Duluth romance scam victim gets $38,000 back

Duluth police say a woman was fortunate she got $38,000 back after being the victim of a romance scam.

Scams are common; getting money returned isn’t.

“It all has to do with ... if it’s brought to our attention in a timely fashion,” said Ted Sadowski, spokesman for Duluth police, referring to how difficult it can be to track down the missing funds.

In September, Detective Matthew Jay from the Duluth Police Department received a report from Wells Fargo saying an elder or dependent adult may need assistance due to financial abuse.

Jay met with the victim at her Duluth home in September.

The woman told detectives she met the suspect, “David Smart,” online more than a year earlier and the two developed a relationship. Smart claimed he was a general in the U.S. military and was in Afghanistan at the time. The victim told police Smart contacted her in March 2021, asking her to send $9,000 to pay bank transfer fees for a large sum of money he was trying to move from the Philippines to Switzerland.

The victim then said she started receiving messages from other people who claimed to be Smart’s family members. They told her Smart was in a coma and that if she wired $38,000, they would send her $4,000 a month, the report added.

In August, the victim wired $38,000 for a potential real estate investment to “Desiree Pearson,” which was ultimately sent to an account in Utah, police said. After wiring the funds, the victim got a call from a woman in Utah, saying the money appeared in her account. The Ogden City Police Department was then notified of the wired funds.

In October, Duluth police were notified by Ogden police that the funds in the victim’s Wells Fargo account were frozen and recalled, the report said. In November, the victim called Duluth police saying she had gotten the $38,000 back.

After an investigation, it was concluded that the Utah resident was also a victim in the scheme, ultimately losing $300,000.

Despite investigations, the mastermind of the scam has not been caught.

“We don’t even know who these people are; it’s probably multiple people,” Sadowski said of the scammers.

Duluth police say there are ways to avoid this type of scam. The detective who worked this case said people should never wire funds to people they don’t know and to remember if it’s too good to be true, it probably is, Sadowski said.

“Unfortunately, they go after the vulnerable people. So, it’s mostly elderly folks that get kind of swindled out of this,” Sadowski said.