More con artists are finding their marks on all manner of social media platforms, knowing that the payoff from older victims can be big. Ellen Floren was not looking for love. The criminals who lured her into an online scam last summer approached her not on a dating site, where she might have been wary, but through the neighborhood hub called Nextdoor.

A man who said his name was James Gibson said he’d noticed her profile on the site. He also lived in her Chicago neighborhood, he told her, specifying a street. Could they have a conversation?

“He was very polite: ‘I hope I’m not out of line. I just found you very attractive,’” recalled Ms. Floren, who is 67 and a part-time educational consultant. They chatted on the site for a week or so. “Then it was, ‘Is it OK if we email?’”

She agreed. Soon they shifted to phone conversations, often lasting an hour, and to texting several times a day. “It became very seductive,” Ms. Floren said. How could she help sympathizing when he revealed that his wife and child had been killed in a car crash long ago?

Though they had swapped photos, they hadn’t met in person; he said he was temporarily working in a distant suburb, at a high-level job in communications systems, and staying at a hotel.

But after a few weeks, when he said he was coming to Chicago, they arranged to have dinner. “I thought, this is someone I’m going to enjoy getting to know,” Ms. Floren said. She was disappointed when the supposed Mr. Gibson got in too late to see her, then apologetically said he had just landed a big job in Europe and had to leave at once, postponing their date.

As “James Gibson” was leaving for Europe, he suddenly called, saying his Netflix card had expired. “He really wanted to be able to watch movies on the plane,” she recalled. “Would I please go to a Walmart and buy him a $100 Netflix card?”

Gift cards, untraceable and available everywhere, have become the currency of choice for scammers, Ms. Nofziger said. But they may also ask victims to open a bank account and provide access to it, or to ship iPhones.

Ms. Floren bought a gift card, reading her apparent suitor the number. Three days later, he called again, claiming to have left a bag of expensive tools in a cab. “He was hysterical on the phone,” she said. The tools were worth $4,000, but he’d found replacements for just $2,600. Would she send him the money?

She took a break, had a cup of coffee, wondered why an international traveler had no credit card or employer willing to help. When the man called back, she announced, “You are scamming me,” tossed in a few expletives, and hung up, blocking him online and on the phone. Total financial loss: $100.

When she posted about the fraud on Nextdoor and Facebook, other women said they’d been similarly defrauded.

Culled from https://www.nytimes.com

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