Knox woman targeted by Internet scammer

KNOX — Sherry Bentley of Knox decided to take a chance on a new form of dating — her only problem was she had no idea that her new venture would expose her to scam artists.
“I started with e-harmony — but you have to pay a minimum of three months to really advance with a match. So being game to trying something new (Internet dating), I searched Christian Web sites — Christian dating4free was the first one that I found with a scammer. He was banned off there; and they did send me a message alerting me. I appreciated that. They can’t control all bad people on there, but they try,” Bentley said.
Choosing to surf the Net in search of a companion was appealing to Bentley for several reasons. But the appeal quickly waned when she discovered things aren’t always as they seem.
“Sometimes face-to-face, you can’t be yourself as much as being behind a screen. You open up more easily, but you’re also more susceptible to lies and deceit,” she said.
Falling prey to a scam artist wasn’t something new for this Knox resident. However, her good instincts usually warned her when something wasn’t right: Usually.
“I received an e-mail from someone interested in me from Big Church (Christian website) so I looked, saw his pic, age, where he was from, and went ahead and read it because he was close to home. So I decided to reply and we started e-mailing and yahoo chatting,” she said.
Everything about this new acquaintance led Bentley to believe that she may have found a suitable companion.
“He was very nice looking. He had a nice smile; and he seemed sincere in his e-mails so I felt he would be someone I would like to get to know,” she said.
Bentley’s new friend was a true Romeo — he knew exactly what to say and do to make Bentley putty in his hands.
“His letters were so romantic. He first made a list of questions trying to get to know me. He answered them and had me respond. Then he made a list of things he wanted to do with me during the rest of our lives together. Things like dancing in the rain, horseback riding to show me his love of horses, watch the sunset, and carriage rides through the park,” she said.
Normally, Bentley is a firm believer in the old adage “if it sounds to good to be true ...”But this guy caught her completely off guard.
“I don’t know what happened to me — whether I was crazy or just lonely. All I know is I was sick of being deceived, mistreated, and un-loved. And I felt a connection during our first chat,” Bentley said.
When Bentley’s Cyber beau began to show his true colors, at first, she didn’t have any alarms go off.
“The first time (he asked for money), I truly felt he was sincere. He told me he was stuck without a motel room. I wanted to send money, but I just knew it wasn’t right. Luckily I’m a broke chick, so I couldn’t,” she said.
When Bentley said she had no funds to send, her Internet love reacted like others who had scammed her in the past.
“Whenever I’d tell them no, they would twist on me: ‘Well since you can’t trust me ... This guy stopped talking to me for a few days before reappearing like nothing ever happened,’ she said.
It took about a month for Bentley’s Casanova to make a major move.
“He ‘stole’ credit cards, put my name down as an authorized user (you don’t need a social security number to do that), sent them to me UPS to make sure I got them before the cards were reported stolen,” Bentley said.
When Bentley learned she was being sent credit cards, she had a lot of reservations. But her smooth-talking pen pal would sidestep her fears.
“He said he was authorizing me to his account so I could pay some people that worked for him. Anything that sounded ‘just not right’ I would question him. ‘What would you do if you hadn’t met me?’ My question would get avoided or he’d talk me right into believing him. And I’d find myself saying ‘It’s okay I trust you.’ Things just weren’t clicking together,” she said.
When Bentley received a package in the mail, she wasn’t quite sure what to do with it.
“When the card arrived UPS, I almost didn’t open it. It came in my name, but street address was wrong. I finally opened it. He kept telling me another name would be on the front of the card: His bank agent’s name. But when I got it, it was all in my name. When I saw it all looked real, I finally decided to call the card company,” Bentley said.
Making that phone call was the best thing Bentley could have done.
“They told me it was a closed account; I had a fraudulent card; and the name on the account was the name he gave me as his bank agent. I was then told to call the police to make a report of it,” she said.
Shortly after receiving the first card, Bentley received another. Seeing her name on the first card was enough to set off alarms. But after receiving another with a $6000 limit that was the catalyst that finally knocked some sense into Bentley.
“I had a gut feeling that something was wrong. You don’t just send a card to a total stranger, let alone two,” she said.
Bentley not only had the stress of the stolen cards to deal with; she also had the sender of the cards badgering her.
“After I received the first card, I got 20 phone calls from him, which I ignored. I received off-line messages on Friday evening to talk, which I also ignored. He sent me a vulgar off-line message, telling me where to go. Once he figured out that he was exposed as a scammer, he said since I couldn’t trust him, I could remove him from my friends’ list and we didn’t need to talk anymore,” Bentley said.
Worry about what would happen to her for receiving stolen credit cards weighed heavily on Bentley.
“For two weeks I was scared I would go to jail, even though I was the victim here. How did I know what exactly he had done using my name. Would they believe me? I didn’t know what was real anymore,” she said.
Bentley finally learned that she was lucky and no charges would be filed against her. However, she also learned that things could have turned out a lot worse.
“After talking to the investment department, I learned he probably wanted me to go to a bank and get money out then wire it to him then he would have ‘miraculously disappeared’ while I would be on camera getting money and I would have been prosecuted,” Bentley said.
Bentley said anyone who ventures into Cyber dating should know what warning signs to look for.
“Please be careful. There are a lot of scammers. Listen to your gut instincts; If it doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t. Use logic. Ask questions; and if they avoid or give short answers red flag. Out of the country is also a red flag. Don’t give out personal information,” she said.
Bentley also said it’s important to not be swept off your feet.
“When they send letters that melt your heart: Red flag. Mine used his Italian background: ‘Ciao, Bella’ and other cute nicknames,” Bentley said.
Bentley believes that while her online profiles were pretty general, there was something about her that made her an easy target.
“I just felt like SUCKER was written on my face. My profile was pretty general: Who I felt I was; what I was looking for. I feel like they preyed on my gullibility,” she said.
Perhaps Bentley’s Christianity was viewed as someone who would trust without question.
“The last thing I would put ‘Must love God first because if you can’t love Him how will you be able to love me,’” she said.
Currently, Bentley has decided to not set out on her own in search of the perfect love. Instead, she has decided to put her faith in God and let Him do the work for her.
“I’ve closed my accounts online. I’m not going to do anymore dating this way. And even though this happened, I do know God is watching over me; and I know He has someone who was made especially for me — that is why I love this quote I read, ‘A woman’s heart should be so hidden by Christ that a man has to search for Him to find her. Because God has made someone for everyone; and if he (Bentley’s soulmate) seeks Him first, he will then find me. So I now know that with faith, if I stand still and let God move, I wont need to use the Internet because God is bigger; and His timing is always perfect,’ she said.