Romance Scam: How It Happened to Me

I have never met someone who intended to hurt me since day 1 until Paul who I “met” on OkCupid early June this year. I have been actively using OkCupid for about three years as a forty something single woman looking for like minded men around my age and area. In the last couple of years, I was able to meet 15 local men but most of them did not go beyond the first date. I continued to be optimistic.

On July 7th, 2018, I received a message from Paul, 45, NYC. The message was normal and with substance – I look forward to having meaningful conversations with you – and that’s huge. I decided to respond. In his response, he was quick to ask me: “How is online dating going for you? and what are you looking for?” He was also quick to state clearly what he was looking for: “I’m looking for a woman who is ready for a serious long term relationship with commitment. Would like to take each day at a time to learn more about you. How long have you been single? I got divorced almost 4 years ago and I have a 15 yrs old boy that lives with me. I’m mentally and emotionally ready for something new.” I thought, great, a man who knew what he wanted and it was a real relationship.

Paul was not shy about sharing details about himself. “I’m originally from the Netherlands and I have been living in the US for almost 13 years. I have lived in CA and Seattle until few months ago before I moved to NY… I work as a Project Evaluator in disaster and aid management, I help to facilitate the distribution of relief and provide medical assistance to displaced people living in remote areas across the world. I’ve been doing it for 17 years, It can be very challenging and rewarding.” I thought he had a very admirable job. However, I made a mental note to asking him more about because I knew so little of disaster and emergency management in the world.

It turned out that I met him when his birthday was coming up. “Can we chat tomorrow? It is my birthday today and I’m having friends and family over at my place.” The next day, he let me know that, ” I had a lot of fun celebrating with family and friends. I cooked some of my favorite meal then invited them over for dinner. When is your birthday Moreover, I’m grateful to have a job that provides me with the opportunity to help those that are in need and knowing that there is more to do is what motivates me in other to do more. I decided to move to NY in other to leave some memories behind us and for my son to be closer to his grandparents. Have you always lived in NY?”

He soon suggested that we move off OkCupid while sharing a few more details about himself. “I liked Boston since my first visit couple of years ago and who knows maybe you might give me another reasons to come there. Smiles! Hope you get to see your parents. How old are they? My parents are deceased and I wish they were still here. Will you like to communicate through phone and text messaging? I think it is a more efficient way of interacting with one another.”

During the first month, we texted and messaged. He started checking in with good-morning and good-night texts. My friends were impressed and so was I.

On Monday night, July 23, Paul surprised and called me for the first time. We had an awkward pause for about 10 seconds then he started laughing and I felt at ease. I liked him a bit more that instance. I had told him that I only talked to my parents on the phone and no one else. He said that he wanted to be added to the list. I could feel that he was interested in me. That felt good. From that day one, we talked almost every day. Sometimes it was a quick call, other times longer. His calls and texts became part of my routine and day.

That week, Paul complained about a severe headache and had to see a doctor. The doctor suggested to him to take a scan and he did. He went back to the doctor a couple of days later and got his test results back. It was all normal! Meanwhile, I was sharing personal details with him as well. I told Paul about my full name, email, and website.

While I was taking to Paul almost every night, I wanted to know more about him. I Googled him several times based on what I knew: Paul Henriks, 347-667-2147, prhenriksjobs003@gmail.com, and found nothing at all. He had zero online presence. I told myself not to worry and continued to get to know him.

In addition to messages, I asked Paul for pictures wanting to know more about him. “So I can see what you are seeing!” I told him. Paul was able to send me photos of his family, the birthday party he went to, and from his camping trip. Finally, photos! I told him that I now knew that he was not a serial killer and was real. I sent him a few more my recent photos too and told him that I was breaking my rule of “no pictures before meeting in person.” He responded, “I am not going to kill you with pictures!” I told him about my schizophrenia. He said that he did not mind.

On Monday July 30, Paul happily told me that he had won the proposal that he has been working one. That was work for him for the next 18 to 20 months. He said he wanted to come and see me. I thought that was serious commitment to getting to know me. I was happy to hear that. He needed to wait to hear more about his work travel schedule this week, then he would let me know when he could meet.

Out of the blue, Paul deleted his profile on OKC. I did not expect that! Typically, this requires a conversation. But he just made his own decision. I asked him what he meant by that and he said that he wanted to focus on this. The next day, I disabled mine too. I felt that I was talking to someone who was kind and caring. I would also focus on this.

During one of our phone calls, Paul sounded a bit upset. When I asked him what was wrong, he said that he was expecting to travel for work sooner than he thought. He would only be able to visit me after his work trip. I thought that was okay and reassured him that was fine with me.

Paul emailed me his flight details and confirmations for traveling to Manila, Philippines for work. His return flight was from Manila to Boston. He did not book a flight leaving Boston to go back to New York. During this time, giving the time zone difference, we talked less regularly. But Paul continued to show an effort to keep in touch with me.

We lost communication for three days. Then I received the a few emails from Paul.

Email: Tuesday, August 14, 12:10 PM

Good morning babe,

How are you? I hope you had a good night sleep. I arrived Manila safely, although we experience a mid air turbulence and a  bumpy landing other than that it was fine. I had my first official meeting with the Directors today, It was short but It offered me an opportunity  to make a positive impression. I am looking forward to yet another meeting with the Directors tomorrow to discuss the details surrounding the execution of the project, project schedule and contract review/negotiations.

Moreover, It’s been almost 3 days since we last spoken, I must confess that I’m missing you more than I could ever imagine. You have become a special part of day and our conversation has brought me great joy and laughter.

I should be able to communicate with you through text or phone within the next 24 hours. I look forward to hearing your sweet voice.

You are always on my mind..

Email: Monday, August 20, 9:01PM

Good morning babe!

Hope you’re having a wonderful day. Sorry I couldn’t get to talk to you last before going to bed. I had two separate meetings with the Lawyers and the committee in charge of the legal process. We talked about the details surrounding the  signing of the contract and the financial aspect from the Budgeted Capital, Legal fees and Total Accrued Profit. At the end I agreed to pay 8% of my total profit as the legal fee in advance so the Directors and the committee in charge can grant the Lawyers the  legal capacity to represent me in all the legal proceedings regarding the signing of the contract that binds the project approval which is the final stage. I’ve written to my Bank to make provisions for the legal fee so we can proceed with the signing of the contract agreement.

Yesterday was the last meeting with the officials. Hopefully the whole contract agreement would be finalized by tomorrow morning. It is a public holiday here today, I’ll be spending most of today here at the apartment.

Talk to you before you go to bed.

Email: Tuesday, August 20, 8:52PM

Good Evening to you!

Hope you’ve had a good day at work. I didn’t have to wake up at 1am for the phone call appointment with the Bank. I received a email in response to my request for a short term loan of $110,000.00 in other to complete the payment for the legal fee. My short term loan request was denied but they were able to processed the transfer of $260,000.00 as part of the payment for the legal fee.  As a result of this disappointment I won’t be able to sign the contract agreement until the end of the week while I look into other options available for me to come up with the remainder of the legal fees which will take few days.

I’m having a meeting at 9am with the Directors  and the committee. I’m going to call you when I’m through with the meeting.

<end of email>

Paul had to extend his trip in Manila. He was not able to come to Boston as planned. Needless to say, I was very disappointed. However, I understood that work was important to him. I told myself to be supportive and patient.

For the rest of August, Paul worked on getting the funds he needed to pay the lawyers. He got additional 30k from his sister and Andre’s grandparents and 50k from credit cards. He was still short of 20k. Sam and a friend in CA could not give back the money he had loaned them earlier until next week. Paul is in a tough situation. He admitted that he had never bit on such a large project before and that this situation had never happened to him before. Friday was the deadline for the final negotiation. If he did not have money by then, he loses the whole project.

Meanwhile, different scenarios were running through my head. I had a session with my therapist Deborah. My gut told me not to help him by lending him money. Deborah agreed and said, stay out of it. We were both thinking this could be a scam! But I wanted to hope that I had met a good man. So I continued to hope for the best while promising Deborah that I would be careful and protect myself. I Googled “lending friends money” and the first article said, You do not have to lend anyone money.

Then over the weekend, Aug 30 to Sept 2, I did not hear from Paul at all. I thought that he might be traveling home to New York. He must be devastated. As far as I knew, he lost the project. I did the math in my head and the project was a couple of millions. It was not like him to not communicate at all. I missed hearing from him. I was also worrying for him.

Sunday night Sept 2, Paull finally texted. He was still in Manila and in the hospital. His severe headache was back. He only texted briefly. I still did not know what was going on other than where he was. He said we could talk later his night but he did not call. Somehow, the deadline for his contract got extended.

Tuesday night Sept 4. Paul texted again. This time I was calmer. He was still in the hospital. They kept him because he was not well enough to leave. He was getting better but still weak. His guide in Manila Nel has been in communication with his son Andre and brother-in-law Sam. He said he misses me and I feel better! I told myself that I needed to be patient while he sorted out his healthy. He was obviously under a lot of stress because of work and health. He again told me that he should be released from the hospital and that we could talk soon.

On Thursday Sept 6., Paul sent me this text:

Paul: I am not sure how you’re going to feel about this but I’m in a very difficult position regarding the whole legal agreement and I’m not sure if there is something you can do to assist me financially. I want to know if you could at least lend me about 10,000USD so as to be able to finalize the whole agreement. I’ll be able to pay back by the time you’re in NJ… thanks!”

Me: Paul, I just don’t know you well enough to just send you money. It’s a lot of money! Would you be able to send me more information? Let me take a look? How much are you short of?

Paul: I’m short of about 10,000usd (Ten Thousand US Dollars)

Me: At this point, I am not comfortable lending you money… I only have your phone number… I don’t even know your address… I am sorry.

Paul: Okay. I understand. You don’t have to be sorry.

Me: When is your new deadline?

Paul: Monday

Friday Sept 7, 7:45 AM, more text.

Me: Any luck on getting what you need?

Paul: No luck.

Me: Why would you have money later in a week or two but not right now? Also what about Sam, your friend in CA and other investment funds (that you told me about)? By the way, what is your address? Home address I mean.

Me: So does this mean that you are not going to get this project? What’s happening on Monday? I think this whole thing is a bit crazy! Especially that you are doing this all on your own and don’t have a company of people with you.

Me: [Sending Paul banks that offer short-term loans with 6.99 to 24.99 APR]

Me: How much money do you already have? Would these people really reject a selected (?best) candidate for 10K? Does not make any sense to me!

Paul: I am sorry but I won’t have asked you for help if I wasn’t going to lose out completely on this project. There wouldn’t be any reason for me to do what I did.

Sat Sep 8, 10:23AM

Me: It could be a scam. You could disappear. I have not idea. No way of knowing.

<End of text>

Throughout this whole experience, I was oscillating between trusting Paul and wanting to help him versus being cautious since I had never met the man. I thought the texts and phone calls brought us closer together but for me it was still missing something. I felt like I was in “something” but not quite. I was not completely emotionally and mentally invested in Paul yet. That was my luck. I had learned from previous online-dating dates that my imagination sometimes got ahead of myself. Texting and phone-call personalities could never represent 100% of someone’s true in-person personality. Keep initial texting short. Gotta meet the guy to really know what’s the real deal!

Short of meeting up, I tried different ways to validate Paul’s identity. I asked him for his full name. Then I Googled him and found nothing. It was hard to imagine someone with zero online presence. He claimed that he stopped using Facebook profile during the Cambridge Analytica scandal. But what about LinkedIn? As an independent consulting working for himself, I would imagine that he would need a professional online presence. I also Googled his phone number and profession and found nothing.

Paul was perfect via text and phone calls though. He started his first message looking for a serious long-term relationship. Even I was wondering what he saw in me and my online profile that he was so sure. His good-morning and good-night texts were heart melting. He said and did all the right things from the start.

But quickly, the conversations turned to money matters. I knew better not to mix a-man-I-never-met with money matters. I did not understand the business arrangement that he was describing, as important as he seemed to think of it. I did not understand what he did for living, as much as it sounded nobel. Why would he not having anyone else but a stranger to ask for money? Why would he be so short of cash if he was able to bid on such a large project? Why was he not better prepared for his contract negotiation? He did not manage his business and money well. There was too much that I did not understand about him to feel comfortable with the situation.

When he started to talking about money, I thought to myself, oh my god, he might ask me for money. I saw three options. First, if I lend him money and he disappears, shame on me. Second, if I did not lend him money and he gets upset, then I could see his true colors and his priorities. Third, if I did not lend him money and we continued to speak then that would show his true color. Based on facts, not feelings, I thought the smart thing to do was to stay out of his business. No matter what the situation was, asking a stranger for money was a red flag in itself.

One week after Paul stopped talking to me, I shared this with my close friends. They validated my suspicion. We all agreed that this was a romantic scam. A very elaborate one! Paul Henriks probably did not exist. There might even be a team of people. This was their “work” and I was their “project.” This could happen to anyone! I look at the name, texts, emails, and photos on my phone and I still can’t believe it!

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mindytsai

Focus on happiness and life! Passionate as an #ePatient. Entertained by #onlinedating. Enjoy being a #writer. Love my days at @medullan.

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