC, trailing identify theft (14 percent) and debt collection scams (23 percent) as the most common. Romance scams like the one Horn fell victim to are so common that the FTC has a page dedicated especially to them.

According to the page, “Scammers create fake online profiles using photos of other people — even stolen pictures of real military personnel. They profess their love quickly. And they tug at your heartstrings with made-up stories about how they need money — for emergencies, hospital bills or travel. Why all of the tricks? They’re looking to steal your money.”

Looking back, Horn said, she feels silly. Before moving to Dubois County to be near her daughter, she worked in criminal justice in Indianapolis. Granted, she retired before the age of internet scams, but she’d heard of television scams and knew dishonest people were out there. But she’d been raised to expect the best of people, and she’d never heard of internet scams before either.

“I really do think it was because I was lonely,” Horn said. “I’m sad that I was that needy. I didn’t know I was that needy. And I’m mad about him using my faith to get to me.”

Even though there’s no way for her to get her money back, Horn still hopes she can make some good out her experience. She’s sharing her story to help others avoid a similar situation. Even if it just helps one person, Horn said, it’ll be worth sharing.

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