PUEBLO, Colo. — Online gaming allows us to interact and play with people from all over the world, but one of our viewers is sharing a warning that not every connection made while playing these games is as innocent as it seems.
News5 spoke with a Pueblo woman who says making a connection playing her favorite online game "Words With Friends" sent her life into chaos.
When Karen Hochstadter reached out to News5 she was frustrated, scared, and unsure of the situation she found herself in. We were able to help her make a police report and avoid losing any more money to fraudsters. She agreed to sit down with us to share her story in the hopes of helping others avoid an expensive heartbreak.
”I think I like to play to just keep my mind busy and it’s a throwback to my scrabble days as a kid,” said Hochstadter.
She says she enjoys playing words with friends online and one of the perks is being able to interact with people from all over the world.
”Since my husband passed away in 2011 I certainly have been playing it more,” she said.
Hochstadter says she’s always careful about who she adds and agrees to play with, but a message from one request caught her off guard.
”His plea that I was not playing with him because he was Nigerian and I guess I was insulted that I was accused of that,” said Hochstadter.
so, she agreed to play with this new connection. She says he then immediately wanted to take their chat off of the gaming platform.
"We went straight to a friend request and then straight to messenger,” she said.
After chatting and sending pictures for a few weeks, Hochstadter says the conversation took a turn.
”He started hitting me up for money because of his hard times I’d say a month after we started talking,” she said.
Hochstadter says she did send money because she wanted to help.
”I got to thinking I am the answer to this guy’s prayers,” she admitted.
Eventually, after more requests for money, she said she started to feel uneasy about the situation and stopped interacting with him.
But then another call came…
"”They will come and get you! They will come to your house and arrest you!" Hochstadter described what the man said in the call. "He scared me the way he said that”
People claiming to be from the Department of Justice were on the line saying she was in trouble for sending money to someone whose name was associated with a Nigerian terrorist organization.
”And that fine is going to be $16,000 and I go what?!? Right away I said what? That’s not even right," she exclaimed.
That’s when she contacted News5 and we encouraged her to cut off communication with these imposters and to file a police report with the Pueblo Police Department.
She says after talking with News5 and local police, she was able to avoid going any deeper into this expensive situation.
”Thank you! This is very important what you’re doing because it’s going to knock off a little bit of all this stuff happening," she said. "It will take awhile, but keep at it and keep reporting that stuff and investigating it because it’s just so wrong for people to do that.”
It turns out Hochstadter's experience is not unique. AARP and the attorney general in New Hampshire have put out warnings about how scammers are targeting people playing Words With Friends.
New Hampshire AG warning:
Also, our news partners in Milwaukee and Baltimore spoke with women who lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in similar schemes and it all started through a chat playing the game.
Below are some places to go for help:
- Report the theft to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
- Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the United States in their investigations.
- By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
- By mail: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, Washington, DC 20580
- Report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission on Nigerian Scams. Email: email@example.com.
The FTC looked closer at the lies these romance scammers told and compiled a list of the top fake narratives.
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