May 26, 2022

ILLUSTRATION SPECIAL TO FLORIDA WEEKLY

HIS NAME WAS ERIC COLE. HE was good-looking, smart, articulate, an international businessman with a British accent.

He wanted to befriend Debby Montgomery on an online dating site. Why not? she thought. At age 52, she had been widowed six months earlier. Her husband died suddenly after 26 years of marriage. She had been isolated, working long hours, trying to learn and take over his business. Her friends were all pestering her to “get a life” and try online dating. She chose a faith-based site because she thought it would be safer. She accepted Eric Cole’s invitation. At first, “I just thought it was really fun,” she said. The relationship deepened. The future looked promising — until it wasn’t. Eric Cole turned out not to be an international businessman with a British accent after all.

He was a 30-something man from Nigeria.

And Debby Montgomery Johnson was out more than $1 million.

When the FBI told Ms. Johnson, of Palm Beach County, she had been manipulated and would never see her money again, she shut down and an emotional wall went up. She determined she would be “the woman behind the smile” and pretend everything was fine. No one must ever know.

FLORIDA WEEKLY

FLORIDA WEEKLY

In Charlotte County on Florida’s west coast, Paula Menz, 71, who retired after a 28-year career as a nurse, joined a different dating site. She had been married for 16 years; her husband died five years ago.

Her online beau was an engineer who said…

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