Dawn Ricci and Tony DeLorenzo trap online scammers in TLC special Web of Deceit

tlc web of deceit

In 2007, fortysomething single mom Sandy was battling the isolation and depression that stemmed from her recent divorce and the lingering effects of a car crash when she logged on to a poker web site and met handsome Texan “Keith.” The two began chatting regularly, first online and then over the phone, where their friendship quickly blossomed into the kind of Cinderella story lonely Sandy longed for.

There was just one problem. After six years of only speaking to her love online and on the phone — and sending him tens of thousands of dollars to help him through what he claimed was the fallout of his own divorce — Sandy made plans to pack up her two sons and make a fresh start with in Texas with Keith. And suddenly Keith disappeared.

Destitute and dumbfounded, Sandy contacted married infidelity investigators Tony DeLorenzo and Dawn Ricci of New Jersey-based All State Investigations to help her figure out how her Cinderella story had come to such a horrible ending. Her story is now the subject of the TLC documentary special Web of Deceit which weaves the details of how Sandy got duped and Ricci and DeLorenzo’s efforts to uncover the truth into a cautionary tale of how to stay safe and sane in today’s digital dating world.

We talked with Ricci and DeLorenzo about Sandy’s strange case and the chaotic world of online dating that has launched their business into cyper space and around the globe.

Channel Guide Magazine: Can you give me a brief bit of your professional background?

Dawn Ricci: We primarily did infidelity cases — I’ve been doing this for 25 years and Tony has been doing it for 40 — and as time went on and the development of the internet changed the world and how relationships develop, infidelity and internet scams have gone hand-in-hand.

CGM: At what point did you realize that a sizeable portion of your business was evolving into web-based relationship scams?

Tony DeLorenzo: What happened was we started getting calls 5-7 years ago where the callers would say, “I met somebody on one of the dating sites and I’m in New York and they’re in California and I’m getting ready to see him for the first time, so can you guys check him out?” all the way to “I met a guy online and gave him $5000 to come out to see me and now I can’t find the guy. Maybe he’s in the hospital. Can you help me find him?”

And at first when we took these cases on, we really thought we were helping people find people that might be hurt injured, but after a while every single one was just a scam.

CGM: I was noodling around on your web site and was fascinated by how you detailed the differences in the ways each of the genders get scammed via the Internet — what was the social study like in arriving at those findings?

DR: As far as the social studies part, I think it’s really just school of hard knocks, because we deal with so many emotional people every single day. And women and men are different, so women scammers are completely different than men scammers.

For example, there’s the “to catch a millionaire.” If a female wants to make some money, the best way to do that is sex appeal. So she would use her sex appeal to have him fall into her trap and then once he’s caught in the trap, she gets what she wants and then disappears and goes on to the next person.

TD: And also in the millionaire cases, if you saw a picture of the girl and you saw a picture of the guy, you knew the guy had to have money because the guy is 10, 20, 30 years older than the girl and the girl is a knockout — so you know that she’s only there for the money. But the guy feels that since he has money, people will be attracted to him, and that’s what it’s so easy to scam him.

We had somebody where the family hired us and said, “Listen, my brother, who is 40 years old, came into a lot of money because our parents just died and he has this young girl who is 25 years old and we know that there is no way in hell that this guy would ever date my brother, because he is a slob. And now, all of sudden, they’re traveling the world and he’s dropping $30,000 on that and he has her up in NYC in a $10,000-a-month apartment and as soon as that money runs out, she’s going to run out.

The family knows he’s being taken, so our job is to show the guy that she’s scamming him and other guys at the same time.

But with males and females, the same things are always involved. They’re lonely. Something tragic has happened in their lives. And they have a little bit of money.

The concept of this show is going to be so huge, because we tried to advertise on the dating sites and they did not want us on there. And all I really wanted to say is do you know who you’re really dating? That’s all. I wanted to have a banner on the site, but they wouldn’t let me advertise because they know that’s how much trouble is on these sites.

DR: Nobody on these sites is doing due diligence. But they can only do so much. There’s nothing that you can cross-match.  So any Joe can sign up and say they’re somebody else. It’s a free-for-all right now. And we’re not here bashing any dating sites, because in this day and age that’s the way the world is. And you have to trust somebody at some point — but you have to mind your p’s and q’s. You have to think outside of the box and you have to watch what everyone is saying and just be a little bit leery. Don’t make your life an open book so fast.

TD: But when you’re so lonely, and suddenly you have someone paying attention to you, it’s easy to say, “I’ve been suffering so long and everybody else is happy in life so why can’t I be happy?” And then once they fall into it, they’re in denial and saying, “It can’t be happening to me, because I am a smart person.”

CGM: Are women — and single or divorced moms in particular, like Sandy from the special — most susceptible to this kind of scam, since they spend so much of the their time taking care of others and wishing that someone would take care of them?

DR: Every person is different. I don’t know exactly what went on in Sandy’s head. I think she was just hoping for the best and she was coming off of a relationship and so I think what her history is and why she did it.

Obviously she was mortified about what was happening, and the show is going to reveal a lot of the details of how she fell for it. But I think every situation is a little different. Some people would notice it right off the bat. Some people wouldn’t.

Also I think it’s an age factor. It’s a generational factor. Maybe — and it’s a big maybe — younger people who are born and raised with the internet will act and react differently than the 40-somethings who were introduced to it later on in life.

TD: And also people like Sandy in general — they’ll say, “I met a guy and they’re going to take control. I got them a car, and they’re going to get a job and an apartment.” She thinks he’s setting everything up for her, so instead of her being stressed, she doesn’t have to worry about it anymore if she just gets this guy in a position to help her. And I think that’s how she got stuck in it. And when she got ready to come out, he pulled everything out from under her feet.

We just did another one about a month ago where a guy in Florida, a lady sent him money for a used car, she’s paying for the condo fees and she’s paying the rent and the whole bit and she got him money to get a job and he was all settled, he dumped her. Because everything was in her name. He kept the car. The condo was in her name, but he stayed there until he got evicted. The guy got himself a free year of money and someplace to live by conning the lady.

DR: Stuff gets crazier each passing year. Last week I had a lady who met someone online, but something didn’t sit right with her, so she called us. The guy was begging for money because apparently his stuff got stolen in some far-off land somewhere and he told her the only other way for him to get home is he’s going to have to sell a kidney. I told her, “Just go back and tell him, ‘Start prepping for your surgery, because we’re not sending you any money to get home.’”

CGM: The special seems to have great potential to become a series. Is that something that is being discussed?

DR: I would love to do that — just to help people and to educate people that they can’t take the internet for granted. There’s a lot of great things about the internet, but you have to mind your p’s and q’s.

TD: I think if the TV show put something at the end that said, “If this happened to you or a friend, call this number” the network would get swamped with calls because it’s just staggering.

And one of the biggest problem sites out there is these dating “Over 50” dating sites. These are the perfect opportunity for scam artists because a lot of these women and guys have just been through a divorce, they got their divorce settlement and they’re like fish in a barrel ready to get pegged — because these guys know they’re easy targets They haven’t dated in 10,20, 30 years and they don’t know what it is like to date in today’s world and they just get eaten up alive.

CGM: Nev Shulman and the Catfish movie and series launched this into the public consciousness. But is there a flip side to it, in that dishonest people have a sort of televised primer as to what causes really vulnerable people to fall for their ruse?

TD: By us doing this show, it would stop everything that they could do. When we say “Here’s what to watch for — here it is,  step by step,” it would start eliminating what these guys are able to do, because people already have the answer before these guys even do the pitch.

And with the show Catfish, they’re trying to get people together. We’re not like that. We’re trying to put people in jail. [Laughs]

DR: And with Catfish, there’s not a lot that involves money. It’s mostly dishonesty — showing a picture that doesn’t look the same as they really do in person. It’s not as dirty. In Sandy’s case, this changed her whole entire life.  We have clients who come to us who have lost everything, because their family has turned their back on them. I’ve had clients that ended up living in their car.

That’s why we’re so happy to bring this story out because the only revenge that our clients and the people that are going to participate on this show are going to get is confronting them. Because I don’t ever believe that they’re going to see their money back.

CGM: For people who are sitting down to a dating site or chat room for the very first time, what are some tools they can use to avoid becoming the victim of a scam?

DR: If somebody is just talking way too smooth and if they’re in love right away, or their story is so comparable to yours, you should only believe half of what’s going on. You have to give it some time.

I also think that if you’re going to date somebody online, you should stick closer to home — if not in your own state or your own county, at least within driving distance, so that you’re not too far from home. And when you do go to meet them for the first time, bring a friend with you.

TD: And also get a cellphone number or a home phone number. And tell them that you want to mail them a birthday card or an “I’m Thinking of You” card, because if you have an address, if the card goes to someone’s else’s house that’s not him, at least we know the person at that address has some knowledge of who received the card. That’s one thing that we have that we can work off it.

CGM: And once you and Dawn are on the case, that’s it for that scammer?

TD: The reason I really love this show from my end is that I’m an in-your-face type of guy, so when I confront these people, I’m prepping myself like a fight. I’m doing all my research and finding out all their weaknesses and when I confront them I have everything under control where I just take the person down.

DR: And then I have to rein him in!

Web of Deceit premieres Wednesday, April 16 at 10/9CT on TLC.  

About Lori Acken 1195 Articles
Lori just hasn't been the same since "thirtysomething" and "Northern Exposure" went off the air.