Online dating scam conned Minnesota woman out of $32,000

If you ever wondered how someone can fall for a scam on the internet, blame social engineering.
Jean thought a dating site for people over 50 would be a safe place to meet a nice guy.

"[He] sounded like he had a good background, hard worker," she said.

Instead, the Minnesota woman found a man who conned her out of a small fortune, $32,000, before they even met in person.

Chris Hadnagy is a professional social engineer who hears this all the time.

He is an expert at understanding why reasonable people fall for outrageous scams.

"When you look at any type of an attack that plays on people's emotions or desires, it's not stupidity that takes over, it's chemical reactions and realities," Hadnagy said. 

He wrote a book about the "Art of Human Hacking" which reads our brains release feel-good chemicals when someone tells us things we like to hear. 

What Jean was hearing from Fredrick was plenty likable.

"All that caught my eye because that was all things that were important to me," she said. 

Fredrick used classic social engineering to make child’s play of Jean's good intentions.

He began by telling Jean he was born in Germany but moved to Mankato as a young boy. He said he was currently working as a manager of a big construction project in Turkey.

Jean admits he was as charming on the phone as he was in his emails.

Over a period of several months they shared intimate emails and he texted or called daily.

A message from him played: "Please call me. I miss you. Can't wait to see you."

It got to a point where Frederick told Jean he was coming back to Minnesota to meet her, then he asked her for money for a plane ticket.

That is where the social engineering really kicked in.

Jean believed Frederick when he asked for the money.

She deposited cash into an account he had at Wells Fargo Bank.

"I should have stopped there," Jean said.

He then called to say he was being detained at the Turkish airport by police because he owed three year’s worth of back rent,  so she sent him more money.

According to Jean, he needed even more cash to pay other expenses before he could get on that plane to come to visit her.

"I went and took out a loan and sent him that," she said.

Over a three-day period, she put $32,000  into two bank accounts for Frederick.

"I went to my daughter and told her about it and she said mom it's a scam," Jean said. 

If you are wondering how could anyone fall for such an unbelievable story, Hadnagy has an answer: "It's the nature of attacks today. They're trying to shut down logic centers and trying to trigger emotion centers."

Jean's logic center finally booted up and she went to Wells Fargo to try and put a hold on the money she deposited in Frederick's account. She said they kept promising her they would get her money back.

After a few weeks a bank manger left a message on her cell phone: "I wanted to let you know our investigation is almost complete. I do want to be honest, it's looking not so good. We're still trying to figure out how to get you some money back."

In the end, every penny of her money was gone.

"I totally understand the romance scam and how someone could get hooked into it," said certified fraud examiner John McCullough, who has seen many cases like this one.

McCullough believes the bad guys are usually running the scams from outside of the country.

"In my opinion, it's organized crime," McCollough said. 

Jean's case is now being investigated by law enforcement.

Jean actually contacted the Fox 9 Investigators and asked them to tell her story because she hopes it will serve as a warning to others.

"I don't want people to go through what I went through, cause it's awful," Jean said.

Looking back, she cannot believe she did what she did, but that is what social engineering does -- it gets a reasonable person to trust a con man and do things that defy reason.