You've no doubt received and deleted your share of obvious scam emails, but a piece by Brendan Koerner at Wired shows in wrenching detail how an email or message at a vulnerable time can throw a life off track. The story follows the travails of Audrey Elrod, who was a 45-year-old divorcee living in West Virginia when she got hooked into a classic scheme: A scammer set up a fake online persona as that of a handsome, Scottish engineer who works on an oil rig much of the year, and sent Elrod a flattering Facebook message. She bought the line about how he stumbled across her photo while looking up a friend with the same last name, and they struck up on online relationship. That's phase one—"The Bait."
Following closely is "The Grooming Phase" (daily phone calls filled with promises of a future together), "The Gift" (he asks for a small bit of money because he can't access his bank accounts from the oil rig), and "The Crisis" (a big problem, in this case involving his son needing cash to get out of a bind, playing into Elrod's desire to have a child of her own). By now, the in-love Elrod is hopelessly hooked. She was not only giving the fake "McGregor" her own meager earnings, but doing his bidding with dodgy bank wire transfers, always with some plausible excuse. The upshot? Elrod is now in prison and "McGregor" is in the wind. When reporter Koerner asks Elrod what she would ask the man who duped her if they ever met, the first question that comes to mind is, "Was it always a scam?" Click for the full piece. (Read more online dating stories.)