Internet Dating and Romance Scams

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Police beat: Stolen-terrier scam, gun, another Nigerian nightmare

Editor’s note: Compiled from reports to Tacoma police.

April 3: The 51-year-old Tacoma man was looking for love. He thought he found it on a website called flirtomatic.com.

In March, he began chatting online with a young woman named Laura. She was 31, 5-foot-10 and 130 pounds, with strawberry-blond hair, according to the pictures she sent. She lived in Indiana.

Romance bloomed: daily chats and texting. Then Laura asked a favor.

She was stuck in Nigeria, she said. Her parents had died, and left her a condominium and textile mill. She’d flown to Africa to look over the property, but she was out of money. Could the man help?

The man wired money via Western Union. On March 27, Laura said she was leaving Nigeria, but she needed more money for airfare. She’d catch a flight and meet him in Tacoma.

The man wired more money to an address in Nigeria. All told, he’d wired more than $1,800 over several weeks.

Days passed. Laura didn’t show. By March 31, the man realized he’d been scammed. On April 3, he walked into a police substation and filed a report. As he was filing it, Laura sent a text message asking for more money.

The officer checked the Indiana address Laura had given. It tracked to a hotel. The officer told the man that an investigation was unlikely. Tacoma officers couldn’t follow a case to Nigeria. The man said he understood. He wanted to file the report anyway, so others would know what to avoid.

April 7: The 18-year-old Tacoma woman knew she was speeding. She didn’t expect a traffic stop backed with a gun.

It was early evening. She drove her Volkswagen Jetta on Five Mile Drive at Point Defiance Park, taking in the sights, zipping a little. Two friends rode with her: a 17-year-old boy and a 16-year-old girl.

The driver saw another car ahead: a green Ford Expedition, going slow. The woman caught up. The Expedition pulled over and let her pass. The woman cruised forward.

The Expedition followed, tailgating. It pulled beside her on the narrow road. The 18-year-old saw a window roll down. She saw a man and a woman inside. The man flashed a badge and shouted at her: Pull over.

Uneasy, the 18-year-old pulled over. So did the Expedition. The man stepped out. He was about 5-foot-9, maybe 200 pounds. His hair was brown. He wore a camouflage-colored cap, blue jeans and a gray shirt. He held a silver-colored handgun and pointed it at the Jetta as he approached.

The man with the gun was shaking. He asked the 18-year-old if she knew the speed limit. She didn’t. He asked for her license and registration. She fumbled for it. The man holstered his gun.

He looked at the registration and gave it back. He told her this was a warning – but if he caught her again, she’d get a ticket. He walked back to the Expedition and drove away.

Unsettled, the 18-year-old called police. An officer took down a description of the Expedition and the man with the gun and sent out a radio call.

Another officer spotted the Expedition on South G Street. The driver, a 30-year-old Tacoma man, had a suspended license. His passenger, a woman, had an active arrest warrant.

The man carried a silver-colored gun and a gold badge. It looked like a police officer’s badge, but it wasn’t. It was lettered with the words, “Concealed weapons permit.”

The officer booked the woman into the Pierce County Jail on the arrest warrant, and booked the man into the jail on suspicion of impersonating a police officer.

April 2: The 66-year-old Tacoma woman was frantic. Someone had stolen her dog, a Yorkshire terrier, right out of the front yard.

She posted a lost-dog notice on Craigslist. She didn’t say the dog had been stolen; she feared that would alert the thief.

Within hours, the woman’s phone rang. A voice told her someone was trying to sell her dog for $300. The ad was already posted on Craigslist.

The woman found the ad and called the listed phone number. Hoping to spring a trap, she offered to buy the dog. The seller agreed to meet in the 4300 block of Tacoma Mall Boulevard. The older woman drove to the site.

At the meeting spot, she saw a young woman, 21, holding her dog. The older woman confronted the younger one. The younger woman denied stealing the dog; she said it belonged to her aunt, who had just died.

The older woman called police. An officer arrived in the middle of a seething argument.

Again, the younger woman denied stealing the dog. The older woman was hysterical, the report states. She said her dog was in heat. The dog had a microchip, she told the officer. That could be checked.

Mediating, the officer escorted everyone to an emergency veterinary clinic in the 5600 block of South Durango Street. The younger woman agreed to go, but she held the dog the whole way.

Clinic staffers examined the dog. It was in heat, and it had a microchip. The chip had a number. Staffers gave it to the officer, who wrote it down and didn’t reveal it to anyone. The Pierce County Humane Society could verify the number, but the office was closed.

The younger woman refused to release the dog. She again insisted it was hers.

The older woman told the officer she had a record of the chip at home. She would check it. The officer took the dog to police headquarters, kenneled it and waited.

Two hours later, the older woman called the officer. She had the chip number. She read it aloud. It matched the number on the officer’s notes.

The officer set a small trap. He called the younger woman and told her the number on the microchip didn’t match. Could she come in and pick up her dog?

The younger woman came to the station. By now it was 12:30 a.m. The officer cuffed her. He told her she was under arrest on suspicion of extortion.

The younger woman pouted. She said she shouldn’t be arrested because the officer had lied to her. She told him he needed to work on his people skills.

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April 18, 2012 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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