Seattle dating app scammer borrows phones, Venmos himself thousands

Jan 21, 2023, 10:05 AM

(Photo from KIRO 7)...

(Photo from KIRO 7)

(Photo from KIRO 7)

Thousands of dollars are being scammed from victims after they met up with someone on a dating app.

KIRO 7 spoke with three victims and saw messages from more, where each victim shared the same story. They say they met the man on a LGBTQ dating app. When they meet in person, he says his phone has died and needs to tell his sister he’s arrived.

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When the victim lets the date borrow their phone, he opens their Venmo app and sends himself thousands of dollars. The victims KIRO 7 spoke with lost between $1,500 and $5,700. Each victim got their money back, at least eventually. But they want to warn others that the scammer is still out there.

The most recent case happened on Tuesday, Jan 17.

“I am very frustrated and I feel scammed,” said Reegis Coburn. He met up with the date in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. “He said his phone had died and needed to call his sister, so I let him use my cell phone,” he said. The man claimed the call didn’t go through so he was going to send a text instead.

“But instead he hopped on my Venmo and transferred out $5,700 dollars,” Coburn said. He said he had no idea at first. The date said he was going to step out to get his phone charger, then never came back.

“The next day I started getting alerts from my bank – and that’s when I realized and immediately started panicking,” Coburn said.

To warn other people, he posted about the scam in a LGBTQ Facebook group – and that’s when the comments started coming in from others, all sharing the same story. One of the comments was from Peter Larkin.

“He pulled the same scam with me,” Larkin read from his Facebook comment.

Larkin met up with the date in Beacon Hill back in October, and scam is the same down to every detail.

First, the man didn’t look like photo in the dating app. But when another victim circulated a doorbell camera image of the suspect, and both Larkin and Coburn recognized him right away.

Each say the scammer spun the story of needing to call his sister.

“He dialed a fake number and it made this beeping noises like, oh, it’s not going through. Can I text her?” Larkin recalled. “At that point, I was getting extra suspicious. But, you know, I don’t want to confront him,” he said.

He says the scammer also claimed he needed to leave to grab his phone charger.

“I was like, sure, no problem, see you in a few minutes. And as soon as he left, I looked at my phone,” Larkin said. “I saw a transfer of $2,000,” he said. He contacted the app and his bank, but it took a few weeks for him to get his money back.

“I was really fortunate that I just happened to be in a good place at that time, and I didn’t need that money to pay rent tomorrow or something. I could have been in really big trouble,” he said.

“He’s getting away with it. There’s being no punishment and I just hope that he can be stopped,” Coburn said.

A Venmo spokesperson encouraged people to use the app’s security features, that requires a FaceID or pin number to open the app.

Both Colburn and Larkin reported their cases to Seattle police, under case numbers 2023-16943 and 2022-274583, respectively.

Sgt. John O’Neil on Friday said SPD is aware of the cases. However, because there is no physical evidence to show the suspect accessed the Venmo app on victims’ phones without permission, it is a difficult case to prove. He said, for example, if surveillance video showed the suspect committing the theft, that would be a different story.

O’Neil encouraged other victims to continue reporting to SPD on their tip line.

A Venmo spokesperson said:

“The security and privacy of all Venmo users and their information has always been a top company priority. Venmo has a number of options in place providing customers the ability to enable enhanced layers of security to help further protect their accounts directly within the app. We encourage customers who suspect they are the target of a scam or have had an unauthorized transaction to contact Customer Service directly.”

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