When 73-year-old Marie Orlando of Flushing formed an online friendship with a man on Facebook who she thought she could trust, it ended up becoming a nightmare for her.
Orlando, who lives by herself, suffered emotional distress after an online conman — posing as a U.S. military soldier — charmed his way into her heart and bank account.
“He friend requested me and was sending me many love letters every day,” said Orlando. “He told me he loved me and is going to marry me. I fell for this one and it was a scam.”
Orlando’s Facebook “friend” called himself “Anthony James” and told her he was a U.S. soldier based in Afghanistan and his General is Mark Sanders. James confided in her saying that he needed some money to return to the U.S.
Orlando trusted him because of his status and agreed to send him money — $1,500 from her bank account, and later, another $1,800.
“I felt sorry for him,” said Orlando. “I didn’t believe soldiers could do such bad things.”
Suddenly, James had disappeared and Orlando had befriended another person on Facebook, whom she believed to be a detective, to find James. “Shawn Campbell” introduced himself as “Det. Paschal,” and told her that he found James and Sanders in New York City, armed and dangerous.
“Paschal told me Anthony James killed two women in Chicago … he raped them and killed them, and there was a warrant for his arrest,” said Orlando, who immediately left her job and went into hiding for two weeks.
Det. Paschal had demanded more money from Orlando to continue the investigation. She gave thousands of dollars until she lost approximately $10,000 through deposits in TD Bank and Western Union to the so-called detective.
After being swindled, Orlando found out from another private investigator, whom she met through a friend, that the online perpetrator created multiple fake Facebook profile accounts, where he romanticized elderly women and vanished after receiving money.
Fred Puglisi, of Quality Private Investigations, told Orlando that the actual person in the photos she had received may have been Sven Heinrich, a German man whose photo has been used for online scams.
“The photos of supposed General Mark Sanders in the U.S. Army uniform with the flag of the U.S. African Command in the background was a photo-shopped image of the real General Carter Ham, USA Army, African Command,” said Puglisi. “Another name among numerous false names associated with the photos is Malvin Brown, and many more all used in military and romantic social media scams, many victims elderly females,” said Puglisi.
Many of the scammers originate in Africa from Ghana and Nigeria, according to Puglisi.
Puglisi had contacted the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center and the United States African Command units were advised as well.
Desperate to get back her money and catch the scammer who took advantage of her, Orlando had attempted to report the incidents to authorities. She was met with resistance from the local precinct who called it a civil matter, and needed bank documentation before a report could be taken, according to Puglisi. So far, bank officials have not provided much-needed assistance.
“There are so many victims/scams out there,” said Puglisi. “It is almost impossible to get help or even get a police report taken to get a police detective involved so certain bank records and evidence can be subpoenaed.”
Orlando said she wants other women to know about the online scam, so they won’t experience the harrowing ordeal she endured.
“Do not answer him because he’s a bad guy,” she said. “He’ll send love letters and tell you he’s going to marry you … do not answer him. I want my money back and I want someone to catch him, and put him in jail because he’s a bad guy doing that to everybody. When I think about it, I feel bad.”
Anyone who wishes to contact Fred Puglisi in regards to the story can send an email at FJP122@aol.com.