Santa Cruz Sentinel
MID-COUNTY — Initially the Facebook inquiry from a stranger seemed to be a simple, lonely hello from a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan who wanted to chat online about the death of his roommate and his troubled past.
The stranger said his name was Ray Silva. She wired him $150 for a telephone.
As the online relationship heated up between a 59-year-old unemployed Mid-County woman and the online stranger, however, the slew of instant messages, posts, e-mails and phone calls just didn’t add up — and her slim savings account was soon drained.
“I felt sorry for him,” said the local woman, whom the Sentinel is not identifying because she is a victim of a crime. She said she is desperate to let other people know about the dangers of online predators.
She reported the case to the Consumer Affairs Unit at the District Attorney’s Office, but was told there was little that could be done about international wire transfers.
“He said he loved me and would help me out until I got a job. He was going to reimburse me. I was totally gullible,” said the victim.
She said Silva talked about what he did during the day.
“During our chats, I had let him know I was unemployed and had been hospitalized a couple years ago,” she said. “He seemed intelligent and very loving and kind. He talked about how much he loved me, and how I helped him get through the days. He wished he could be here to help me.”
Eventually she wired him a $500 administrative fee to initiate the process of setting him up for a military leave so he could visit her. There were military photographs, love letters and instant message chats in which he appeared to be eight hours ahead of Pacific Standard Time. The online discussion was illustrated by numerous official-looking stamped and signed documents sent by “Colonel Evans” at firstname.lastname@example.org. She sent the colonel a $700 processing fee and then a $600 replacement fee for Silva’s substitute.
“When I received an e-mail from the colonel saying I had to pay his airfare — $1,300 — I said, There’s no way.’ I realized then it was a scam.”
The woman said she didn’t know how he chose her to “friend.” She had signed on to join a Facebook “cause” page to help soldiers get free airfare home and she has more than 700 “friends.” She has no privacy controls on her Facebook profile, allowing anyone to gain access to it.
She reported the man to Facebook and noticed his profile page was no longer visible. She contacted the Consumer Affairs division at the county District Attorney’s Office.
To show how easy it is to set up a fake online profile, her daughter copied a digital photograph of a nice guy and added some other basic information.
“I’m sure there are other lonely women my age. I can’t be the only woman who would fall for this,” she said.
This case is particularly emotional because the victim didn’t have money to lose, said Robin Gysin, coordinator for the county District Attorney’s Consumer Affairs Unit. Prosecutors don’t have the resources to pursue these kinds of offshore cases.
“The No. 1 clue for me is when somebody asks you to wire transfer money to them,” Gysin said. “It’s a cash business. You can give a name and get a fake ID and say, My name is Brenda and go pick it up.’ I have never heard of one that was the real deal when people give me the various elements. These people are trolling through the Internet, on auction websites for specialty items, Facebook. They are looking for people who share their interests. Always, Western Union is a part of it.”
Gysin said she tried to tell the woman that she wasn’t the only victim.
“I talk to 50-100 people a month who have been scammed,” Gysin said.
For HelpCounty D.A. Consumer Affairs Unit
ADDRESS: 701 Ocean St., Room 200, Santa Cruz