Online dating deception, local woman loses $150K

KOSCIUSKO CO. A Kosciusko County woman is out almost $150,000 after falling for what she calls an online dating scam.

This woman wishes to remain anonymous, as the investigation into her case is ongoing. In February, she, who for the purposes of this story is called Tonya, turned to an online dating website to find a companion. A connection was made immediately, and Tonya confided in a man who called himself John Hagen.

He was depicted online as an attractive, successful engineer from South Bend. The two began communicating by phone, including calls and text messages. Unfortunately for Tonya, in just a matter of weeks, getting to know each other turned into desperation. He wanted money, and it was disguised as "love."

"It got pretty intense fairly quickly. 'I love you, I want to be with you for the rest of my life.' Lots of passion and lots of attention. Just really making me feel special," said Tonya about her online romance.

John told Tonya he needed money while traveling overseas on a planned work trip to Egypt. It was one catastrophe after the next and his excuses were excessive. He lost his tools and needed money to rent them, he needed funds to pay his staff and enough to pay hospital bills after he supposedly had a stroke.

"It's almost like you know something is coming, but you're in so, so far. You just play it through," said Tonya.

The two arranged to meet at the South Bend airport twice. Both times, John did not get off the plane. Four months and thousands of dollars later, Tonya had had enough and told John she couldn't give him any more money.

"I had sent this man a total of almost $150,000 by this time."

The final straw happened when Tonya received a call from her bank notifying her of fraudulent activity. John had tried to access her account himself.

The Kosciusko County Sheriff's Department and the Better Business Bureau are investigating.

"There was more to this one then I've ever heard in the number of years I've been with the bureau," said Dreama Jensen of the Better Business Bureau.

"Based on other information we have, I seriously doubt this is a person working alone. It is probably a large organization doing this," said Jensen.

Jensen says in this situation, the red flags are apparent.

"If they immediately fall for you and they are immediately interested in all of your personal life," said Jensen, when they jump in with both feet and all arms, then it's a red flag."

"And the money. It didn't take him long at all until he needed money. And it didn't matter what she told him, he had a story for the next time and the next time. So, when they can move that quickly on it, they've schooled themselves well," said Jensen.

Tonya says she was tricked into believing she had found true love. She continued sending money in hopes it would bring John home from overseas, so the two could finally meet in person. She felt connected after he revealed personal information about himself. He also continuously connected with her by phone.

"The money could have been used in such better ways. For my kids, for my church, it could have been used in so many better ways," said Tonya.

If you suspect you are being scammed, contact your local Better Business Bureau.

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