A single mother in Illinois was conned out of $85,000 by a scammer posing as a Greek bachelor on a dating app after he set her up with sweet texts, emails and phone calls.
Christine Settingsgaard, 37, met ‘Mark Godfrey’, a supposed architectural engineer from Greece, on dating app Hinge and quickly fell in love with the widowed father of someone who said he worked in the US.
Mark used pictures of an unknown man with brown hair and a beaming smile to trick Settingsgaard along with messages professing his love for her and planning vacations.
There is nothing to suggest that the man in the picture is in any way implicated in the scam perpetuated against Settingsgaard, who is a successful manager.
He managed to trick her out of $85,000 by forwarding a check for that amount to Settingsgaard and then asking her to wire the cash to his siblings.
But Settingsgaard fell victim to a quirk that often sees banks make the cash available to the recipient of the check before it clears.
This meant Mark’s sister ‘Kelsey’ was able to withdraw the cash before the check bounced, meaning Settingsgaard had lost his life savings.
She faced being made homeless – until that Chicago Tribune reported the story, and her bank returned $82,000.
In one message, Mark told her: ‘I’ve got a resort picked out when I get back… All I need is you.’ The declarations of love worked, Settingsgaard said. She told DailyMail.com that the situation ‘consumed’ her for months and left her ‘publicly embarrassed.’
Christine Settingsgaard was scammed out of $85,000 by a man on a dating app who used fake photos and turned out to be a Nigerian scammer
Settingsgaard thought she had met Mark Godfrey, a widower with a daughter, but the photos turned out to be stolen from an unknown man, who is in the photo
The scammer sent Settingsgaard messages telling her he loved her and even planned a fake vacation for the couple. There is no indication that the man pictured above is in any way involved in the wrongdoing
She said the ordeal left her ‘penniless’ and if it wasn’t for friends, neighbors and her parents she ‘doesn’t know’ what she would have done as she could no longer pay her groceries or mortgage.
“My six-year-old son wanted to go to soccer camp this summer and the most heartbreaking thing was having to tell him he can’t go to camp because I was cheated,” she said.
After ‘liking’ each other’s profiles on dating app Hinge, the pair began chatting outside the app for weeks, with him showing interest in her hobbies and asking her personal questions to prove his interest.
He even ‘wrote’ her a love poem that made her fall even harder for the online love, but after the incident she found out that the poem was removed from a google search.
After six weeks of talking, Mark Settingsgaard asked for help transferring some money to his sister and daughter, who he said lived in Utah.
He asked Settingsgaard to transfer his ‘sister’ Kelsey $500 using Paypal. She promptly did so and Mark paid the money back, further gaining her trust.
Still, Settingsgaard still felt a bit suspicious and asked to see some form of ID, and she says he sent a California driver’s license with his name on it, which convinced her.
Mark then told her that he was making $85,000 at a job in Houston, but he couldn’t access his bank to send the money to his sister. He also claimed he was concerned the IRS was monitoring his account.
He said he would send Settingsgaard a check for the amount, and all she had to do was deposit the money and then transfer the money to her sister, making it seem like she didn’t have to touch any of the his own money.
But the scam is based on the fact that some banks do not confirm whether the account from which the money is being sent has the funds before making them available to the person cashing the cheque.
This means that Settingsgaard saw that she had $85,000 in her account the next day and sent it to Mark’s sister. He even told her she could keep $3,000 of the money as a sign of good faith.
Despite that, she was uncomfortable with the situation and texted him ‘I’m tired and don’t understand and feel like I’m about to be arrested for money laundering or something.’
‘No honey lol. No money laundering, you won’t get arrested, I promise,’ replied the scammer. He arranged for her to deposit the check in an ATM instead of giving it to a teller, which helps ensure the check is deposited.
Then the bank realized the check bounced and billed her account for it, putting it at negative $84,334.
Settingsgaard said the scam left her ‘penniless’ and she had to rely on friends and family to help with her mortgage payments and groceries
The Nigerian scammer contacted Settingsgaard from the account weeks after going silent and shared this photo of himself. He claimed he had been forced into a life of crime – and then asked for another $30,000. It’s still unclear if this is really the scammer or another unwitting victim whose photo was also stolen
The check was issued from Central Christian Church in Mesa, Arizona, and security there quickly discovered the check was a fake.
Cory Calkins, a security consultant for the bank, told the Chicago Tribune: ‘It was obviously a forgery and a fraud. We don’t write checks for $85,000.’
She also gave him access to her mobile phone account after he offered to pay her monthly bill. He proceeded to make expensive calls from Nigeria, accumulated $5,000 in the account and bought himself five iPhones.
After seeing the huge underbalance, Settingsgaard immediately contacted Mark, who played dumb and continued to make excuses until she finally got one last strange message from his account.
“This is Fiorani, E6 representative of the State Federal Bureau of Investigation,” the message read.
“We hate to break it to you, Ms. Settingsgaard, but none of the information about this person is real… The perpetrator manages to steal people’s information, open bank accounts in their names, and use their identities for money laundering.”
The Facebook account stopped responding after this and Settingsgaard realized that Fiorani, like Mark, had been a fraud.
But after three weeks of silence, the account messaged her again, simply saying “hi”. An outraged Settingsgaard immediately replied ‘you ruined my life. Who are you? Where are you?’
The scammer replied that his real name is William Ojo and, in a last desperate attempt to keep her on board with the scam, declared his love for her, this time by sending a ‘real’ picture of himself, looking vastly different from the previous one. .
He also said he was part of a criminal network in Nigeria and scams people for a living. He claimed: “I feel bad for cheating on you, but I have no choice.”
In one message, the scammer wrote “Regular jobs here are not like the ones in the US where everything is good,” along with “it makes my soul dark and I hate it but what choice do I have?”
He continued that he had fallen for Settingsgaard during the time that he had cheated on her: ‘At one point I wanted to stop the whole scam, because I fell COMPLETELY for you. I started redirecting from my fake stories to my real life.’
But again, the loving behavior appeared to be a ruse as she was again asked to deposit a check for $30,000, which she refused to do.
Settingsgaard finally reached a settlement with her bank to write off the $85,000 debt, but she says they only did so after being threatened by bad media coverage and were unhelpful and uninterested in her case before then.
“To this day, they have never apologized,” Settingsgaard said. She also said the bank’s managers told her they made several ‘honest mistakes’ that contributed to her being defrauded.
Likewise, Verizon left her on the hook for the expensive international minutes he put into her account, telling her the situation can’t be considered fraud because she had contact with the scammer.