WICHITA, Kan (KSNW) – A woman will be given five years probation for her role in an online romance scam. A judge on Monday convicted Kathy Heistand, 68, of helping a Wichita-area widow defraud more than half a million dollars.
Court records show that in 2020, the 74-year-old victim was approached on the social media platform Facebook to find out when and where the online romance started. The suspect then asked the widow for money which was then channeled via Heistand. Heistand pleaded guilty in May.
The Better Business Bureau said victims in the United States and Canada have lost nearly $ 1 billion in the past three years due to online romance scams. An expert said that at any one time, up to 25,000 fraudsters are interacting with their victims and half of the victims are over 50 years old.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) said the biggest red flag is whenever someone online asks you to send them money. It’s also important to note that Sedgwick County District Attorney Marc Bennet said anyone is at risk of getting ripped off.
“I don’t think we have any evidence that she took advantage of it, in fact she was cleaned by the same guy herself,” Bennett said.
Bennett said online romance scams were on the rise across the country and there were victims in Kansas. “We can move heaven and earth to try to prosecute the people who commit these scams, but the money will, for the most part, be inaccessible,” Bennett said.
With crooks using multiple accounts and transferring money to other countries, that money often becomes impossible to trace. One of the other warnings for online dating is after you’ve had a few engagements with someone and get to know them – they immediately want you to start communicating from this platform.
BBB said that a company that filters profiles for dating apps said 500,000 of the 3.5 million profiles scanned each month are false. Often times, these fake profiles or “catfish” will strive to gain the trust of victims for months before asking them for money.
The BBB said you can check if a profile is real by trying to video chat with them or google their profile photos to see if other profiles exist.
“Spend time with people, ask them what’s going on who they’re talking to to make that effort to see what’s going on with them,” said chief prosecutor Robert Short of the DA’s economic crimes division.
Bennett also recommends talking to your loved one’s banks to see if a notification might be possible if they make a large withdrawal.