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80-year-old widower in Oregon loses $200K in catfish romance scam

The alleged con artist told the elderly man he was paying for a 500-ton lion sculpture to be shipped from China to an art gallery in Florida.

Investigators issued a Valentine's Day warning after an elderly Oregon widower was swindled out of $200,000 by an unknown suspect he met through an online dating service.

The 80-year-old man was "catfished" out of the money after an unidentified person posed as a Florida woman to befriend him, according to the Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services. The alleged scammer spent months speaking with the widower under the pretense of engaging in a long-distance romantic relationship.

Andrew Stolfi, administrator for the Division of Financial Regulation, said that romance scams typically target the elderly through social media and dating sites.

“Unfortunately, victims often wire funds overseas or to third-party transfer agents, making it difficult to track the money and identify the con artist," Stolfi said in a press release Tuesday.

The widower believed he was investing in an art gallery in Florida and received fabricated museum and bank statements, the department said.

The scammer pretended to seek investors to cover $5 million in transportation costs to ship a 500-ton lion sculpture from China.Oregon Department of Consumer and Business Services

He believed his money was being used for the shipping costs of a 500-ton lion sculpture from China, but would get a percentage of the profits from the sale of the sculpture in return.

He made a series of payments over five months to overseas bank accounts totaling more than $200,000.

The department did not have any identifying information on the suspect and would not name the dating service in its report, department spokesman Brad Hilliard told NBC News Thursday.

"This is why it is so important to not send money if you haven’t met in person," Hilliard said. "Especially if they want you to send money to unknown people or overseas."