A woman starts dating again at 60 after her marriage falls apart. We follow her into a world of millionaire import/export moguls and fifteen-year old internet scammers.
PJ VOGT: Dalis met her husband in 1978, when she was 24 years old. He was the head of the local Frisbee club, and she loved ultimate frisbee. They got married, they had kids. They turned 60 together. And then this past September, he had a mild stroke. As they were getting ready to leave for the hospital, Dalis saw a text show up on his phone.
DALIS: And it said I hope you’re enjoying this nice fall day, I wish we were biking together,
PJ: She didn’t know who the text was from, but it didn’t really worry her. They were both serious bike people. They’d spent a month that year biking the Pacific Coast. And her husband rode to work every day…so it wasn’t suspicious that he might have a friend who he commuted with. But days later when they were back at home, she found herself still wondering about that text. Who was this person?
DALIS: I decided to grab his phone and I kept scrolling back on the phone and realized that he was texting her from the hospital. Said the doctor told me I can’t exercise for a month and she wrote back and said, is love-making aerobic? So then I kept scrolling back and I realized she was an old friend of mine. I just felt all alone. My heart started racing and I was out in my studio at the time. And I came back toward the house and he was outside at the time just sitting in a chair and he said in a very sing-songy way, whatcha doing? And I wanted to say, I’m about to ruin your life. But I just said oh nothing I just had some work to do in the studio. And I couldn’t even say anything to him on that day because all our boys– we have three boys– all the boys and their girlfriends or wife were coming out because they hadn’t seen him since he’d had his stroke. So all day long I had to pretend that nothing was going on. And when they left I confronted him and said, today my life changed forever and you must move out.
PJ: Which is how how Dalis found herself 60 years old and dating again. The last time she started a relationship, three decades earlier, it had begun with a begun with a date in an park, tossing a frisbee. Her next date would be with a very different kind of guy — a wealthy globetrotting orphan.
PJ: From Gimlet this is Reply All, a show about the internet. I’m PJ Vogt. Dalis set up a profile on Match.com. She wanted to find someone who liked being as active as she did, and she worried that that number, 60, would turn those people away.
DALIS: To someone who was maybe 52 who sends me a wink or a flirt or something I say don’t let 60 scare you because I have the energy for two thirty year olds.
PJ: It was fun to be flirting, checking out guys out again. And there was the rush of getting new messages. But quickly Dalis learned what everyone learns when they online date. People aren’t as interesting as you want them to be. In fact, judging from their photos, they’re all pretty much the same.
DALIS: I cannot tell how you how many men hold up fish
PJ: Wait they hold up fish like, this is a fish that I caught?
DALIS: Yes. Yes. And I have a whole, whenever I see one I copy and paste because I have a whole folder now of men who hold up fish. I probably have 20 of them so far. One held up a shark. One actually held up a turtle. But um I don’t care how big your fish is or how little your fish is. I’m not interested in your fish. I’m interested in your face or your body
PJ: But then Dalis did meet somebody she was interested in. A man named Dennis.
DALIS: Dennis Beresford. He had a nice head of hair. He was thin. He did not look 59 in fact second photo he sent I said oh my god you do not look 59. You look 38. And he had a great smile. You know teeth and everything. He looked happy. Really happy.
PJ: He messaged her first. Soon they were emailing. Learning about each other. Dennis lived fifteen minutes away but he traveled constantly for work, an import/export business that made him a lot of money but also took all his time. He was finishing his last job before early retirement. He’d fly to China one day, the Philippines another. He was so busy that he couldn’t make time for a first date. But they talked a lot. When he had a spare moment, he’d send her an email, or call her from one of his far flung destinations. And he found other ways to stay in touch.
DALIS: He sent me flowers. Which you know I hadn’t gotten flowers before. And it was, it was awesome. I felt good about that. Oh and he would sing to me, too. He didn’t have that great of a voice but he sang. He sounded really happy. You know he’d sing me the song. What’s his name? Ed Sheeran, I will love you under the light of a thousand stars.
[ED SHEERAN SONG]
DALIS: Something like that. And he said those words. He said I love those words and I think of you.
[ED SHEERAN SONG]
PJ: Dalis said her husband would never complimentED her, had never once given her flowers. And after she’d kicked him out, she’d found emails on his computer. There was more than one woman. It wasn’t just that he’d cheated with multiple women, it was that he’d been loving to them, in a way he’d never been with her.
DALIS: Seeing in the emails that he sent flowers, and all the compliments he paid to both these women. That’s what really hurt me. And I think that I went looking for a guy who would maybe pay me those compliments. You know, everybody wants that.
PJ: She found herself looking forward to Dennis’s phone calls from the road, even if sometimes they came at 2 or 3 in the morning. It didn’t matter. She was falling for him. This 59 year old guy who hopped around the world but found the time to sing off-key love songs to her.
DALIS: There was one point where I was driving in the country. It was about six in the evening and it was dark. And the moon was coming up. And it was just this bright orange beautiful huge moon and I pulled over and I sent him a text and I said you have to go outside right now to see the moon. It’s so beautiful. And I wrote to him the next day and I said it kind of surprised me how fast I thought of you cause that was the first thing I thought of. So then I knew, something’s happening here. You know, to me.
PJ: Dennis was making Dalis feel like a teenager in love. But of course when you’re not an actual teenager, falling in love is different. You know the many ways people can let you down. You know what to look for. And there were fishy things about Dennis that Dalis just couldn’t ignore. He said he’d grown up in England and moved to Chile, but somehow he had a vaguely German accent. And sometimes when he’d respond to her emails, his responses would seem random, like non sequiturs. Also, he claimed to be an orphan, which is what every con man in every movie claims to be. And the biggest red flag was that after five weeks of talking, they still hadn’t met in person. He always had an excuse. When her friends told her he sounded like a scammer, she had to agree that they had a point, but what gave her hope was that in five weeks he also hadn’t asked her for money.
DALIS: And every day we’d talk I’d go ok he didn’t ask for money. That’s good. He didn’t ask for money. And then finally one morning it just all came down.
PJ: Dennis was in the Philippines. He called to say that there’d been an accident and one of his workers had died. If he wanted to get his exports out of the country, he’d have to pay 150 dollars to a custom’s agent.
DALIS: And he said you know I’ve raised a lot of the money. And I thought ok here it comes here it comes. And finally he said you know I’ve raised 140,000 of it. And he said I just need 10,000 more. And he asked me for 10,000 dollars. And said I don’t have it. And anyway, I wouldn’t give 10,000 dollars to someone I knew, let alone a man I had never met. And then he turned, he started to turn mean.
PJ: How did you feel when he asked you for the money?
DALIS: I was really disappointed. Because I knew that this feeling that I had this whole entire time when I really looked forward to his emails or the songs he was sending or the e-cards. That all that was over. And it made me really sad. More sad than angry.
PJ: And also, increasingly, she just felt curious. If Dennis wasn’t Dennis. Who was he? Was he even a he? Was he a them?
DALIS: You know I really would like to know more about this whole operation and how they work and what goes on. Are you, is this your business? Are you in a ring? Do you work for a corporation or are you in love with someone? Do you have a family? Are you supporting them? like I almost wanted to call him back and say, ok forget about me being Dalis and you trying to scam me and all this. I just want to know, I just want to know so much.
PJ: Coming up after the break, we try to answer some of those questions, by talking to somebody who’s an expert on the kinds of scams Dalis encountered. A guy who used to run them himself.
PJ: Alright so we wanted to try to answer some of Dalis’s questions for her. We tried to reach Dennis, and we had no luck. But we learned about the world he operates in. For starters, obviously – Dalis isn’t alone in this kind of experience. Thousands of people in the US report being victims of this kind of crime every year. And women over 50 are the most likely to be targeted. They typically lose a couple thousand dollars before figuring it out, and there’s at least one case where a woman lost over half a million dollars. The scammers often are working in West Africa or former Soviet republics, but they can be anywhere. And while we couldn’t find Dennis, we were able to talk to somebody who used to do the kinds of scams Dalis suspects Dennis was running. The guy we found asked us not to use his real name. I’ll call him Charlie. He also didn’t want us to narrow down where he lives too specifically. It’s a country in Africa. We spoke to him on a cellphone there, so the audio quality’s not great. And to be clear, he’s not the guy who scammed Dalis. But we wanted to know why a scammer like Dennis would have picked a target like Dalis.
PJ: How would they have picked here? Like how do they decide who they’re going to message?
CHARLIE: They don’t pick. It’s a random thing. They go online and make Match accounts or E-Harmony. One of those dating sites. And then they just search.
PJ: Scammers do what anybody who’s online dating does. They create categories and they start to filter people.
CHARLIE: It gives you preferences like income, marital status, someone who’s divorced. Someone who’s a widow. Someone who’s separated. Those are the three main things we look for. And age, too. They go to the section for someone who’s older.
PJ: She ended up talking to somebody on the phone. She said the guy had an accent that sounded to her like a German accent. What do you think of that?
CHARLIE: They can fake accents
PJ: Charlie says it can be one person pretending to be a lot of people. They can chat you as a German, they can chat you as an Englishman.
CHARLIE: Like a German, an English person. It’s one person. And so it might be someone who’s been to Germany before or who’s actually German.
PJ: Charlie said it could work like this. You spent a week messaging a ton of people. By Wednesday, a lot of them would’ve stopped responding. But the ones who stuck around to Friday were your clients. And you had to make your clients fall in love with you.
PJ: Some guys would work in teams. Two guys might have to write texts and emails, a third guy might be the closer, who would handle the phone calls and ask for money. And a lot of these scammers were really young. Teenagers. Which can sometimes show. When Charlie first started he made a lot of rookie mistakes. And in his professional opinion, Dalis’s scammer was a rookie too. For example, Dalis said that when Dennis tried to initiate the scam, one part of it involved putting her on the phone with the alleged customs agent who needed her money. Dalis talked to the alleged agent for a bit, hung up, and Dennis called her back:
DALIS: And he said, what did he say? And I just blurted out, well he sounded a lot like you. And then Dennis says oh um there’s something I have to do right now. And he hangs up. So obviously he was flustered. Because this is not coming down like he thought it should.
PJ: Charlie agreed. Saying, probably this guy was flustered. He was probably somebody who hadn’t run that many scams before, and Dennis probably just thought his customs agent accent was better than it was. Another rookie mistake, says Charlie, were those email replies Dennis sometimes sent which seemed like non sequiturs. Back when Charlie scammed, he never would have sent an email like that.
CHARLIE: My emails made sense. All the text messages, everything I sent to you was like on time, on point.
PJ: Everything he sent, he said, was on point. To make it feel like he was there, with them.
CHARLIE: It felt like I was there with them, even though I’m miles away
PJ: I can hear the pride in your voice. Like it sounds to me like it was important to you to be a good boyfriend to these people even though it was…
CHARLIE: Yeah that’s what I’m saying. It was deep. It was like going undercover: you get lost in it. If you wake up first then that’s what’s on your mind. To call. Or check the emails.
PJ: Charlie worked from an internet cafe, which was open 24 hours. He said 98% of the other people there were also scammers. People worked for themselves, but they were happy if someone else succeeded. Succeeded meaning: actually convinced a rich European or a rich American to wire them money .
CHARLIE: When someone gets a big payday they like to buy stuff or do a party.
PJ: What were the parties like?
CHARLIE: It depends on how much money the person got. Some throw parties like P. Diddy hosting a party hosting a party or 50 Cent doing a party.
PJ: If you didn’t catch that, he said people throw parties like P. Diddy or 50 Cent. At these parties people would actually throw money in the air.
CHARLIE: Throwing money in the air like when you go to a strip club and you’re throwing money but instead of throwing one dollar, you’re throwing like hundred dollars in the strip club. Not even 50 Cent can do that.
PJ: Do you remember the biggest one you ever went to?
CHARLIE: I actually been to just one. It was a birthday at a Chinese restaurant so it was just food and drinks. So it was pretty low key.
PJ: Charlie and his friends had heard stories about scammer parties with rap video levels of excess, but he’d never been to one himself. He’d also seen people driving Ferraris and Bentleys in town with money they said they got from scams, but then he’d also heard heard rumors that actually, those were just drug dealers claiming that they’d earned their money through internet scamming. In any case, Charlie told me he didn’t scam to get rich. In the place he grew up, he was middle class. He didn’t need to worry about feeding his family. He was 15. His family was feeding him. When he got his first score — 200 bucks — he spent it the way a lot of American teenagers would spend 200 free bucks. He took his friends out to MR BIGGS, which was the expensive fast food restaurant.
CHARLIE: We just bought everything they had.
PJ: They had burgers
PJ: Fried rice
CHARLIE: Fried rice
PJ: And the money didn’t last very long.
CHARLIE: I think the money was over in about a day.
PJ: Do you ever miss it?
CHARLIE: Do I what?
PJ: Do you ever miss scamming?
CHARLIE: No. I seen people who had a shit load of money or driving big ass cars. And now don’t have shit and they come to ask me for one dollar. That money never lasts. It comes fast and it goes fast and plus you’re hurting a lot of people.
PJ: Why’d you stop?
CHARLIE: I remember one time I took money from a single woman. She had kids. I took money from them and I deceived her.
PJ: The woman was a single mother with kids. And Charlie said he’d deceived her. Taken her money.
CHARLIE: After that like the mail she sent to me I was like dang I wouldn’t want this to happen to my mother or my sister or my friend or anybody I know. One of those things just break me down and it’s not worth it. Causing people this much pain.
PJ: Charlie says he called her and he apologized for what he’d done. She didn’t forgive him at first. She was still angry. But not because she couldn’t get her money back. But because she still wanted to be with the character Charlie had invented. Even after he told her that person wasn’t real.
CHARLIE: like she was in love with the voice or the person behind the voice. She knew it was a scam but then she was trying to like find out who the person was because she like the person, how the person felt for her and all that.
PJ: Dalis isn’t that far from that feeling herself. She knows that Dennis wasn’t real. But she has memories of him. And those memories feel real. When she hears one of the songs that Dennis used to sing to her, the memories come back.
CHARLIE: Those songs remind me of that time and now when I hear them it’s just like oh I almost feel this real relationship is over. And that’s what’s so strange to me. Even though I know it was fake there’s something in there that oh it’s kind of sad that it’s over.
PJ: I asked Dalis if she thought that men in actual relationships could learn anything useful from scam artists, and she said absolutely. Be attentive. Say nice things, even if you don’t feel like it. Send flowers. And Charlie agreed — he said his years scamming made him a better adult boyfriend. I like that idea, even if it feels a little pat or Ted Talk-y. You know, What A Scammer Taught Me About Being In Love. But talking to Charlie and Dalis, you realize that the most powerful thing that scammers do is listen to the people they’re talking to. I think that’s what Dalis misses, and why Charlie says he felt like he got lost in the role he was playing. Sitting on the phone, while someone far away lies in their bed and talks about what their worries about their job are, or their hopes for their kid, or a just a pop song that’s stuck in their head that week. You can fake your profile name and your picture and your height and weight. You can lie about your intentions. But if you’re trying to be a scammer or a good boyfriend, listening is the one thing that’s hard to fake.
PJ: Up until this week, the phone number Dennis gave to Dalis still worked. We tried him again and again, listened to his outgoing voicemail message. The little tiny piece of this guy that still remained after he disappeared.
PJ: We didn’t know if the phone was even ringing somewhere, or if he’d turned it off. But we finally left him a message, saying we were journalists and wanted to talk to him, and later that day his outgoing voicemail message had disappeared. Which means Dennis may still be out there … listening.
PJ: Reply All is me, PJ Vogt, and Alex Goldman. We’re also Chris Neary, Sruthi Pinnamaneni and Catherine Wells. This episode was edited by Alex Blumberg and Chris Neary. And it was mixed by The Reverend John DeLore. Matt Lieber is the smell of clean laundry. Special thanks this week to Sylvie Douglas and Kelly Prime. Our theme music and scoring were by Breakmaster Cylinder. Ad music was from Build Buildings. Our sponsors were Stamps.com, the service that allows you to buy and print US postage right from your desk. You can use offer code REPLY for a free trial. And from Mailchimp: send better email. If you stumbled onto this episode you can subscribe to the show at itunes.com/reply all, or ReplyAll.limo.