The latest romance scam hoaxed an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor out of his life savings when he met a woman on a dating site, prosecutors allege. Peaches Stergo, a 36-year-old Florida woman also known as Alice, was arrested Wednesday on one count of wire fraud for allegedly duping the 87-year-old man out of over $2.8 million. The woman used the generous amount of money to purchase Rolex watches, a boat and other luxury items, the US Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York announced Thursday.
“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 newest amongst a growing trend of swindlers targeting users of matchmaking websites. Romance scams, now cautionary tales, bring out the flip side of using online dating services that are often marketed as a savior to single folks. Netflix’s “The Tinder Swindler,” tells the stories of several women who said they were defrauded by the same man they met on the dating app.
According to the indictment, Stergo met the unnamed victim, a then-Manhattan resident, on a dating website seven years ago. By 2017, she asked him to borrow money for attorney fees so she could receive settlement funds she claimed were owed to her, according to prosecutors. The settlement, prosecutors said no such funds existed.
The next five years tell a story of lies, according to prosecutors.Stergo’s lies scored her almost monthly checks often in increments of $50,000. 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 pocketed 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, jewelry, and designer clothing.
The Federal Trade Commission said losses from romance scams hit a record $547 million in 2021, more than six times the $87 million lost in 2017. On Monday, the AARP released a warning for users to be on the lookout for these scams, which statistically hits the elderly community harder than other age groups. If convicted, Stergo could face up to 20 years in prison.
In 2021, the alleged victim confided in his son that he had given Stergo his life savings under the false promises being fed to him, according to court documents. He wrote over 62 checks equally nearly 2.8 million. After his son informed him that he had been scammed, the victim stopped writing checks. He lost his apartment, according to the indictment.