Romance Scams Target Lonely and Elderly

The woman’s Facebook page reveals she is a high school graduate, fit and trim looking and nicely dressed. She lives in small town in the southern U.S. and is a devoted Christian who loves animals. Each photograph shows her with a beaming, trusting smile. She is almost always seen standing alone and a simple scroll down her Facebook page makes it clear her husband is gone. She is a widow and a prime target.

I learned about this 76-year-old woman — let’s call her “Jane” — from her devoted son and my friend, “John.” His father died about two years ago. Even though John lives across the country he remains very attentive to his mother and makes sure all her material needs are met. They have a joint bank account and in early September, John noticed a $700 internet transaction from his Mom to someone named Abubakar Abdul. He began to gently question Jane and a devastating story spilled out.

Jane revealed that for some eight months she had been communicating online with a handsome military officer named Terry Miller. Miller, the lonely widow told her son, had “liked” one of her smiling Facebook photos and they began a pen pal relationship which quickly turned into a long-distance romance. Miller’s profile listed him as Christian, single and hailing from Ft. Worth, Texas. He was seen wearing a spiffy uniform adorned with ribbons and medals and a jaunty red beret indicating he was part of the U.S. Army Airborne force. Jane was smitten.

You see where this is going, right?

Fake Military ID’s Abound

Jane said her beau told her he was a four-star General stuck in London and had secreted a stash of gold that he was unable to bring back to the states through regular channels. He had told Jane if he only had some cash-in-hand he could come home with his bounty and they could be together, sharing the riches. Jane became one of the countless victims of internet-based romance scams when she began to send him money.

John discovered his mother had actually been communicating with an audacious scammer in Ghana who had pilfered the photos of a real U.S. military man named Terry Michael Hestilow and created the fictitious “Terry Miller” profile. The scammer convinced Jane to go to Walmart and buy a burner phone so they could “have their own special way of communicating,” according to her son. The scammer was apparently able to clone the phone so when the bank sent Jane a pre-transaction code he was able to intercept it, enabling him to dip into her account at will.

“My Mom told me she had only spoken to him on the phone 1 or 2 times and he had a thick accent,” John told me.

John says he bluntly asked his mother, “Why would a four-star General have a thick accent? Why would a four-star General need your help? Why would a four-star General have all that gold?” She had no answers.

John said it took two days to convince his mother there was no Terry Miller. He showed her several articles about the widespread scam and a story quoting the real man seen in the photos who said Facebook had refused to remove many of the phony profiles using his picture.  Terry Michael Hestilow said Facebook responded to him and his wife by writing, “We reviewed the profile you reported and found that it doesn’t go against our community standards.”

The Masthead of the “Military Romance Scams” Facebook Page

Hestilow told his local Texas TV station that he was “angry” about the blatant fraud. “If they investigated and found it doesn’t violate their community standards then something is wrong with their community standards,” he said. Interestingly, there is a “Military Romance Scams” Facebook page that warns all about this type of rip-off yet, apparently, Facebook does not follow through and remove obvious con artists.

When John asked his normally level-headed mother how she had fallen for such a ploy she responded simply.

“Well, I trusted him,” she said. John asked, “But why did you trust him?” and she replied, “Because of my instincts.” John told me in a sad

Courtesy: Wiki commons

voice, “I’m shaking my head hearing this and asking, ‘Where is my mother?’” In the end Jane lost “everything” according to her son. Tens of thousands of dollars gone.

The FBI reports $50 million is lost every year to these so-called romance scams. They have traditionally originated from Ghana, Nigeria, the Ivory Coast or Vietnam but also from right here in the United States.

Loneliness and depression following the death of a long-time spouse can profoundly affect the mindset of those left behind. Both widows and widowers have fallen prey to various types of ploys. It is easy to snicker at these victims. It’s much harder to understand the vulnerabilities that allowed them to be so blatantly cheated.

If you know a solo elderly person who frequents the internet talk to them about this column. Warn them about the evil that lurks beyond.




  1. Diane Dimond on September 16, 2019 at 9:11 am

    Reader Bronwyn Willis writ:

    Diane, I read your recent article on Internet romance scams with interest.. It was a syndicated piece in the Albuquerque Journal this past weekend. A friend and I were just discussing this subject the other day as we had both experienced ” trolling” efforts. on Face Book. I had also read a brief reference to this somewhere on the New York Times some time ago. My friend and I are both women in our seventies. I was approached by a friend request .. probably several months ago at this point and it did not seem quite right but I accepted it and waited. The man sent another photo but still no other information and no mutual friends were listed. That is when I deleted the interface and blocked him. There were about half a dozen more friend requests of the same ilk.. men in the military, widowed and listing NO mutual friends or personal information that is normally from people one knows and would like to friend on Face Book. I have deleted and blocked all efforts that have appeared a scam. . My friend with whom I was talking to had a similar experience. I have told as many people as I can about this and to be careful.
    You reference Face book.’s. Terry Michael saying that the Facebook profile does not go against community standards.. with reference to “Jane” who was taken advantage of .. when I see , as do my friends ,no ” mutual; friends or basic background information that most people post I am very suspicious. These people who initiate such scams are very slick and will find vulnerable victims whom they can take advantage of. Getting back to community standards.. I would say that perhaps Facebook needs to clean up their act also and up their standards.
    I am not sure if this all makes sense but I was delighted to see your article and I just hope there will be a suitable number who will heed it.
    Sincerely, Bronwyn K. Willis

  2. Diane Dimond on September 16, 2019 at 11:34 am

    Reader Nancy Spieker Robel writes:

    Wonderful article, Diane. I have many single women friends who tell me it’s scary trying to meet legitimate, normal people on the internet. I think just using common sense and having someone to help filter through the contacts is a good practice.

  3. Diane Dimond on September 16, 2019 at 11:36 am

    Reader William Drummond writes:

    “Looking for love in all the wrong places. . .”

    • Diane Dimond on September 16, 2019 at 11:37 am

      Diane Dimond replies:

      I suppose … but when you are older, a widow or widower, depressed and lonely I’m told there is a chemical imbalance that occurs in the brain. It affects one’s judgment according to medical experts. I think we need to look out for our seniors and help educate them about the ugliness they can encounter online.

  4. Diane Dimond on September 16, 2019 at 2:27 pm

    Reader Bill Voinovich writes:

    People are so desperate for love & companionship, they don’t stop & think of the possibility that somebody’s out to grab all their money… That’s pretty despicable…..

  5. Diane Dimond on September 16, 2019 at 2:28 pm

    Reader Mary Bush writes:

    Did she report the fake profile to Facebook?

    • Diane Dimond on September 16, 2019 at 2:29 pm

      Diane Dimond replies:

      Her son has reported it …. but Facebook has already failed to remove these Terry Miller type profiles – repeatedly. Guess too many crop up for them to handle. Although I can’t really understand why they can’t employ an algorithm to search for that one particular photograph of Mr. Hestilow and block every account that uses it – every account except the REAL Mr. Terry Michael Hestilow, that is. Come on Facebook – help combat this crime!

  6. Diane Dimond on September 16, 2019 at 2:29 pm

    Reader Russell Scow writes:

    Romance on social media can be dangerous. There’s a old saying : beware the wolf wearing sheep’s clothing.

    • Diane Dimond on September 16, 2019 at 7:42 pm

      Reader Reader Joya Colucci Lord replies:

      There’s also another saying that says, “if you’ve got an elderly parent, monitor their social media accounts like a hawk.”

  7. Diane Dimond on September 16, 2019 at 7:42 pm

    Reader Sandi Chaykin Teller writes:

    I think it’s time to have a team to bust these people male and female that prey on elderly widows and widowers. Like the teams that bust pedophiles. They should set up fake lonely widows page and arrange meetings . There are widow/ widowers support groups on here that they probably sign up for saying they’re also widows or widowers and that’s how they find these women or men.

  8. Diane Dimond on September 17, 2019 at 3:08 pm

    Reader Patti Petow writes:

    People are so lonely. I think that’s it. Some are willing to settle or go into dark places where there is danger. Desperation.

  9. Diane Dimond on September 17, 2019 at 3:11 pm

    Reader Jeannette Albarran writes:

    Diane Dimond this happens a lot. I get so many messages from scammers, it’s horrible.

  10. Diane Dimond on September 17, 2019 at 3:13 pm

    Reader Barbara Jane Sowak writes:

    It never ceases to amaze me how totally naive and gullible people can be. Some are just…..very lonely (Hey, I’ve been lonely, I am single) other are just too dang good hearted.

    For instance, there is a woman on here with a hyphenated Italian name, living in Florida, who has been ‘dying from stage 4 cancer” for about 16 yrs now (same with her bf) who miraculously recovered once people gave her money. She has dined out, traveled, entertained en masse, enjoyed expensive wines…you name it. She looks very well for someone on death’s door, ahem…..but a lovely woman I know gave her money when this gal claimed she could not afford a plane fare. YEAH right….as for those GoFund mes? Sorry but NO CAN DO.

    When I see people having the nerve to demand total strangers pay for their weddings, funerals, grads, barbeques, medical treatments, not even always providing hard luck stories, I shake my head. One Calabasas couple showed pics of their plane YES u read that correctly, their lovely home, their wines, but they “needed” money for a holiday. Can u believe that?

    My point is: the INSTANT someone mentions the ‘M’ word, no matter in what context, said recipient of that should run like he**. When I read how educated, intelligent men and women hand over their life savings to some dude who is a “sad widower with a young daughter. blablablah” undoubtedly typing that in Pakistan or elsewhere in that zone, I just don’t get it. I have a hard time feeling sympathy. I’ve been called down for questioning various Go Fund mes on here but tough…my dad raised me to be no B.S. and to have integrity. XO

Leave a Comment