Warner Robins woman loses savings in online scam

7:43 PM, Sep 29, 2012   |    comments
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MACON, Ga. -- (WMAZ) Carolyn Benningfield of Warner Robins seemed to have the all-American life.

She worked as a civilian on Robins Air Force base, had a husband in the Air Force and two sons, and lives in a middle class home in Warner Robins.

But Benningfield fell victim to what law enforcement calls "online romance fraud."

After she met a man online, he eventually convinced to her donate her entire life savings to his fake oil company, costing her almost $800,000.

After her husband passed away in 2009, Benningfield felt lonely, and earlier this year, decided to look for love on Match.com.

After a few months on the site, and a few leads that didn't pan out, she finally came across someone she thought was her match.

"When his profile came online, I had prayed to God to meet a good, Christian man, and I thought my dreams had come true." The man claimed to a be a 66-year old widow who was "looking for a lifelong relationship."

He listed his religion as Catholic, which appealed to Benningfield. He said he lived in Macon, just a few miles away.

Carolyn says she was the one who "made the first wink."

The two soon began chatting online every day early this year -- at first about their families, but then the topic turned to money.

The man said he was on a business trip to Ecuador, and that he had lost his luggage. He asked Carolyn for $1,000 to buy new clothes.

But then, the requests grew larger when the man told her he was investing in an oil company.

She gave thousands of dollars through Western Union, Wells Fargo, and MoneyGram to accounts everywhere from Russia to New Zealand to Ecuador in increments from $1,000 to as high as $99,000 at a time.

The man explained that the reason he did not use his actual name on the accounts and wanted them delivered separately was because the indviduals listed were "pick up" people for his company.

They never met in person, but Benningfield said they spoke on the phone several times. She said he had a heavy Eastern European accent, and told her he grew up in Prague before returning to the U.S.

She said he also changed phone numbers and email accounts often.

In the end, Benningfield gave away all of her life savings, and because she pulled out her 401K, faces a tax lien on her Warner Robins home.

She says friends and the bank began to warn her when the funds became large, but she says she didn't listen because "in my heart, I thought it was true."

Benningfield says she reported the fraud to the Warner Robins, but had to go to the FBI because it involved international money exchanges.

She doesn't know the status of their investigation, and we could not reach the FBI for an update.

The man listed an address on Rocky Creek Road in Macon on his "promissory notes" to Benningfield.

But when 13WMAZ went to the address, we found a vacant house. Neighbors say no one lives there.

Benningfield says she was simply blinded.

"You think something is right and nobody can tell you any different, but when it comes to hindsight like it is right now, I could see, I could see."

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