Viral TikTok star, financial columnist among those caught up in deceptive schemes

Teresa Johnson's life has been turned upside down over the past month, after she became a viral sensation over her TikTok posts about her recent heartbreak and alleged cheating she says she experienced.

In her 50-part series “Who TF Did I Marry,” Johnson, known as “Risa Tisa” on TikTok, describes her year-long struggle to marry a man who She met online, who she claims turned out to be a pathological liar who cheated on her. His finances, family and background.

“I felt comfortable telling this story now because, for a long time, I was very embarrassed, berating myself, feeling very embarrassed and ashamed of the fact that I let this person into my life. And so it was very important to me if I'm going to recover, this is part of my journey,” Johnson said.

Teresa Johnson talks to “Impact x Nightline”.

ABC News

Johnson's story resonated with a lot of viewers, who say they too have been cheated on in relationships, and her story of online deception is not uncommon. In other cases, victims of online and phone fraud have lost their savings, cyber security experts said.

“Impact x Nightline” takes a look at Johnson's story and the accounts of victims who say they were defrauded in an episode airing on Hulu.

Johnson said she met her ex-husband, whom she calls “Legion”, on a dating app in 2020 and they quarantined together in Georgia during the pandemic. Johnson said she was caught up in “Legion's” charms and constant “love bombing”, where he would compliment her on everything.

However, Johnson will gradually learn details about “Legion's” background, including his finances, past jobs, and home. At one point, he allegedly offered cash on a house for both of them, but she says he couldn't provide proof of funds.

“I didn't pay enough attention to the little things,” he said.

Johnson said that when she suffered a miscarriage during their relationship she tried to message “Legion” before seeking medical care, but received a response from someone claiming to be supportive of her. He claims this turned out to be a lie as the assistant was actually sending “Legion” messages.

The couple married after the miscarriage, but eventually divorced after Johnson discovered more lies, including his alleged use of a fake Social Security number.

ABC News contacted “Legion” on several occasions, but he declined to comment.

However, he has taken to social media to refute Johnson's claims, including denying that he had financial troubles. She also alleged that the relationship ended because Johnson had an affair. “Legion” says his ex-wife's story is now only being posted because she is in another relationship.

Photo: Stock Photo

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Igor Stevanovic/Adobe Stock

Johnson said that after her final segment was posted on TikTok, she received messages from viewers who felt sorry for her, and claimed that they too had been scammed by someone online.

Data from the Internet Crime Complaint Center showed that scams have been on the rise since the pandemic. According to the Internet Crime Complaint Centre, nearly 880,000 scam complaints were filed in 2023, up from nearly 467,000 complaints filed in 2019.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said data shows that younger generations are more likely to fall prey to online scams than older groups. However, cyber experts have warned that scammers can go to great lengths to defraud anyone.

Charlotte Cowles, a Brooklyn-based freelance reporter who is the financial advice columnist for “The Cut,” said that last Halloween she received a call from a man claiming to be an FTC agent who alleged that her identity had been stolen. Is.

“He had my name. He had my Social Security number, the last four digits. He had my address. He also knew the names of my family members, including my son and my parents,” Cowles told “Impact.” told.

Photo: Talking to Charlotte Cowles "impact x nightline" Ashan Singh.

Charlotte Cowles speaks with “Impact x Nightline's” Ashan Singh.

ABC News

The “purported” agent, who sent a photo of his alleged badge, told Cowles that he was investigating a case “involving millions of dollars being sent overseas, money laundering, drug trafficking,” and ultimately he Linked him to an alleged case. The CIA agent's name is “Michael”.

Cowles said that “Michael” isolated her over the phone and pressured her to withdraw her life savings from the bank so they could keep her money safe.

“They told me that because all my assets would be confiscated under the protocol, I needed to go to the bank and withdraw the amount of cash I would need to survive once they confiscated all my assets.” ,

Cowles eventually said he took out $50,000, placed it in a box and, per “Michael's” instructions, dropped it through the open back seat window of the car.

“I was really shocked at the time,” Cowles said.

When she returned home, Cowles said she called “Michael” only for a woman to claim she was his assistant. At that time she went to the police.

As of March 21, Cowles has not withdrawn his savings. The NYPD told “Impact” the investigation is ongoing.

Photo: Charlotte Cowles She said a fraudster defrauded her of her life savings.

Charlotte Cowles says a fraudster has defrauded her of her life savings.

ABC News

Cowles wrote about her experience in an article in “The Cut” last month and received messages from readers who questioned how she got caught in the scam, as well as messages from people who acknowledged that they were caught in similar scams and appreciated his coming forward.

Psychiatrist Dr. Sue Verma told “Impact” that when people fall victim to these scams, emotions can run high, especially if the scammer has vital information about their victim.

“When we look at financial planning, we're looking at a major set of factors: isolating the person, creating a situation where they feel like they're in trouble, instilling fear into their brain. And it “Fear weakens and impairs their executive functioning and better decisions,” she said.

Cybersecurity expert Caitlin Sarian told “Impact” that it is easy to find someone's personal information on the Internet because it is available from so many sources, including social media and public records.

“The US loves to monetize our personal data,” he said. “So even the DMV is selling your records to things called data brokers, which are giant conglomerate companies that basically group all your data together and sell it to companies for marketing purposes. “

“It's very easy for people to take photos of you offline and then use it on social media profiles, and they don't verify themselves,” Sarian said. “And it is used in many, many, almost all romantic scams.”

Liza Likins, a singer from Las Vegas, told “Impact” that she fell in love on Facebook with a man named Donald, who said he was looking for someone to be her partner and spend the rest of his life traveling and spending Spent in. Whatever money he earned.

She said she fell in love with “Donald”, who claimed to be from Germany. The pair used to talk continuously on the phone for hours.

“'Donald' started calling me his queen. And he showered me with compliments,” she said.

Photo: Lisa Likins reads from a conversation she had with a man she says turned out to be a fraud.

Lisa Likins reads from a conversation she had with a man she says turned out to be a fraud.

ABC News

At one point, “Donald” started asking for money for small requests like spending more time on his cell phone, but then the requests became more elaborate.

He also asked for money to pay for the international transportation of a vault allegedly filled with $700 million worth of gold and cash.

Likins said he was sent photos of the safe and did not immediately question the authenticity of the photos. She says she gave Donald more than a million dollars in two years, including selling her car and house.

Photo: Talking to Lisa Likins "Impact x Nightline."

Lisa Likins talks to “Impact x Nightline”.

ABC News

Likins stopped talking to Donald after he stood her up several times, leaving her out in the cold after agreeing to meet in person. She enlisted the help of an online investigation company to investigate Donald and discovered that not only had she been defrauded by a fraudster, but the alleged criminal had used someone else's face to do the deed.

Linkins said Las Vegas police told him they could not help him because cryptocurrency matters are outside their jurisdiction, and the FBI did not respond when he filed a report online.

The FBI told “Impact” it “cannot confirm or deny the existence of an investigation.” The Las Vegas Police Department did not respond to requests for comment from “Impact.”

German life coach Raho Bornhorst told “Impact” that several women, including Likins, have had their photos used in fake online profiles to deceive them.

“Probably every other week, at least, someone from Brazil, Spain, America, anywhere on the planet is calling me,” he said.

Bornhorst criticized Facebook for not doing enough to stop these scams.

A spokesperson for Facebook's parent company Meta told Impact in a statement that it was aware of Bornhorst's case, adding: “People who impersonate others on Facebook and Instagram violate our policies, and when If this is found, we remove the content – ​​as in this case, our work in this area is never done.”

The company claims to have removed more than 2.6 billion fake accounts in the last year alone.

Saryan, who has been sharing cyber security tips on social media, said people can avoid becoming victims by taking certain steps if they receive a message from a stranger.

That said, take time to confirm the stranger's identity and consider their message to make sure it makes sense.

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