GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — When it comes to sweetheart scams, sometimes it’s not money the crook is after. Instead, it’s an unsuspecting partner. That’s what happened to a West Michigan woman in 2015.
She unwittingly became an active part in a scam that cost victims thousands of dollars’ worth of merchandise.
Target 8 has chosen not to identify the woman because she was never charged with a crime. She declined to speak with Target 8, but police reports and search warrants tell the story.
The woman, who is in her 50s, met a man online. He told her he was overseas at the time and kept promising to come visit her in West Michigan.
As their friendship blossomed, she allowed him to have packages shipped to the Kent County home where she was living. Once received, she would forward the packages to an address in Nigeria. She told deputies that he claimed the items were gifts for people and he didn’t trust them to be shipped directly to him. The items included a cellphone, watch, jewelry, an Apple Watch and a laptop.
She also received checks in the mail, which she would cash and send the money to the Bola, Nigeria.
The “gifts” were actually items purchased online on websites like eBay. According to investigators, the scammer bought the items online, then sent the seller emails that appeared to be from PayPal and eBay, telling the seller that payment was made and it was safe to ship the item. However, the items had not been paid for and it was all a sham.
The seller would ship the item to West Michigan, where the local woman would forward them on to Nigeria. She told investigators she forwarded about 10 packages in all.
The scam fell apart in November 2015, when one of the victims contacted the Kent County Sheriff’s Department. He thought he had sold a Rolex watch on eBay in October for $8,500 but was never paid, despite what emails from the fraud claimed.
The Kent County Sheriff’s Department went to the shipping address and found the local woman had already moved, but there was another package waiting at the house. Inside was a $9,000 Breitling Chronomat watch, also recently purchased on eBay. The watch had shipped from California and the seller was unaware they had been scammed until they were contacted by the Kent County Sheriff’s Department.
Around this time, the relationship between the scammer and the West Michigan woman was going south.
He told her he was in Israel and was…