With former victims of internet scams becoming wise to familiar tactics, scammers are constantly evolving creatively so they can continue defrauding the elderly and the gullible of their precious life savings.
An example of this involves scammers impersonating celebrities and claiming to have fallen in love with their unsuspecting victims.
It has unfortunately been effective.
Men pretending to be Leonardo DiCaprio enslaved by Scientology scam widowhttps://trib.al/BtgTB3l— Daily Mail US (@Daily Mail US) 1652366762
A 54-year-old woman named "Denise" in Houston was convinced the person asking her for help and with whom they developed romantic feelings was Hollywood A-lister, Leonardo DiCaprio.
She was informed by the person claiming to beThe Wolf of Wall Street actor was allegedly being enslaved by Scientology–an organization founded by American author L. Ron Hubbard that is widely seen as a cult–and she wound up sending him over $800,000 over a period of time.
This is a crazy, heartbreaking story. A woman was scammed out of $800K because she thought she was in an intimate friendship with Leonardo DiCaprio. Turns out it was a scamming ring out of Atlanta. Wild story.https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-leonardo-dicaprio-scammed-a-houston-widow-out-of-dollar800k-by-claiming-he-was-trapped-in-scientology?ref=scroll\u00a0\u2026— Jemele Hill (@Jemele Hill) 1652371764
According to the Daily Beast, Denise was a freelance writer whose work reflected she was "smart, funny and loved sarcasm."
In 2016, her husband of 28-years died after battling colon cancer. He had successfully started a construction company that built apartment complexes in Texas and, together they amassed almost $1 million in savings.
In addition to her grief and having time on her hands as an empty nester–with two grown daughters away from home–she started a social media presence.
She followed celebrities on Twitter, especially if they were pro-environment, as well as "some politicians, some of my favorite rock bands, animal rights activists, nonprofit organizations, and environmental groups."
It all started with a DM on Twitter.\n\nThis is the wild tale of a widow\u2014and mother of two\u2014from Texas that was convinced to send over $800,000 to people claiming to be \u201cLeonardo DiCaprio\u201d enslaved by the Church of Scientology.https://trib.al/GIK1i2o— The Daily Beast (@The Daily Beast) 1652381636
About a month after creating her account, she recalled one of the celebrities she was following who appeared to be "DiCaprio," contacted her, writing, "Hello, Denise."
She was incredulous at first.
When she inquired about his real name and was told it was "Leonardo DiCaprio," she wrote back, "Yeah, right," and logged off.
But the scammer was determined and continued private messaging her, giving her superfluous details about his schedule and what days he was free to chat.
“He was working with Quentin Tarantino at the time, but he was polite and never disclosed too much," Denise told the media outlet.
"I did, however, know about his filming schedule and a New York and European trip."
“I learned of these trips well before the information hit the internet.”
She gradually became convinced he really was as he claimed after information on his whereabouts she received from him in their private exchanges reflected what was being published in the media.
Soon, the chats moved from Twitter to texting each other on their smartphones.
“We developed a terrific friendship within a couple months and he always insisted that I call him ‘Leo,'" said Denise.
They eventually spoke on the phone, and Denise claimed DiCaprio's voice was unquestionably his.
“Our first phone call was brief, almost as if he placed it to ensure me that it was him. There was no mistaking his voice."
This poor deluded woman.https://currently.att.yahoo.com/amphtml/att/cm/leonardo-dicaprio-scammed-houston-widow-084853052.html\u00a0\u2026— Dr. Susan Key (@Dr. Susan Key) 1652382240
As they continued corresponding and sharing a lot of personal details about each other, Denise said:
“This guy grew on me quickly and it stunned me. I believe it was August when he first said that he loved me.”
That was when he informed her he was being enslaved by Scientology, and he produced a letter for her on the church's letterhead.
"My stomach recoiled," remembered Denise, who claimed she was not religious in a very religious part of the country.
She said of the letter:
“It demanded that he pay $750,000 to fulfill his obligations."
"'Leo' soon revealed that all of his own personal wealth, hundreds of millions of dollars, was actually being controlled by the church, and he couldn’t get access to any of it unless he paid the $750,000 sum."
"Leo confessed that he needed my assistance and had nowhere to turn."
"He loved his parents, claimed to have issues with his half-sister, but said he had to make his ‘big’ move. He asked if I could possibly get a loan to help him start paying the church off. I was shocked."
He continued telling her the church and his management team had complete control over his life and finances and that he couldn't do anything without approval from the church–"including traveling or making any major purchases."
Realizing he had nowhere else to turn, Denise wired $6,000 to a man "DiCaprio" trusted, named "Kenneth" in Woodstock.
Kenneth would be the first of other recipients–allegedly close to "DiCaprio"–to whom Denise would wire money.
Acquired accounting records indicated Denise had made payments to six different people totaling $256,000 by the end of 2018.
And by the end of 2019, Denise had sent the scammer through his network of people, $620,455.
What the what? This is an insane scam job. It's like #EscapingScientology meets the #TinderSwindler as played by @LeoDiCaprio.https://www.thedailybeast.com/how-leonardo-dicaprio-scammed-a-houston-widow-out-of-dollar800k-by-claiming-he-was-trapped-in-scientology\u00a0\u2026— Woody Schultz #BlackLivesMatter (@Woody Schultz #BlackLivesMatter) 1652377351
The real DiCaprio was never involved in the scheme and he had never been factually linked to Scientology.
The Daily Beast said of her situation:
"The sad truth was, she wanted to believe it was all real."
In March 2020, Denise told the outlet she wasn't aware of the Department of Justice's announcement that they arrested 24 scammers in the Atlanta area–many of whom were Nigerians, for running various internet schemes.
Before I even got to the part about Nigerians, I figured they were Nigerian— SwizzArmyKnife (@SwizzArmyKnife) 1652374161
The outlet informed Denise that between 2018 and 2022, she had sent money to three different men–all with Nigerian last names.
At the time, the foreign surnames failed to register as something to be aware of during her money transactions.
When asked if she had heard back from the scammers, Denise told the outlet:
“Nope, I haven’t heard anything from them. There might be a God after all."