A Holocaust survivor was swindled out of his life savings by a woman he met on a dating website, prosecutors allege in the latest romance scam targeting the elderly.
Peaches Stergo, a 36-year-old Florida woman also known as Alice, was arrested Wednesday on one count of wire fraud for allegedly duping an 87-year-old man out of A$4 million that she used to buy Rolex watches, a boat and other luxury items, the US Attorney's Office of the Southern District of New York announced today.
"The defendant callously preyed on a senior citizen simply seeking companionship, defrauding him of his life savings," said Michael J. Driscoll, the assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York field office when announcing the charges.
The allegations are the latest in what has been a growing trend of swindlers targeting users of matchmaking websites. Romance scams have become cautionary tales highlighted in popular streaming series, such as Netflix's "The Tinder Swindler," which told the stories of several women who said they were defrauded by the same man they met on the dating app.
The US Federal Trade Commission said losses from romance scams hit a record $770 million in 2021, more than six times the $122 million lost in 2017. On Monday, the AARP issued a warning to members to be on the lookout for romance scams, which it said has hit the elderly community harder than other age groups.
Stergo, according to the indictment, met the unidentified victim, a then-Manhattan resident, on a dating website six or seven years ago. By 2017, she asked him for money to pay her attorney so she could receive settlement funds she claimed were owed to her, according to prosecutors. The settlement, prosecutors said, didn't exist.
Over the next five years, prosecutors allege, Stergo fed the victim continuous lies to receive almost monthly checks often in increments of $70,000. She impersonated a bank employee, sent fake invoices, and created a phony email account to reassure the victim that he would be repaid if he continued to deposit money into the account, according to the indictment.
Stergo used the money to buy a home in a gated community, a condominium, a boat, and numerous cars including a Corvette, the indictment says. Prosecutors allege she also used his money to travel, buy gold and silver bars, jewellery, and designer clothing.
CNN has attempted to reach Stergo for comment.
By 2021, the alleged victim confided in his son that he had given Stergo his life savings based on her promises that he would be paid back, according to court documents. After his son told him that he had been scammed, the victim stopped writing cheques. He lost his apartment, according to the indictment.
If convicted, Stergo could face as many as 20 years in prison. She is expected to appear in federal court in Florida.
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