Online Love + Scam = Death

Jayne here – as promised, here is a chapter that didn’t make it to the final version of my book – which was officially released yesterday. True Crime Online: Shocking Stories of Scammers, Stalkers, Murder & Mayhem is available in print and as an ebook –

At first, Theresa Gravinese couldn’t believe her eyes. She was holding MoneyGrams and Western Union receipts that totaled $45,000 in cash payouts to three people. Two of them were Russian; the other was Nigerian.

Theresa wondered what connection her brother-in-law, Greg “Bart” Gravinese, had to these three people. He couldn’t have fallen for the old Nigerian online scam, or did he? After Bart had a fatal heart attack at the age of 50 in March 2008, Theresa and Bart’s brother, Pete, were sitting at Bart’s house going through his papers, cleaning, and trying to settle his estate. But they grew more disturbed by the papers they were finding.

“We started to find MoneyGram and Western Union slips,” said Theresa. “We added them up and realized that Bart had sent over $45,000 to three individuals he met online. Two were Russian and one Nigerian—the Nigerian alone received over $30,000 over the course of seven months as far as we could figure out.”

The payments had completely depleted Bart’s bank accounts, and Theresa and Pete were forced to close his small plumbing business and sell his house to pay his outstanding debts. And they began to wonder whether the stress of his online business dealings actually triggered his sudden heart attack.

“We were just speechless, heartbroken and amazed that he would fall for something like this and go through all this money and give it to a stranger,” said Theresa. “Two weeks after he died, a package arrived at his local post office in Plymouth Township, Pennsylvania. It contained cameras he sent to the Nigerian in September of 2007.”

No one knew why they had been returned.

Theresa found more details about Bart’s activities on his computer. She found an email from one of the Nigerian women Bart was corresponding with online. Obviously, this woman didn’t know Bart had died since she was contacting him again in hopes of getting more funds. Theresa was disgusted and angry at this woman and her underhanded ploy to get quick cash, so she pretended to be Bart and asked the woman to call. When she did, Theresa picked up the phone but was stunned when she saw the Caller ID was from Vermont. “How could she call from Lagos, Nigeria on a Vermont number?” Theresa asked.

Theresa told the woman that Bart was in the hospital. The woman, who identified herself as Janet, wasn’t too interested in Bart’s condition. She wanted to know why the cameras had been sent back to Bart. Janet explained that she had to move suddenly and that she and Bart had been making plans for her to visit him in Pennsylvania. She also said Bart had promised to wire her $2,000 for the plane ticket and $1,750 for basic travel expenses. Theresa kept quiet and told Janet that she would tell Bart that she called.

“I called the local police, who referred me to a detective and I left him a message,” Theresa said. “The dispatcher advised that I come in with any of the items we had recovered to file a report in person.”

Pete gathered the evidence he had on hand. Although he had thrown out the camera box, t he still had the three cameras, valued at about $400 each, plus two bottles of Jovan men’s cologne and a novelty T-shirt. Bart had kept copies of the addresses where he had wired the money, so they had that information as well as the MoneyGram and Western Union receipts.

Meanwhile, Theresa chatted with Janet online occasionally to keep the lines of communication open. She decided to monitor Bart’s computer by moving it into her home office and had his phone calls forwarded to her home phone.

“Janet’s ‘friend’ James, who was supposedly a female friend’s fiance, called one day saying Janet was so worried—yeah, ‘payday’ for her was Thursday here (in the USA) and Friday for her to pick up the money (because of the time difference) and she was missing her cash,” said Theresa. “He said they were leaving for South Africa and needed to lock up the apartment, so she (Janet) had to come to America when they left the next weekend.”  But Theresa refused to wire any money on the grounds that Bart was still in the hospital.

When the police detective finally talked to Theresa, he told her that nothing could be done since no crime had actually been committed. He said he would write up a report, but Bart was an adult and had apparently sent the money and gifts on his own free will. Theresa was upset and started going to the websites that Bart had bookmarked [Q: edit OK? yes] on his computer. All of the logins had been automatically saved so it was easy for her to track his movements.

Apparently, Bart had met Janet on a site called Fling. She contacted the site administrators, explaining that Bart had died and that Janet was obviously a scammer. The web owners immediately canceled Janet’s four accounts, each of which were set up using different Yahoo! email accounts.

Theresa, who was friends with the police chief at her local police department, told him what had happened. She didn’t get any encouragement from him either.

“He told me ‘no one is going to do anything for you,’” she said. “He said he had a case involving criminal activity and money sent to Canada and that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police did nothing. He said our government isn’t spending any money chasing people who send money out of the country and that the police of the other country will not get involved.”

The police chief advised her to tell Janet and anyone else to stop calling. Although Theresa and Pete took his advice, Janet and James continued to call. Theresa and her husband decided not to bother answering the phone when they saw it was Janet’s number on Caller ID.

On May 9, 2008, Theresa was checking Bart’s email and discovered a new message from Janet: “Good Morning MyLove how are you doing today? I have sent you several e-mails I did not hear from you I need to leave here so I can come and meet Linda in Philly baby please kindly get back to me as soon as possible today.I missed talking to you mylove I care so much about you.I hope to read from you kisess and hugsssss.”

Theresa didn’t respond. Then on May 11, 2008, there was another email: “Hi baby What is going on? I need to leave here as soon as possible where am i going to stay now? I am really confused please kindly get back to me today so i can be coming to meet Linda in Phlly.I Love you so much.”

Again, Theresa didn’t respond. Whenever Theresa logged onto Bart’s IM account, Janet tried to send an IM. But Theresa ignored every attempt. The emails, which were sent from a Yahoo! account, originated in the U.K., quite a distance from Nigeria or Vermont. The ISP used to send the messages was called Rackspace, which was based in Texas. Theresa thought this scam might be the work of a gang that contacted their victim(s) from different places around the world.

When Theresa called Rackspace and explained the situation, Rackspace officials reported that they would take care of the matter and asked that any emails be forwarded to the site administrator. She felt as though action was finally being taken on Bart’s behalf.

Theresa began to realize how ill Bart must have been. “We truly believed Bart must have had some kind of thing going on—we weren’t sure what yet, but perhaps his meds were affecting him,” Theresa said. “We found out he was buying meds (diet pills) [Q: what kind?] from Canada and we were quite sure that his doc did not know. That plus the stress of everything—I’m sure that contributed to his heart attack.”

The emails and IMs continued to arrive at all hours of the day and night. Theresa and Pete found it difficult to read but not respond to the messages, but that’s what they had been advised to do.

On May 26, 2008, Janet began sending IMs to Bart’s account. Theresa decided to answer using her brother’s screen name, badbart1122:

jntpedro11: Hellllo
jntpedro11: u there
badbart1122: Janet, told you to buzz off –
jntpedro11: why?
badbart1122: holiday here, leave us all alone, got it???
jntpedro11: what kind of holiday is that?
badbart1122: u should know, aren’t u in Philly?
jntpedro11: How is bart?
badbart1122: how is he???
jntpedro11: sister why u doing this to me
jntpedro11: what have i done
jntpedro11: just tell me
badbart1122: because I think you are only interested in him for M O N E Y
jntpedro11: is not like that
badbart1122: prove it
jntpedro11: yes i am ready to prove it
jntpedro11: how do u want me to prove it?
badbart1122: tell me what u did with money he sent
jntpedro11: How much does he tell u he sent to me?
badbart1122: what did u do with money
jntpedro11: I can only answer this question when he is here
badbart1122: and by here u mean ///
badbart1122: in Philly so we can meet???
jntpedro11: i am not in philly yet
badbart1122: time and location and I will get u
jntpedro11: i am still in africa
badbart1122: really, do tell
jntpedro11: can i ask u something?
badbart1122: said u were here with Linda
badbart1122: some friend in college
badbart1122: in Philly
jntpedro11: how much bart told u he sent to me?
badbart1122: not important
badbart1122: just know he sent money
badbart1122: so, where is the money???
jntpedro11: How did u know?
badbart1122: wasted it?
badbart1122: spent it?
jntpedro11: Nope..
jntpedro11: i never spent it
badbart1122: on yourself, friends family
badbart1122: why are u not here if u have money to come here???
jntpedro11: i am still looking for some money to come there
jntpedro11: sister please can u help me?
badbart1122: earn it like we all do here in the USA
badbart1122: work for it toots
jntpedro11: bart still at the rehab?
jntpedro11: i needed some money for the ticket and BTA
badbart1122: what the hell is a bta?
jntpedro11: basci travell allowance
jntpedro11: just to show it at the airport
badbart1122: so if you have money and you can buy a ticket, why aren’t u here?
jntpedro11: sister i really want us to be very close
badbart1122: you have a visa from the consul in africa to travel here
jntpedro11: yes
jntpedro11: sister please i just need some money to get outta here

Theresa wasn’t ready to tell Janet that Bart was dead, and besides, she found it interesting to see how Janet was now trying to get Theresa to send her money. Perhaps this would be the proof the police needed to show that Janet was indeed a scam artist.

“It was sad going through the emails he exchanged with Janet,” said Theresa. “She kept saying she would pay him back the money, all the sweet talk. I really think he believed he would get the money back, sounds dumb, but why give all that money and not expect a return?”

The next day, Janet kept buzzing Bart’s IM account, but Theresa ignored her.

“I was angry that these people were out there and take advantage … Good souls just reaching out for a friend and then thinking they are doing a good deed and not wanting to believe there is evil in the new ‘friend,’” said Theresa. “It’s upsetting.”

Theresa and Pete went to the police again to file out another report. The detective reminded them that since Bart had not been under duress, there would not be an investigation, even with the latest IM exchange.

Theresa tried to ignore the incoming emails for Bart, but Janet was getting more desperate. She said she was worried about Bart, and she needed money. On July 8, 2008, it appeared that Janet had finally given up: “Welll I waited to Hear from you all this while but I never hear from you.I just want you to know That I am haven some feelings for another man right now.well you caused the whole thing.But never the less I will always love I wish you best of luck ok.”

It didn’t take long for that relationship to sour too. Theresa suspected the new man grew suspicious when Janet asked him for money.

“She came back like a bad penny,” said Theresa.

A week later on July 15, Janet sent a message to Bart’s account: “Baby can we talk online? I would love to talk to you baby I missed talking to you and i missed u so much online please come and talk to me darling.”

Ten days later, there was another message: “MyLove I am just kidding you I did not find anyone U should Know That I am deeply in love with you and I am ready to spend the rest of my Life with you baby I want you with the whole of my please kindly get back to me with your yahoo id so we can talk aboiut our I hope to read from you soon ok. I love you so much baby You are the best baby”

And two days later, another message appeared: “baby do you know That I love you so much and why are acting this way baby.Please I want us to be together so we can talk the way we use to before.I am deeply inlove with you baby Please Kindly e-mail me and tell me about your present condition.I want you so much baby.Let me have your yahoo messanger id so i can add you so we can talk about our future ok baby.I love you so much and I hope to read from you today.”

Janet sent emails almost every day, begging Bart to respond. By the end of August, Theresa finally emailed Janet and told her to stop sending emails, but that only seemed to encourage Janet to respond to Theresa directly:

Dear Sister I am Glad to Hear from you. well everything you think about me is lie I am a very honest person you can as well ask Bart.He knew everything That was going on here.I will be so Glad if bart can realise the truth.I was told That he has been sending Money to Few other ppl hwihc is very bad.I love Bart so much and I want to be with him so we can plan our future.Please Tell bart to respond to my e-mail.I love him so much and I am asking for his forgiveness in any way he think I have  wrong him. I would love to spend the New Year and Xmas with him because my brithday is far approaching. Thanks and I hope to read from you soon.

Theresa responded to Janet with a long and detailed message:

Bart WILL NOT be emailing you — what do you have to say to him now, sorry is not going to work since you basically robbed him of lots of money, I know how much, and what a mistake it was on his part to trust you—-

You are not honest at all, if you were, you wouldn’t be scamming people of their hard earned money with promises of nothing – especially reimbursements. Your sob stories are amazing – too bad he was too trusting, gullible and felt sorry for you and believed your crap,.
Really best not to continue to contact him, there is no Yahoo IM anymore – better not to have it so people like you cannot bother honest people trying to work and sleep.
Noticed you haven’t tried to call – wonder why? If you love someone so much, it would be hard not to call and talk – seems like more BS, right? Logic escapes you, we don’t miss a trick on this end…..”

But Janet continued to email Bart and Theresa. Theresa sent back a reply on September 13, 2008: “You were told nicely to stop the emails – STOP sending them. Bart is deceased.”

Janet responded with a message asking whether “deceased” meant that Bart was dead.

“Doesn’t deceased mean dead?” said Theresa. “Does in my vocab. …”

Theresa sent Janet a reply that simply said that yes, Bart was dead, but the email was returned to Theresa as undeliverable.

“Sad as it sounds, I’m sure Janet or whoever they were opened a new email account and found a new victim,” said Theresa. “I wish the police could have done something, but at least I tried.”

She wonders to this day if her brother-in-law died of a broken heart. No one will ever know.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply