Online dating leads to extortion case, fraud plea
Posted April 4, 2011 6:00 p.m. EDT
Updated April 4, 2011 6:32 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — A Henderson woman has admitted to blackmailing a Minnesota man she met through online dating service Match.com.
Anita Lavon Williams, 49, pleaded guilty last month in federal court to a charge of mail fraud. She is expected to be sentenced in June, when she faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Williams linked up with the man, identified only as C.J. in court documents, in early 2006 through Match.com. After developing an online relationship, she convinced him to take some nude photos of himself and send them to her.
She then used the photos to extort money from him. Bank records show dozens of wire transfers, each worth thousands of dollars, were sent in 2008 from Minnesota to accounts in Henderson and Winston-Salem, where Williams' children had accounts, and Petersburg, Va., where Williams' boyfriend lived.
Williams also used various aliases in the scheme, including "April Shoulders," "Betty Davis" and even "Beverly Purdue," according to court records.
Even after FBI agents arrested her two years ago, Williams e-mailed C.J. again, looking for money, according to court records.
As part of her plea agreement, Williams agreed to forfeit about $7,700 in cash that authorities seized from her home in Henderson, as well as $500 that was in a home in Petersburg and $300 from a BB&T account. She also surrendered seven computers and other electronics.
Williams, who couldn't be reached for comment, also had an account on a racy site, AdultFriendFinder.com, and used the same aliases there to meet unsuspecting men, federal authorities said.
Her profiles are no longer listed on Match.com and AdultFriendFinder.com, but WRAL Investigates found an active account on Hi5.com, another social site, that matches her name, hometown and age.
Mark Bredle, a dating coach who runs Modern Approach Dating Education in Raleigh, said online dating is an easy and somewhat anonymous way to find a soul mate but that free dating websites attract scammers.
"You never know what you're going to get," Bredle said. "There are a lot of cases of extortion."
Online profiles that appear under various names but have the same photo and similar background information is an easy red flag to spot, he said. If such a profile vanishes under one name and appears again under another, he said, that also should set off an alarm.
Bredle compared online dating with meeting someone in person. The key is to go slow and not give information or pictures to anyone before you are sure how they will be used, he said.
"Don't send nude photos," he said. "Men and women will do it and get blackmailed with those photos."