PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. - With 40 million Americans using online dating sites, how do you know who can be trusted?
You have likely heard stories before about women falling in love online with someone who is not who he claimed to be. A Palm Beach County woman is revealing a story that goes to the extremes.
What started as an online romance, turned into so much more.
"I wouldn't give you two cents for him," said the woman, who is not being publicly identified by NewsChannel 5.
She said she was too ashamed to show her face. But she is like many women using a dating website looking for love.
She thought she found her 'Mr. Right' in Kansas when she met John Mark Johnson.
"I bought everything; hook, line and sinker," she said.
Their courtship started with online conversations and phone calls. Within a few months they started to spend more time together - some even on a yacht he said he owned. She fell in love.
"I had hoped that the relationship was going to go into marriage," she said.
A year after they met, he proposed.
"A date was set and several months later things fell apart," she said.
Along with his marriage proposal came a business proposal and a chance to invest in his multi-million dollar 'international business deal'.
"He never faltered. He never hesitated," she said. "He never stuttered through any of it."
Blinded by love, she says she gave him nearly $400,000. But he soon gave her the bad news that the deal had fallen through.
"That money is now gone," she said. "What I had planned on using for my retirement is gone. There's nothing."
Still, she thought the relationship was worth saving. Until she was emailed a link to a news story. The headline of the story read: '376,000 Dating Scam Lands Kansas Man In Jail'.
"I looked at it and I went 'Oh my God!!" she recalled.
Her soon-to-be-husband was accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from another woman he met online. That is when this Palm Beach County woman realized it was more than just a news story - it was her story too.
She still does not understand why she did not see any warning signs.
"I don't know and I ask myself that every day," she said
Her attorney, Jonathan Bloom, has filed a civil lawsuit, helping her try to get her money back.
"There's plenty of John Johnsons out there," said Bloom. "This is just one we know about."
Johnson is currently in jail in Kansas in connection with the other case. He is not expected to face criminal charges in Florida.
Experts warn online dating customers to be vigilant for anyone who:
- Wants to leave the dating site immediately and use personal email or instant message.
- Claims love in a heartbeat.
- Plans to visit, but is prevented by a traumatic event or a business deal gone sour.
- Scammers also like to say they're out of the country for business or military service.