Romance scammer charged with defrauding Holocaust survivor of $2.8M

Peaches Stergo, left, allegedly defrauded an elderly Holocaust victim of over US$2.8 million in an online romance scam. U.S. Attorney's Office / Getty Images

A Florida woman has been charged with one count of wire fraud after she swindled an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor out of more than US$2.8 million in an online romance scam.

Peaches Stergo, 36, met the unnamed victim on a dating website in 2017, as per an announcement made by U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Southern District of New York on Wednesday.

“The defendant callously preyed on a senior citizen simply seeking companionship, defrauding him of his life savings,” said the assistant director of the FBI’s New York office, Michael J. Driscoll, as per CNN.

Stergo, who used the pseudonym ‘Alice’ online, regularly received money from the victim between May 2017 and October 2021.

Story continues below advertisement

She first told the victim in 2017 that she needed $25,000 to obtain settlement funds owed to her from a non-existent lawsuit.

After the victim sent a cheque, Stergo continued to insist he send money over the years, usually in monthly cheques in $50,000 increments, authorities claimed.

Breaking news from Canada and around the world sent to your email, as it happens.

Every time she would deposit the victim’s cheques, Stergo would insist she needed more funds or her bank account would be frozen, making it impossible to pay the victim back. The indictment alleges that Stergo made a fake email account to impersonate a TD Bank employee and used it to assure the victim he would be repaid if he continued to fill Stergo’s account. She also sent the victim fake invoices to provide his own bank after they became suspicious of the large, repeated money transfers.

In total, the victim allegedly sent Stergo 62 cheques.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office said Stergo used the funds to buy Rolex watches, a home in a gated community, a boat and other luxury items. The victim lost his Manhattan apartment after his bank account was drained.

Story continues below advertisement

In October 2021, the victim reportedly told his son that he had given his life savings to ‘Alice’ and would be repaid. The victim’s son informed him that he had been scammed.

If convicted, Stergo could face as many as 20 years in prison.

In 2021, the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre reportedly received 1,249 complaints of romance scams from 925 Canadian victims. The reported Canadian loss was more than $50 million, the second highest amount of fraud-related dollar loss that year.

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police encourage social media users to remain skeptical of messages from unknown persons. The organization recommends conducting a thorough internet search of a person’s identity. They also claim that if a person has “fallen in love fast” or asks for money, it should be seen as a red flag.

If you or someone you know is a victim of an online romance scam, you should file a report with the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

Sponsored content