A Holocaust survivor was conned out of his life savings by a woman he met on a dating website, prosecutors allege in the latest romance scam targeting the elderly.
Peaches Stergo, a 36-year-old Florida woman also known as Alice, was arrested Wednesday on one count of wire fraud for allegedly cheating an 87-year-old man out of more than $2.8 million that he used to buy Rolex watches, a boat and other luxury goods, the United States Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York announced today.
“The defendant callously took advantage of an elderly man simply looking for companionship, defrauding him out of his life savings,” said Michael J. Driscoll, deputy director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office in announcing the charges.
The allegations are the latest in what has been a growing trend of scammers targeting users of matchmaking websites. Romance scams have become prominent cautionary tales on popular streaming series, such as Netflix’s “The Tinder Swindler,” which told the stories of several women who said they were scammed by the same man they met on the dating app.
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. AARP on Monday issued a warning to members to be on the lookout for scams romantic relationships, and he said it has affected the senior community more than other age groups.
Stergo, according to the indictment, met the unidentified victim, a then-Manhattan resident, on a dating website six or seven years ago. By 2017, she asked him for money to pay her lawyer so she could receive the settlement funds prosecutors say she was owed. The deal, prosecutors said, did not exist.
Over the next five years, prosecutors allege, Stergo fed the victim continuous lies in order to receive nearly monthly checks, often in $50,000 increments. He posed as a bank employee, sent fake bills and created a fake email account to assure the victim that she would be reimbursed if she continued to deposit money into the account, according to the indictment.
Stergo used the money to buy a house in a gated community, a condo, a boat and numerous cars, including a Corvette, the indictment says. Prosecutors allege she also used her money to travel, buy gold and silver bullion, jewelry and designer clothes.
CNN has attempted to reach Stergo for comment.
By 2021, the alleged victim confided in her son that she had given Stergo her life savings based on his promises to pay her back, according to court documents. After her son told him he had been scammed, the victim stopped writing checks. She lost her apartment, according to the indictment.
If convicted, Stergo could face up to 20 years in prison. He is expected to appear in federal court in Florida.