Love Scams: A Mother Hooked by a Catfish?

February 5, 2014
Fifty-six-year-old widow Sebrina says she’s in love with her boyfriend of one year, “James," whom she has never met in person and has given more than $250,000. Sebrina’s daughter, Sarah, says she has evidence that her mom is being scammed. Is Sebrina living in denial?







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SebrinaSarah, Sebrina's daughterSean, Sarah's husbandDoug Kane, private investigator

“I Am In Love with James”

Two months after her husband of 14 years passed away in 2012, Sebrina says she met “James Connor” on a dating website. “James told me that he was born in Germany, but his parents came here to the United States when he was a baby,” she says, adding that “James” told her he’s a civil engineer, working on a bridge project in London. She says although she has never met him in person, she plans to marry “James” someday — after he pays off business debt and returns to the U.S. “We got close really fast,” she says. “I am in love with James, and I believe James Connor loves me, too.”

Sebrina says that "James" asked her for money three weeks after they met online, to finance his building projects. “James called and said he could run out of money for construction materials,” she says. “He asked me if I could loan him the money.” She says “James” sent her an invoice from the company he needed to purchase the supplies from, and she thought it looked legit. “I wired $8,950 to a bank in China,” she admits, adding that “James” told her he would pay her back — with interest. Although he has yet to make good on his promise, she admits she has wired even more money to “James,” often using Western Union, totaling more than $250,000. “[The money transfers] couldn’t go to the United Kingdom,” she says, adding that the money was sent to a man "James" claimed to work with in Nigeria. “I was often very puzzled by that.”

Onstage, Sebrina admits that she hasn’t traveled to London to see “James,” because she doesn’t have a passport and doesn’t know where exactly he's staying. “We’ll get you a passport,” Dr. Phil tells her. “We’ll ship you right over there. I’ll Fed-Ex you, if need be.”

Dr. Phil lists some of “James’” excuses for not visiting Sebrina: Police took his passport and won’t let him leave the country, he doesn’t have $1,800 for a plane ticket, and he was jailed for owing money to suppliers. “So, you’re in love with a criminal,” he tells Sebrina.

“Well, he hasn’t told me everything about it,” Sebrina replies.

Dr. Phil points out that, just like the U.S., the U.K. does not jail people for owing money. “They don’t have debtor’s prison anymore,” he says. “It’s civil, it’s not criminal.”

In Denial?

Sebrina’s daughter, Sarah, says she has done everything in her power to prove to her mother that “James” is not real, but it hasn’t worked. “A 5-year-old wouldn’t believe this garbage,” she says, adding that she made Sebrina give her a copy of “James’” passport, which she took to the police. “They confirmed that there was no one by that name, with that passport number.”

“I don’t think my mom has ever been this stupid in her life,” Sarah says, adding that Sebrina has given “James” her life savings and is about one month away from being unable to pay her mortgage. “My mom could have paid off her house and had money in the bank, but she gave away her retirement and everything she has to James,” she says. “I’m at my wits’ end, and I don’t know what to do anymore.”

Sarah breaks down while discussing the amount of money her mother has given to “James.” And, Sarah and her husband, Sean, explain what happened when they spoke to “James” and offered to send Sebrina to London the next day.

Hear what the Department of Homeland Security has to say about “James’” passport.



Hear a statement from the building company that "James" told Sebrina he works for. Plus, private investigator Doug Kane weighs in with his findings.

Find out what happens when Sebrina calls “James” and offers him an opportunity to appear on the Dr. Phil show with her — and meet her, in person, for the first time. 

Dr. Phil confronts “James” over the phone. “You are a scumbag scam artist, and we know who you are.”

“James” has a surprise for Sebrina. And, Sarah gives her mom a reality check.

“The only thing worse than being in a dead-end, exploitive relationship for a year, is being in a dead-end, exploitive relationship for a year and one day,” Dr. Phil tells Sebrina. “The day you admit that someone has preyed upon your kind soul, someone has preyed upon your kind spirit, is the day you start building your life back.” He continues, “I understand you buried your husband. You were very lonely. This was a time that you were vulnerable. That’s whom they prey on. It happens.”

“He got me,” Sebrina confesses tearfully. “He got me good.” She says she listed “widow” on her dating profile. “So, he was able to really reel me in,” she says.

“Look me in the eye, and tell me you know this was a con, this was a scam,” Dr. Phil says.

“Dr. Phil, I get it, I’ve been scammed,” she responds. “I truly, truly believe it.”

“This is going to leave you with a lot of victimization feelings,” he tells her. “I want you to let me get you some professional help with that.” He continues, “I don’t want you damaged for life. I don’t want your broken trust destroyed.”

Sebrina accepts.