A woman from Florida has been jailed for 51 months for defrauding a Holocaust survivor out of $2.8 million in an online romance scam.
Peaches Stergo, 36, spent years on her digital mark, an unnamed 87-year-old man who survived Nazi concentration camps in the Second World War.
Stergo initially met her victim on a dating website seven years ago and first asked him for money in 2017, falsely claiming she needed it to pay a lawyer to obtain a settlement fee she had won in an injuries court case.
“Over the next four-and-a-half years, Stergo continued her lies,” said the US Department of Justice (DoJ), announcing the sentencing. “She repeatedly demanded that the Victim deposit money into her bank accounts. She claimed that if he did not, her accounts would be frozen, and he would never be paid back.”
Romance scams are a particularly insidious form of social engineering ploy, one that often targets the vulnerable and elderly online with implicit promises of companionship and other forms of intimacy before taking the victim for everything they’re worth.
In total, Stergo’s victim sent her more than sixty checks, which came to an astounding $2.8 million. To abet her deception, the fraudster created a dummy email account that made it look like she was a respectable employee of a bank.
The victim was forced to give up his apartment, having been conned out of his life savings by Stergo, who joked to her real partner about the scam in electronic messages.
“Stergo thought that her successful manipulation of the victim’s emotions was humorous, following up her message with ‘lol,’” said the DoJ. “She also joked in a text message that the Victim was ‘broke’ — that ‘[h]e don’t have anything else to pawn.’”
According to the DoJ, Stergo also expressed her unwillingness to earn an honest living, saying she preferred a life of crime.
“I am just aggravated hurt frustrated that I haven’t made money . . . I don’t want to work . . . it’s too hard,” she said in one message.
Stergo spent the stolen money on a luxurious lifestyle, including a home in a gated community, a condominium, a boat, and cars including a Corvette and Suburban.
Stergo has been ordered by a federal court in New York to pay restitution of $2,830,775 and forfeit the gated home and more than a hundred other articles she obtained through her fraud.
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