by Lisa Black
The numbers of romance scams are overwhelming, but stories rarely go into the details of exactly who the victims are and what motivates them. One well-reported case is that of 56 year old Renee Holland of Pennsylvania, who began an online correspondence with a buff soldier named “Michael Chris.” Michael was off disarming bombs in Afghanistan. He was happy to have someone back in the states to talk to, about war, about life, about his sick daughter in California.
Because, of course, the photos posted on Facebook were actually those of a Marine named Daniel, who has spent years trying to remove his stolen and clipped photos from internet profiles. He has had relationships ruined and his family screening phone calls for him because of contacts by broken-hearted women wondering why he has ghosted them. There were over 65 fake profiles on Facebook using his photos.
When Michael didn’t show at the airport, Renee went to the store, bought sleeping pills and vodka and swallowed it all. She woke up in a hospital, her husband nearby. He was understanding, at first, having been Army Airborne himself. They tried to keep going. They moved to Florida, trying for a fresh start.
It’s a credit to the United States that we think so much of our soldiers. Presenting a military identity automatically confers respect, appreciation, and a desire to support, and that’s a wonderful thing about us. But it also turns the well-meaning into easy targets of those whose poverty has robbed them of conscience. A New York Times search on Facebook for the top three American generals produced over 120 impersonators. I know, I think I was friended by a few.
Renee’s Michael didn’t give up, with profuse apologies and complicated excuses. Between the strain of making amends to her husband and caring for an elderly, live-in father, Renee had only Michael for a sympathetic ear.
They kept in touch.
And she wound up sending him another twenty-plus thousand dollars, charging most of it.
There is progress being made. Social media platforms are meeting with advocates to improve methods of reporting and removing fake profiles, and a bill is currently before the House to prohibit the creation of fake profiles and fraudulent messages, and another to require social media platforms to remove such accounts. Domestic and overseas scammers have been charged and prosecuted.
But it will all come too late for Renee Holland. Two days before Christmas, 2018, her husband shot and killed her, then her father, then himself.
Do you know anyone who’s become a victim of a scam?