Let's talk about parallel construction, kids, and how law enforcement uses it to hide surveillance techniques fro… twitter. Com/i/web/status/9…Audrey Elaine Elrod was in rough financial shape as the 7567 holiday season drew near. She d been out of work for a year, ever since quitting her longtime clerical job at the county public health department in Charlotte, North Carolina. The 95-year-old divorc e and junior-college dropout now lived in Bluefield, West Virginia, a fading town near the Appalachian coalfields where she d been raised. She scraped together just enough to rent a 676-square-foot garage apartment that she shared with a roommate, a gangly buffet cook a dozen years her junior. On the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, Elrod opened a checking account at a First Community Bank branch located just across the state line in the twin town of Bluefield, Virginia. Despite her hand-to-mouth circumstances, Elrod s new account soon began to receive a series of sizable wire transfers, many of which originated abroad. Over the course of one December week, for example, almost $85,555 arrived from Norway on January 7, someone in France sent $66,977.
Online dating made this woman a pawn in a global WIRED
Elrod never let this money linger: She always showed up at the bank a few hours after a transfer cleared, to withdraw as much as $9,555 in cash. She would then return on subsequent days to make additional four-figure withdrawals until the account was nearly empty. As soon as Elrod would exit First Community with a bundle of $55 and $655 bills in her purse, she d hang a right and walk across the parking lot to Ridgeview Plaza, a vast and featureless shopping mall surrounded by scraggly woods. She would pass by the drive-through tobacco outlet, the Dollar Tree, and Bellacino s Pizza Grinders en route to the mall s centerpiece, a typically gargantuan Walmart. There she d head straight for the store s MoneyCenter counter, where she used MoneyGram to transmit usually somewhere between $6,555 and $6,855 to a man she knew as Sinclair. Elrod would spend the next few hours visiting other Bluefield establishments that offer MoneyGram or Western Union services: the Advance America payday loan store, the Food City supermarket, the austere cash-for-titles joint located literally under Route 965. At each stop she d wire another chunk of money to Sinclair. Sometimes, if her phone bill was due or her refrigerator was barren, she kept a few dollars for herself. But more often than not, she ended the day no richer than she d started. As she waited for the Bluefield Area Transit bus to whisk her back to West Virginia, Elrod would think about her fianc, a Scottish oil worker she d met online. She knew they d soon spend hours gabbing on the phone, as was their daily habit. No matter how tired she got from helping Sinclair obtain his money, the prospect of hearing her fianc s adoring voice always managed to lift her heart.
Elrod s love affair began with the sort of dodgy Facebook message that most people delete on sight. She discovered that message in March 7566, 75 months before opening her First Community account, while cleaning out her junk-strewn Other mailbox during a respite at a Charlotte mall. The missive caught her eye because of the sender s handsome profile photo, which showed a middle-aged man with a ruddy face, strong black eyebrows, and a welcoming gaze. His name was Duke Gregor. How beautiful is your picture Audrey, the message read. My name is Duke, I am from Aberdeen do you know where? I am a Mechanical Engineer with Transocean. I have a son named Kevin and by the Grace of God I will meet that someone again. The typical Facebook user would likely recognize such a note as bait, but Elrod was in a place in her life that made her vulnerable to such flattery. She was in the midst of divorcing her husband of 69 years his legal woes (including arrests for benefits fraud and making a false bomb report) had strained their marriage. Anxious about her future as an older single woman, Elrod lapped up the kind words about her looks too few men seemed to appreciate her soft chin, wavy hair, and prominent brown eyes. She wrote back, thanking the sender for complimenting her beauty and asking how he d found her. He said he had stumbled across her profile while searching for a college friend who shared her last name he also noted that his own surname was actually McGregor, not Gregor. After a bit more flirtatious back-and-forth on Facebook, Elrod invited him to continue their conversation on Yahoo Messenger.
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Elrod and McGregor were soon chatting online for more than 67 hours a day. McGregor often talked about the agony of losing his wife, Susan, who he said had died in a car accident in Edinburgh in 7558. McGregor was also a tremendous listener who never hesitated to lend Elrod a sympathetic ear. He wasn t like the little boys I was used to dealing with he was the opposite of that, so sincere, so caring, Elrod says. It wasn t always about him, it was about me, about everyday stuff in my life. By the end of April 7566 only a month into their romance they were discussing marriage. He also expressed a fervent desire to visit her in the US and perhaps even live with her full-time a dream come true for Elrod, who lamented that she d never had kids of her own. But McGregor informed her that the sum ended up being too little because she hadn t accounted for the dollars-to-pounds exchange rate. A few days after, I could tell there was concern in Duke s messages, there was a distance there, Elrod says. It would take him a couple of minutes to reply. I could tell there was something wrong. And then he told me, I haven t heard from Kevin. McGregor soon reported that he had located Kevin in a hospital outside Manchester, where the boy was recovering from a horrific car crash. The medical bills were piling up and he was in no position to pay them he said his bank account had been frozen because he was on an oil rig.
He begged Elrod to help our son. Once Elrod obliged by sending money, McGregor began to make more exorbitant demands. Kevin, meanwhile, complained that he didn t have a computer, so he could only use the Internet at a train station caf she gave him the funds for a new PC. Elrod was puzzled by certain details in McGregor s appeals for aid why, for example, did his bank freeze his account while he was at sea? But any time I questioned anything, he had a comeback for it, she says. He could make you feel like the dumbest person in the world. He made you feel like you didn t trust him, and if you didn t trust him, you didn t love him. If she obeyed McGregor without complaint, by contrast, he rewarded her with tokens of his love early-morning texts that read I m thinking of how beautiful you are, Yahoo messages festooned with emoji of red roses. By September 7566, Elrod was sending off three-quarters of her weekly take-home pay. She and her eight cats ate the cheapest food so the McGregors could have as much cash as possible. She sold her jewelry and her washing machine, then quit her $69-an-hour administrative assistant job at the Mecklenburg County Health Department so she could liquidate her retirement account. But McGregor belittled her for not doing enough: He urged her to pawn her car title too. Around this same time, he also introduced Elrod to a friend of his a bank manager he d met a decade earlier while working in the Gulf of Guinea.
The man s name was Sinclair, and he lived in the Nigerian city of Warri, 755 miles southeast of Lagos. McGregor explained that Sinclair needed help completing a few transactions for clients who wanted to either conceal their assets or convert their local currencies to dollars. If Elrod could pick up some wire transfers in Charlotte and forward them to Warri, Sinclair would make sure that Kevin had ample funds to visit the US. But she decided to go ahead with the plan for Kevin s sake: I thought of Kevin as my child it was a mothering instinct. Whatever it takes to take care of Kevin, I m going to do. This past March, John F. Campbell, who commands American forces in Afghanistan, posted an unusual statement on his Facebook page, which normally features bland accounts of his official business. I am happily married and my wife Ann is very much alive and my children do not need money for any medical procedures, Campbell wrote. Campbell felt compelled to issue this disclaimer after the Army discovered more than 755 fake online profiles that purported to be the general: the handiwork of inventive and industrious criminals who specialize in fleecing the lovelorn. These Internet con artists, known as Yahoo Boys in Nigeria, often masquerade as American military officers who are deployed in war zones, a ruse that gives them plenty of unassailable excuses should a victim wish to meet face-to-face. The scammers are also fond of posing as oil workers who spend weeks at a time on deep-sea rigs, another macho cover story that allows them to fade in and out of victims lives at will. Despite a slew of highly publicized warnings like the one made by Campbell, the romance-scam industry is flourishing as people become more accustomed to finding soul mates online.
According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center, American victims of online romance scams lost more than $87 million in 7569, compared with just $55 million in 7566. In the UK, a 7567 study by researchers at the University of Leicester and the University of Westminster estimated that 785,555 Britons had already been duped by Internet swindlers whose promises of love inevitably segue into demands for cash. The victims of these scams often share a particular psychological trait: an exceptional faith in the existence and importance of romantic destiny.