Roanoke, VA (BBB) – The following is an alert from the Better Business Bureau:
"I loved him…he was very kind, very respectful, and said I was to be cherished."
One Virginia woman has lost $9,000, while another was asked to send $65,000, in a sophisticated love scheme that is targeting area users of a popular dating website. In a scam known as ‘Catfishing' a man pretending to live in Roanoke, VA is using a false identity on Match.com and tricking legitimate users out of thousands of dollars.
According to multiple victims, a man using the name Jeffrey Curtis courted them for months, got them to fall in love with him, and then used a fake tragedy to con them out of thousands of dollars. It is not clear at this time if this scammer has stolen the identity of a Jeffrey Curtis, invented this identity, or is actually legally named Jeffrey Curtis.
The con artist spent hours on the phone and online with the victims, building trust and eventually love:
"You are the best woman that I have ever met and ever had, your sweetness and kindness is amazing, we have no met (no doubt we will meet in a few days) but u have not desist from the act of showing me love. I am just a man you met on match.com but please allow me give you a life time advice DO NOT LOSE THE CHANCE TO BE WITH ME. I am the man sent to you to make u live a life of a truly loved woman by a hardworking man who wants to give u everything it takes to make u the best loved woman on earth."
He told both targets that his wife had died 6 months prior from breast cancer and even sent a photo of her alleged gravesite. After luring them off of Match.com in order to escape the site's monitoring features, Mr. Curtis made his plea for help. His company, Jeffrey Curtis Diesel Engines, had been involved in a tragic explosion in Cyprus in which workers had been killed, and he needed help.
"I taught you use your phone, now I wanna teach u to make a cash deposit. All u have to do I walk in the bank and pick up a form for a cash deposit. Fill in the information…."
In the course of a BBB investigation, some disturbing and elaborate tactics were discovered that revealed this catfishing scheme is more devious than simply fabricating a sob story and asking for money.
To make his story seem more believable, Mr. Curtis created a fake news website, www.cyprusnews365.com, which he populated with real articles stolen from legitimate news websites. He then published an article about the tragic explosion in Cyprus to trick his targets into believing it had actually occurred. The article features a photo of firefighters battling a blaze, but the photo was copied from a March 9th USA Today article reporting an explosion in Seattle that injured 9 firefighters. The fraudulent website continues to publish plagiarized articles in an ongoing attempt to legitimize his story, indicating he is actively pursuing additional victims.
In case the fake website was not convincing enough, he also showed one victim phony bank statements containing millions of dollars, but said he couldn't touch the funds. He claimed that the U.S. government would not allow him to withdraw the funds because he was in Cyprus:
"All that i need to complete the bill and the compensation i have to pay to the families is $65,500 approximately $65,000... Honey i am sorry to do this i attached a copy of my account statement for u to know i have this money and i can afford to pay everything on my own but my bank wont let me access more than $100,000 because i am not in the states (SECURITY REASONS).Thank u darling..It's a hard day today..lol..I just want u to know u are in my mind..You can text me when u are done reading this message. I love u and that's it..Kisses from my heart. I really do not feel comfortable telling everyone what I'm going through but i feel good sharing it with u..Am i wrong?"
BBB has obtained a copy of the fake bank statement. It features the logo of a large national bank and lists transactions going back to October of 2015. Several of the transactions are listed as payments to and from the government of Cyprus. The statement shows an end balance of $14.7M. The statement is thorough, but is clearly a forgery with multiple graphic design mistakes.
There are multiple active Facebook profiles being used by this scammer. These profiles state that he is widowed and living in Roanoke, VA, but offer little information otherwise. On one profile, in which he spells his name Jeffrey Curtiss, he states:
"I'm not a aggressive person, i'm very cool headed and easy going. I'm looking for a woman to give all the love of my life, someone i can see my happiness on her face, someone we can both grow old together, someone i can always assure i will be the best she ever had... It will only be a matter of time, i know she will come my way, i just have to keep finding out. Abuse my lover? NO!!! Comfort my lover? YES and all the time"
There is no Jeffrey Curtis Diesel Engines in Roanoke, VA. The "company's" website, jcurtisdieselengines.com, was created in April of this year and lists a Roanoke, VA address. The address belongs to an entirely unrelated company that has no knowledge or connection to Jeffrey Curtis or Jeffrey Curtis Diesel Engines. The phone number used on the site is a VoIP number which means it could originate from anywhere in the world.
Regarding this case, Match.com had no comment for BBB. Match.com currently has an "F" rating with BBB Serving Dallas and Northwest Texas with 2,902 complaints closed in the last 3 years. Match.com has failed to respond to 1,565 of these complaints. Among these complaints are allegations that match.com did not remove profiles that were flagged as scams by users. Both victims of Jeffrey Curtis told BBB that they reported his profile to the company, but as of September 30, 2016 his profile remains active. One victim reached out to other users on the site who may be potential targets based on their location. Several of these other users had also been contacted by Mr. Curtis.
Protect yourself, and your heart, by paying attention to these red flags:
Pressure to leave the dating site. The scammer immediately suggests moving the conversation to text message or your personal email. Also, watch out for profiles that message you immediately after being matched, mainly on dating apps.
Hasty expressions of love. Catfishers often express instant feelings of love, although they have very little knowledge of you.
Claims of citizenship. They claim to be from the United States, but say they are working overseas, have been deployed, or on assignment elsewhere.
Sudden major expenses. Don't send money if you're asked to cover travel costs, medical emergencies, hotel bills, hospital bills, or visas and other travel documents.
Change of plans. They plan on visiting, but unexpectedly are unable due a traumatic event or a business deal gone sour. Some may also say they're out of the country for business or military service.
Requests for money. They make multiple requests for money. They may even test you and ask for a little at first and then continue to ask for larger amounts. In some cases, the scammer sends you money and requests you transfer it to another account.
For those in search of love online, BBB offers the following tips:
Never wire money. It is next to impossible to get money back from people who may be misrepresenting themselves once it has been sent through a wire transfer service.
Women are not the only target. Many catfishing cases involve female victims, but men are also targeted in these schemes. Because women are the stereotypical victim in catfishing attacks, men may be more susceptible to a scam they don't think can happen to them.
Put safety first. Avoid putting too much personal information on your dating or social media profiles, such as home address, work information or phone number. Also, avoid giving personal or financial information to online love interests, as it could be a phishing or identity theft attempt.
Take the time to research individuals. If you see any red flags in your communication with someone, search his or her name through search engines and on social media sites. Copy and paste portions of your emails into search engines to see if they have been associated with scams.
Report suspicious activity to dating websites. Flag suspicious profiles to prevent others from falling victim to an online dating scam.
Start With Trust. Check bbb.org if you believe your online dating experience seems too good to be true, or if you're seeing the red flags listed above. We may have heard similar concerns and can advise you in your online dating activites.
For more advice please visit www.bbb.org or contact the BBB Serving Western VA at (540) 342-3455 or (800) 533-5501.
The BBB is a nonprofit, business-supported organization that sets and upholds high standards for fair and honest business behavior. The BBB provides objective advice, free BBB Business Reviews on more than 4 million companies, 11,000 charity reviews, dispute resolution service, alerts and educational information on topics affecting marketplace trust. Please visit www.bbb.org for more information. Follow us on twitter at www.twitter.com/BBBWesternVA and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/BBBWesternVA.
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