SCAMMED with Debby Montgomery Johnson

Our guest this week has removed her mask of shame, and is opening up after experiencing a love that turned into betrayal and financial disaster to the tune of over One Million Dollars. Yes, that's right ... $1,080,762 to be exact!

Known as "The Woman Behind The Smile", Debby M. Johnson proves that you can step out from behind the mask and reclaim your strength, confidence and power.

In this episode we discuss relationship fraud, the warning signs, the recovery process, and so much more.

Connect with Debby👇


Stand up, Speak Up Podcast

Romance Scams Now Website

📚 Grab a copy of Debby's Books:

The Woman Behind The Smile, A Gift Called Fearless, Journey To The Stage

If you've been a victim of a scam now is the time to take action. Visit, for more information.


Conversation with Debby M. Johnson

Calla: Well, let's just jump right in, because when we heard your story and terms like relationship fraud come up, it's hard to not really have like a preconceived notion in your head of what really took place. So now that you're on the other side of it, I would love to hear your version of what took place.

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

You know, it's a really amazing thing, because prior to this, I never would have understood it either. I'd never heard of an online relationship scam. And that just to give you a little perspective, this happened to me in 2010. So it's been a while, and a lot has come up since then. But when it happened, my husband had passed away suddenly. And I was working, I was working my job, I was working his company, I was doing everything. And my friends said I had no life. So they just said, Hey, get a life, do something, you know, other than work. And I had been married for 26 years. So I hadn't been on a date in a really long time. And that was, is actually very scary to me to start dating again at 52. And I felt when they said, Get a life and start dating. The only thing that I felt safe would be perhaps online dating, because I wasn't ready for an in person relationship yet. I was, I was too busy. And I guess I might have been a little bit scared. So I thought online dating would be safe. I'll go to a faith based site, I'll find you know, someone that is an international businessman because I own a company. I also was working. And I was looking for like minded people, which surprised me when I was checking out the 55 to 62 year olds, because many of them couldn't write. They showed up in wife beater t shirts. They had nothing against motorcycles. But they had motorcycles with girls hanging on their on their sleeve.

Calla: Yeah, not what you’re looking for.

Leanne: Not For me.

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

So I jumped on actually to a faith based sight thinking that we would have something in common, and that it would be safe. And I'd also had some friends who had found husbands or significant others through that. And I said, okay. But when I went to my mother, I figured if my mother was for or against that would for me be the litmus test. And my mom had, she was in her 70s at the time, she said, Hey, I've got friends who have found their husbands and just be careful. But this is really fun. And so I dipped my toe, but basically jumped in. And it was an interesting adventure, again, safe because I was in my home, I could chat or talk. And back then it was a little different than today. It was mostly the dating site at first. And then we moved off, I met a gentleman from England, who was an international businessman. It was in Houston at the time. And he was going to have just gotten a contract with a job in the Far East. So he said, Let's get off the dating site, because I'll have better access to talking to you and talking like air quotes. It's more like chatting was on Yahoo chat. And that was pretty new. For me, that was pretty techie. And so that was instant messaging 24/7. And we did that for two years. I actually it was very interesting. I kept a journal for through those two years. And I copied and pasted every contact I had with them every chat, every email, every everything, and I put it in my journal thinking I was gonna have family history for two years, and turned out to be 4000 pages of evidence which couldn't be used.

Calla: What a premonition, I got goosebumps.

Leanne: Why could it not be used?

Debby Montgomery Johnson: Because he's not in the States. They couldn't do anything. Oh, at least that’s what he told me.

Calla: Yeah, your book was fascinating. I could not put it down.

Debby Montgomery Johnson: And the book was loosely based on my conversations. In my journal, the journal, I still have five printed, you know, 4000 pages of printed printed books. And they're on my bookshelf, they remind me of what not to do. But I've also used them to, to warn people because it's interesting going back I look, I look at things now. Obviously, hindsight is 2020. And there are things that I call pink flags. Weren’t red flags at the time. They weren't even yellow flags for the most part, because honestly, I didn't. I didn't. I didn't know there were scammers. I wasn't anticipating and no one ever told me about them. And so there were there were times when I felt a little uncomfortable. He always had an answer to my questions. He always walked me through it and got me to that point where I would say yes or whatever I was doing. And that was even true with the money and people are like oh, how in the world because I was an Air Force Intelligence Officer. I was a former banker a paralegal I had been well trained, well schooled, educated. I was just at the right time at the right moment, my life and I had the right person to take advantage. But again, I didn't know I was being taken advantage of because it for me it was The conversation, it was a relationship that was building. It was safe because he wasn't here. Yes, it was full of ups and downs and emotional times, especially when he was supposed to get here and didn't get here. And when he asked me to help him the very first time. He asked, he asked me to one of his friends was an engineer. And I don't know where he was at the time, I can't remember. But he's having a hard time getting onto the dating site. He said, Hey, could you send a check into the dating site, and help my friend out. At that point, I'm like, sure, because the number of guys that I'm looking at are, it's pretty pitiful. And so a great way to get somebody new on the dating site, not knowing that that makes them a credible, credible scammer, because now they're a paid participant. I learned that later on. So that was a small amount of money. And I actually sent a physical check into the dating site. The next ask was, and again, I'm a business woman, I run a business, I understand that sometimes you don't get paid for your job until after the fact. So as we were getting to know each other, he had a company I had a company we discussed business, we he was really a confidant to me too, because Lou had died suddenly. And I, I was just frustrated, I had not run his company before. I didn't know all the answers. I was really good at asking clients, vendors, everybody how to keep the company going. But I needed someone to keep me going. And so we would go back and forth. And he asked me to do a business plan for his company. And it was really interesting business personal dynamic. But when he said, Deb, I'm having some trouble with certain things. Could you just help me and when I'm done at this point, I felt like he was going to be my future. I felt like he was going to be family. And that's the key. For me. It was when I knew I thought I knew that he was going to be my future family. I'd do anything for family. And so he said, We have to get a power of attorney drawn up so that when when I come over there because he was coming with this with a sudden sister from England, he said we need to have some bank accounts set up. We need some legal things done. A my attorney whose name was Peter, and I had been introduced to Peter online, said, we needed a power of attorney and it was going to cost $2,500. Well, I'm thinking when I was a paralegal, it didn't cost $2,500 For a power of attorney, but I didn't. I didn't question because now it was international law. And I didn't know what the expenses might be. So even though that was our first little hiccup, financially, because I always say that I'm one of those Damn Yankees who doesn't give money away to anybody. I did say yes. And I thought this was interesting. As a banker, going to Western Union felt a little bit off to me. And I was like, why am I doing this? But I just felt like if I did this, and we could get him home soon, he could be here for Christmas. And it there was a lot of urgency to it. Like we have

Calla: There’s loneliness and confusion. You know what I mean? So I mean, that's like a perfect cocktail.

Debby Montgomery Johnson: Absolutely. And I didn't, I didn't. I guess I didn't want to question because at that point, I'm thinking, well, this is gonna be my forever guy. I don't want to question him over something like this.

Leanne: Yeah, but trust built.

Debby Montgomery Johnson: It was built very quickly. The only thing that I felt a little odd about with him at the very beginning, was that he started to profess his feelings rather quickly. And . because I've been married for so long, my spider sense is going, you sure you want to say this to me? You sure that I'm going to be your gal. And then finally I just said, Well, this is really fun. This is great. Because I felt like I was 16 those endorphins. And you know, the hormones are raging. And it was just it was fun. And I got to the point, I don't know if you know, Yahoo chat, but there's a little ding ding ding as I call it, the little alert. And middle of the night, I could be sound asleep. And I would hear that ding ding ding on my computer, and I would up at a bed and race to my computer and be typing. For hours. Even if I had to go to work. The next morning, I would, I'd stay up because I thought he was over in Malaysia. And I knew the time change was huge. So just to be able to chat with him was really fun. And folks asked me did you ever did you ever talk to him? The I knew internet was difficult because he kept telling me that it was the internet was hard. I couldn't Skype with him. The phone calls or two or three and he had a British accent which just fed right into the story.

Calla: Oh girl, I know that life.

Debby Montgomery Johnson: But it was very distant and it was not a good connection. So we kept it pretty short. But that just cemented in my mind that this guy's he's from Britain and he's overseas and he just is having a hard time connecting. So

Leanne: Can I ask how long did he wait until the first ask asking you for financial help?

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

It was it was a couple weeks in the first ask was that dating thing. And that was that was more kind of fun. The business ask was soon after that. And again, it's, it was the urgency of it. And I thought, well, you know, he's gonna pay me back because they're always assurances that it would pay me back. Pay me back with interest, this is going to happen quickly not to worry. Well, when it dragged out, because it did. We were in this relationship for almost two years. At some point, I'm sure. My, my legal and logical brain was saying, Hey, this is enough. And I don't have any more money. Or I could, I could find it again. Because it was family, I found it. I didn't have it sitting in the bank. But I just felt like if I stopped now, if I disconnect now, I've already lost this amount of money. And I wasn't sure about the total until the very end, when I did add it up. But I had incredible bank records. I had meticulous documentation. And so I just felt like okay, this is the last time. This is the next time is the last time and we call it now chasing the money. It's like when you're gambling. Yeah. Well, the next time yeah, the next time, the big hit. And the next time didn't come until the very end.

Leanne: Did he ever say I will pay you back?

Debby Montgomery Johnson: Oh, all along. And the other thing is, it was interesting too, is he got a sister involved, I thought was his sister. And so Mary, and I got to be friends. Also, there was one night we had I had on Yahoo chat, you have little message boxes at the top. And I was talking to Mary and his son, Kenny in England. And I was talking to Peter, his attorney, and I was talking to him and typing the whole time around. I wasn't talking physically, but I was typing. And thank goodness, I'm a really quick typer. But when we had to, for instance, uh, there were there were things that came up and I didn't have enough money, but he's like, Well, Mary will help you out. And so Mary, and I would be talking about how we were going to sell our jewelry and how we were selling our stocks or our investments. And she would do half and I would do half again, making me feel like someone was helping me out in this. I wasn't doing this all myself.

Calla: The relationships were there.

Debby Montgomery Johnson: Yeah, absolutely. And, and honestly, her relationship with me was very interesting, because I would ask her questions about him to try to find out what's he like, and then I would ask him about her her life and she lost her husband and had kids. And it was very intricate. It just did incredible family story built on, on lies now, but it was very crafty, looking back.

Leanne: And now that you know the truth, do you feel like all of those people were one person?

Debby Montgomery Johnson: I actually worked with a group called S.C.A.R.S- Society of Citizens Against Relationship Scams, and we work with men and women, mostly women, a lot on this, there is no he, the he is a they. Because it's organized crime, they are not there. This is a huge organization, sitting in office buildings, or in universities in Nigeria, and Israel and England where wherever they may be, they are very well trained. And if you think about years ago, when we offshore call centers, we basically sent them to India to Nigeria, to all these places. So we've got this pool of, of individuals who may not have good employment opportunities, and they're now sitting in call centers. They're being trained in universities, and they have their own journals, their own, you know, message boards, they have their own programs where they keep track of what they're saying. And if I looking back at everything that I wrote, There is no, I love you, Debbie. It's honey, my love, my sweet, my wife. They never say your name. And if you think about that, it's because they're working 50 100 200 women, you can't keep their names straight. So it's a generic my love. And as the person on the other side, you're thinking, oh my gosh, she's talking to me. He's talking to my heart. Well, he is they and they are now knowing what the whole story is. I wondered that too, because I kept my journal. So I could always go back to my journal and read it. And then question based on what he had said, or I say he again, it's a they. And I wondered how he remember how did he remember looking after the fact how did he remember that? And that's when I was told well, you know, they keep it's like a call center now and you call it and you're talking to Netflix, or whoever and they're keeping customer information, that's what they did. It's just very professional. And if they could do what they do for good that they did for bad they'd be phenomenal.

Calla: Right? That's how it always works.

Leanne: There has to be some people in your life that It kind of we're raising eyebrows and saying like, hey, Debbie, you might want to rethink some of this. Like, did you have any of that friends or family?

Debby Montgomery Johnson: I did. I had at the beginning it was my boys. I've got four kids and my older sons were like, Mom, don't don't don't. Well, I don't know if you guys have kids. But when I hear Don't, don't, don't. I mean, I’m the adult here leave me alone.

Leanne: I don't have kids. I still don't like don't

Debby Montgomery Johnson: I didn’t either. And I think Okay, so now I'm alone. Your dad's not here. My youngest was still home, but he was very involved in football. So he wasn't around. And this was my, this was my lifeline. He was my lifeline. So when my boys said don't, and my girlfriend's were who were very excited at first started wondering what's going on here. She's not really talking about it. Then I said, Okay, guys, you either have to stop or I'm not going to tell you anything. And that's exactly what the scammer wants. They want to isolate you from friends and family, so that you don't listen to what they're saying. And you get caught up in in the whole story caught up in the emotions of it, and the adrenaline and the love and all the things that you think is going on. It's actually technically called an amygdala hijack, where your your sensories are just hijacked by all the things that you want to happen, and the relationships that you want to have. And to the point where I stopped telling my kids and my friends what was really going on. I never told them about the money, they would have just jumped all over me. Because I thought I was preparing my future with a man that's going to pay me back. He's gonna bring some good money in and we're going to have a lovely life. And that journal is going to be the history and my kids can look back on it and say, Wow, that was really cool, mom.

Leanne: Yeah, even. I mean, I can relate to that. And I think anyone who's been in a toxic relationship can relate to the ignoring the red flags and protecting this thing that you just wholeheartedly want to be your future and your truth. And you sacrifice your boundaries and your time. And maybe you're not getting treated the way you know, you should, but you just have this vision that you can't shake. I feel like a lot of people have been in that place. Even if it doesn't have to do with an online scam. So I can I can see how-

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

At the end, I got to the point when I found out it was a scam. I'm thinking well, if you can't my counsel to everybody is if you haven't seen the whites of their eyes in two weeks, it's a scam. And then I met Benita Alexander and I don't know if you know Benita’s story, but she was an NBC reporter out in New York, who was in got engaged to an international surgeon, Italian, look at it, look it up. She was gonna get married to this man and huge wedding in Rome and invited an incredible group of array of international celebrities, whatever. And it turned out that he was truly a an international surgeon, but a charlatan and a scam artist and a had multiple families and unbelievable. And she had lived with him, you know? And I'm thinking, Oh, wow. So we can all get taken at some point in our life. And so the naysayers and I had that one time when I after I came out with my story. And I was speaking to a group of women, I had one lady just look at me and I call it the stink eye. And I'm thinking, Okay, I could just, I could stop right now. I don't have to tell a soul until I looked at the woman beside her whose head was bobbing up and down. And I'm thinking, I'm talking to her. I don't need to talk to that other one because God bless her. And I hope surely nothing ever happens to her. But I found that something's going to happen to every one of us at some point in our lives. And don't be the victim blamer because the victim could be you. It could be your mother, it could be your daughter. And

Calla: None of us are immune to deceit, right? Like it's just none of us are immune from that.

Debby Montgomery Johnson: No. And the millennials are actually being taken more on the scams now. And you saw that Tinder Swindler, That's what we call that financial that well, they weren't quite in a financial thing. But the big thing taken the millennials right now its a terrible name, but it's called pig butchering. And it comes out of China. And if you think about getting the the pigs ready for slaughter, they're just they're bringing it in. And it's a short term. It's not a real romantic relationship, but it's social engineering. It's a relationship fraud, where they bring in and then within a week or two, they're saying, Hey, I've got this great investment. And typically, it's cryptocurrency. And so our dear millennials who are growing up in on the internet thinking they're so safe because they know how to work it. All of a sudden now they've got this new friend is going to teach them how to do cryptocurrency and how to invest and they bring them in, they make some money, they give it back now they invest more and within you know, all of a sudden now you've got all your investments and all your savings in this investment, and poof, they're gone. So our young men and women are not happy victims. They're pretty ticked off. Where are the older victims that have been through the relationship? long term relationship? And, you know, for me, it was two years. For most, it's four to six, eight months, maybe a year. And it's getting faster as they get better. It's just what took two years for me. They're doing it six to eight months now. Unbelievably quick.

Calla: Why do you think people are so susceptible to just that? Is it is it the loneliness? Is it

Debby Montgomery Johnson: It's not loneliness. It's, I mean, it might be, but I never, I never thought of being lonely. I liked the companionship. I liked having someone to talk to me. And one of my girlfriends who's passed away in the last couple years, she was a psychologist, and she said, Deb, when she when she got to talk to me and start pulling feelings out, she said, all those 20 something years you were married, your insides. If you think of a piece of Swiss cheese, you had a hole in you, that felt like it hadn't been listened to. Ding, ding, ding! That’s true. I had a very smart husband, bold, bodacious, brilliant, but he didn't always listen to me. And I didn't want to have any contention. So I just kind of said, Yep, then let him do his thing. And I did mine. And we had, you know, we had a wonderful family. But in that particular spot, I did have a big hole that hadn't been listened to. So 4000 pages later, guess who's been listening to me? And he said the right things, and he would send poems. I mean, there are guys, there are scammers that will send candy, they'll send flowers, they'll send physical items. Now, that didn't happen to me. But they're trying to validate who they are, and make you feel like they're for real. And so again, I thought he was my forever for real guy. And I'm sure the blinders just, you know, now looking back that of

Calla: Ofcourse, yeah, you can look back and see things that you wouldn't have been able to see when you were in it. I think that's

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

Which is true for even a relationship in person.

Calla: Correct. Yeah. Yeah.

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

Talk to any of my divorced friends, and they're wishing that they had…

Calla: I’m married to someone with an accent and I still feel like I'm getting swindled sometimes.

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

I won’t tell him.

Leanne: I'm so curious, though. Like, what was the the turning point where you finally discovered and had to accept, okay, this, this is a scam. This isn't real.

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

Okay. On September 10 2012, he came online. We were typing and he said, Deb, how do you feel about forgiveness? Well, we've had many spiritual discussions over the years. So I put on my spiritual hat. And we start talking about this and forgive seven times 70 or seven times 7000, or whatever. And so I felt like, okay, so this is, this is a good conversation, and then we get disconnected. And a few hours later, he came back and said, revisit this, and I'm like, Have I done something wrong? Why are we talking about forgiveness? And I obviously think now, did I do something? Why do we do that fallback? And he said, I have something to tell you, it's gonna hurt you. And I just wanted to know that you could forgive me for hurting you. And I'm thinking, Well, you don't have to hurt me really need to do this. And he said, I have a confession to make. And when I heard that, it was like a gut punch. Because I had heard that once in my marriage, and it didn't turn out to be a very good thing. And so I was just on edge. And he said, I have a confession to make. This has all been a scam. Thinking, what what's been a scam? Are you sick, something's wrong. And he said, No, this is all been a scam. And I'm really sorry. And I said, now you're lying to me. Now you have to prove to me that you're telling me the truth. And he said on Yahoo chat, there's a small camera. I'd been asking for that for two years. He goes, I'm going to show you how to how to open that up. And I'm going to come on live. And I'm thinking, Oh, so you visualize this, I have dual screens on my computers. I'm looking at my handsome Brit. And up pops this little square corner in my corner. And now live, I'm seeing a dark haired, dark eyed, dark skinned young man with a big smile on his face. And I think, oh my gosh, what have I done? And for me, that was like hitting a brick wall. It was just that was the turning point. It was. I look back now and it was a blessing that it happened. Because it was that brick wall. It was that stop in the moment. And oh my gosh, now that my heart was was separated from my head. And my logical head said, Okay, pick up your phone and take a picture of him. And if you look at the book, there is one picture of him and it was that moment when he had just confessed to me. And then I started thinking, Well, I've watched a lot of shows. I know what the FBI can do, keep them going, keep him engaged, keep them and the reason I had a smile on his face is because he said that he developed feelings. Add over those two years, which may or not be true. And I've got, you know, the director of S.C.A.R.S said that’s just part of the scam. But I got to figure that over two years when you get to know somebody you know them really well. And even if a little bit of light love could have overshadowed his horrible life, then have at it. But I was just thinking that you know what he wanted to keep it going because I said I couldn't obviously. But he was a friend now. I mean, I gotten to know him really well or I thought I got to know him. And I'm thinking to that there's part of his story, which has got to be true, because you can't live for two years and to have all of it a lie. Some of it's got to be true. And at that point, I'm I'm like, okay, so how can I keep this going and get him caught? But not let him know that I'm doing that. And so I played along for a little while. It'd be even though inside I was dying. I was just devastated financially. And when he said, Can we keep this going? And I'm like, Are you out of your mind? And he said, Is it because I'm young and black? And I'm like, Well, maybe but no, it's because you lied for two years. And you stole over a million dollars from me. And I know that there's this usually this air suck. When people hear the dollar amount. I didn't have a million dollars in the bank. I found it because he was family. I sold jewelry. I sold investments on my retirement accounts. You know, I got rid of my retirement accounts, because he always promised to pay me back quickly. Because I'm thinking, Okay, I'm gonna get penalties on this stuff. You got to pay me back within 90 days, 180 days, whatever the limit was, I knew it, then I have conveniently forgotten. And he goes I promise. I promise, I promise. Well, at that point. Now what do I do? And so I, I just disconnected on that conversation. And I called my mother and dad. The reason I called them, they they kind of knew what's going on. They never knew I'd sent that much money. But I did ask them to help me on one final payment. Because we were so close. At least I thought we were we were getting the money. I was just about coming over and I needed $100,000. And I didn't have it. I couldn't come up with it. So I called my parents. And my father who's retired dentist was a little reluctant at first because I said, Dad, don't tell mom. He goes Nope. I've been married for 55-60 years. I will tell your mother

Leanne: kind of love that answer to be honest.

Calla: Yeah, I do too.

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

Yeah. And so they went ahead with it, because they figure for two years couldn't possibly be a scammer for two years. Maybe earlier on Yeah, but not now. So. And I promise, we promised that we would pay them back with a really good interest as soon as he got home. And so I I was devastated on their behalf. And I didn't care. I can't say I didn't care about the money for me. But of all the money that I lost. That was the money that hurt the most. Because they trusted me. I'm the only daughter and I felt so responsible and had for tab for 10 years, I was able to actually I've remarried, that’s the happy part. But my husband and I were able to buy a home from my mom and dad. And I finally felt like I had completely paid them back. Even though I've done it probably 10 times over. My father works for me and I take care of most of their expenses. But my heart just was so heavy that I had brought them in and scammers do that they try to get you to get your friends involved. You know, find the money somewhere, ask your friends, ask your family, go to the bank. I have women who have who have mortgaged their homes, they've taken loans out, they've just and when the scam happens to them, they lose their home, they lose their retirements, they lose their friends, they lose their family, they're so depressed and many have lost their lives because they don't know where to go. And that's the that's the horrendous part about this, especially for the older women. They may be on a fixed income at that point because they've retired and they had money. But when the scammer takes everything that they have, they see no hope for the future. They seem they're so embarrassed or so afraid because now he's got their address. Even though he's is sitting over in Nigeria or somewhere across the pond is scoured, he'll never get here. They don't know that and they're afraid. They’re afraid for everything. They're afraid of their shadow. And that's the hard part about this whole relationship fraud is that it really hurts you from the inside out.

Calla: Such a violation.

Leanne: Yeah, yeah, exactly. And then there you talk a lot about the shame that comes with all that like how long did it take you to be able to feel comfortable to share what had happened to you?.

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

Quite a while actually except I I don't know how I did this but I started dating within months. Online but I always I always saw them in person and the guys are like that I did Meet the gentleman that I that I married, I met him through friends and one of their friends was a matchmaker. And she had done her due diligence, and he just lived down the road. So that was really fun. On our third, I guess it was our second date, he told me something very vulnerable about him. And I'm thinking, Okay, so here's the time for me to tell you what happened to me. And I let it out on our second date. I think we were sitting at Denny's for breakfast at dinner. And hours later, it all came out. And I'm like, if you can understand what I went through, and thank you for telling me what happened to you. Because you're the first man in two years that has told me the truth. I said, I think this is this is pretty fun. And I never dated anybody after that.

Leanne: That's your husband?

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

Three years later, we were married. And we've been together almost seven years. So it was, it was extraordinary. But for me, I still hid it for a while. It was probably this happened in 2012. About 2015 is when I started writing the book. And the reason for the book is I was sitting at a women's business meeting in Fort Lauderdale with good friends. And at lunchtime, one of them's mentioned online dating, and she still tells me that I must have rolled my eyes at her. And she goes, What's that? And I told her the story. And she said, Deb, you have to tell and I'm not going to tell I can't tell. I'm so embarrassed, you know, I'm too smart, too talented to trained. And she said my mom was taken for 80,000. And then someone else came up and said they are in a Ponzi scheme twice. And then another one and another another. And I had all these women coming up saying, you know, we've been taken, we've been taken but nobody spoke up. And over that weekend, I crafted a close to a talk where I invited everyone to the world premiere of the woman behind the smile movie. And the room was dead silent. And they said, When can we get tickets? I said, I just made that up. Oh, no. Oh, no. You got to write your book. And that that got me introduced to a gentleman actually, who was the executive producer for the Larry King Show. And, we became friends. And he said, Oh my gosh, I gotta get to a seven. And so within days of meeting him he had, he had me talking to a screenwriter in California. And the first thing the guy wanted to know was So what happened when he met him when you saw him when he found him? I said,

Calla: Well, that was one of my questions.

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

I didn't I didn't find him. And I wasn't because the only way that I was going to find them is if I went to Nigeria. And even after the FBI said there's nothing they could do because he's over there. I'm thinking this is dead. This is a done deal. I'll never get my money back. I'll never do anything about this. And the guy goes, well, I can't take you on to the Oprah show. And when she asked you how was it when you saw him in person? You went I didn't. She goes, there's no story there. Like, you're not seeing the picture here.

Calla: Yeah, there's a big story there.

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

The big story, but it kind of went away. But after that was really interesting. There was a local, I was on a board of a nonprofit here. And I was at a meeting and we were planning something and one of the girls, I had my book with me and one of the girls was a reporter for the Palm Beach post. And she said we're going to do something. I said fine. They came out with a three page three pages of a weekend newspaper, three pages on me in the local section, like front page on my oh my gosh. Well, that's when I learned don't read what this what the riffraff to saying at the bottom. You know, when on the online stuff, all the bottom feeders. Oh my gosh, my girlfriend's called up that Don't you dare read that don't you’ll never speak again. And I didn't and I called the reporter. So we're gonna get some of that off. She said, but here's the trick. Don't read what they say because you're not talking to them. And that was the best thing that anybody could have ever told me. Because since then, I've spoken out a lot. And when I first came out, I think what happened there was this switch in me when I realized that the story is not about me anymore. The story is about so and so's mother, sister, all these other people. And I said, Yes, I was terribly embarrassed, but it happened. And a woman that interviewed me once said it happened for a reason. She goes if you believe in God, he let this happen because he knew you would speak up. At some point you would speak up about what happened. And I'm like, You know what? That's right. I never wanted what soon as the FBI said that I was manipulated in a victim like nope.

Calla: Changing the narrative

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

I did not want to have that label. I had been someone's mom, daughter, wife all those things but did not want to be labeled the victim. And I wasn't going to read the bottom feeder stuff. I wasn't going to look at those women that were given me the stink eye for me. It was more important to be there to either try to I hate the word try to strive to To protect someone from this happening to them, or to be there to help them recover afterwards, because if you can't stop them within the first couple of weeks, they're sucked into the story. And then they're going to be broken broken at some point. And that's when we pick them up. To do that, I would rather than hear the story beforehand, and because there's nothing breaks my heart more than I get an email from someone who said, I wish I had heard your story before. So thank you. I'm thanking you guys for helping me get the word out. Because it happens to our mothers, our sisters, our friends, all ages, all colors, our religion, men and women. Every Age is happening to them. And with the pandemic. The numbers have skyrocketed, around the world. And it's really sad. It's sad.

Leanne: That's what I'm so curious about, like, since you are on the other end of this, and you help people through this on their end as well. Is there like a process that you've noticed, like repetition of how these scammers work people like words that they use to coerce them are like a step by step kind of

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

I wouldn't use the word course, is total manipulation. And it's, it's something they're very good at. Like I said, if, if they could do something for good, they'd be phenomenal. If you read my story, and just change the names change where they're at. They have playbooks, they actually sell playbooks on how they do this. And the things that they say the the poems that get written, I mean, Google a poem, I did, actually, a couple of them didn't show up on one of them. One of them didn't. But I remember he sent music to me, and I would sit here for hours listening to these great songs, and I think I still have them on my desktop. And I need to just get rid of them. Because part of the past, you know, they're great stories, but I'm like, I don't have those feelings. But yes, they say very similar things. And if you get anybody Well, first off the pictures, realize that the pictures you're seeing on Facebook, on any social media, they could all be, they could all be hijacked, or their impersonations, so many of them are impersonations, if they say there were widower, careful, if they say they're single, and they're in their 50s, careful, if they say they're on an oil rig, or the ones that gripe me the most are the ones that come across as being military. I'm former Air Force, I have kids on active duty in the army in the Marine Corps, and my my nephew's in the Navy, these guys that come across as military members in Syria, in Iraq, it were asking for money to get sent home. That's total BS. And anybody that knows the military knows that the problem is most of the people that are being contacted by these guys have had no military experience had no idea that the military would never allow you to be over there and not pay for you to get home. You know, they are banking, and they're going to the bank, actually, with the military pictures for women in in the Far East, the Philippines, Malaysia, the ones that see an American and a uniform and say, Oh, he's trustworthy. I can get out of my country here. And I can go to the United States. You know, I get I get many that I'll say, Well, this guy says he's working for the UN. He's a doctor working for the UN. And he's over there and he can't get home and he needs money for his son. Bah, bah, bah. It's all mentalize. Okay. Don't believe any of it and don't believe it before. When you look at the pictures if the pictures look too good. He’s a scammer. So a reverse search, if you can, they've gotten really good. That doesn't always work. But especially if they're military, find somebody who knows a military uniform. Many times you can actually see the name tag, and it doesn't match the name on the profile. And I'm like, Oh my gosh,

Leanne: they're not even trying!

Calla: And on the flip side of it, too, you said that they will look for people that have the widowed to like that's the other flip side of it is that they do kind of prey on status, and emotions and people

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

They do and on the dating sites, there's no reason you should have that you're a widow or divorcing on a dating site. You should be single. But I just I just threaded a Google article today. I don't remember who wrote it, but they're talking about Tinder Swindler, and they're saying that most people like 60% of people on Tinder are married or in a relationship just looking around.

Leanne: I fully believe that.

Calla: Oh, yeah. That's crazy. So you came in on it. Debbie with like, when kind of the dating sites were first coming out and becoming a thing. And then Leanne , you've been you've done online dating before because that's just like your generation. I missed it all. I know I feel so lucky after conversations. like this for sure, but I mean, I just I don't have that understanding or that awareness, like, like y'all do what's really out there. So I think it's really important.

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

And it is really blown up. My daughter's a single mom. And she's been doing the swiping, and all that I'm like, Jenny, just be careful, just be careful. And fortunately, you know, she knows what happened to me. So she is really careful. And so she'll call me up, or my one of my girlfriends is just recently separated, and she'll call up and she goes, Oh, this guy's wonderful. I'm like, Okay, let me see. My guidance is have a dating buddy. Don't try to do this on your own. Because you just get hijacked, the emotions just take over. And then your logical brain is just out the door, and then forget it. You don't want to hear anybody telling you no, no, no.

Leanne: Yeah. How did you gain your trust back when you were dating your your current husband?

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

When he sat down at dinner that night and said, Deb, my friends told me not to tell you this, but I'm going to, and he told me that he had been in recovery. And I like you know it. And he's been so supportive of me, because he knows, the more I talked about it, like going into recovery, the more you talk about it, the better you feel, the stronger you get from the inside out. And he's been my number one supporter, and I learned to trust him. Now. I'm not very trusting of others. I'm very careful with my company and with business too. And I've learned to many of the shiny objects, syndromes where you think, Oh, this is really good. And this is true about anything that that someone's trying to get you to buy. If there's this rush, rush rush to to do it, you got to take like your grandmother, she has to say, you know, sleep on it, take pause. And if it's still good tomorrow, then perhaps, but the dating stuff, just be really careful. I like to say beware and be aware. And do your due diligence, do your homework, because unless you want to, you know, unless you go out on the street, you give 10,000 to the guy that's sitting on the street, you don't want to be given that money away, pay yourself first. And if anybody ever asked for money, or Bitcoin or cell phones or anything, the answer is no, no, no.

Calla: Right? What about being the voice for this has been difficult to navigate for you.

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

It's really not difficult now, once I started speaking about it, and was recognized as the person that it happened to and realize that, okay, it can happen to anybody. And it happened to me. So just like I said, Don't read what they say. Because, that can stop anybody from doing anything. And when I decided to not put myself around the naysayers anymore, I've lost friends. I've lost friends because of this. Yeah. Because they don't understand why I found it important to speak up.

Leanne: They wanted you to be quiet about it?

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

Yeah. Yeah. They didn't want me to say anything about it. They didn't want me to talk about what how would embarrass yourself, like, embarrass your family. I mean, when I owned up to my kids and my family, there were the most important to me. When they realized that there was an important lesson in what happened here that it can happen. It can happen to me, it can happen to anybody. And when I watched the Dr. Phil's of the world, I get what they're trying to do, but they're not helping the victim when they out somebody like that. It makes the family feel really great. And the public smile Oh, well, um, it was really an idiot. Unless you're in it, you don't understand it. And the women that get outed on those shows are leaving, they're not they're hearing it, you know, they're not believing it. They're not believing in their heart. And the one gift to me was that day that I saw him online in person there when I saw his face, because instantly I could put a face with a story and I had for me closure. Most of the women I deal with, they were ghosted, you know, they lost all their money. And all of a sudden, this they call the scammer on that the scammer gets angry, the scammer gets aggressive. And then it's over. And now they're left. Oh my gosh, what have I done? I ruined my life. I ruined you know, they're still hoping that that person will come back. There was no closure there. And there's no answer to what happened for them. And so if that had happened to me, when when my to go back a little bit when Lou died. He left here on a Wednesday and Thursday morning, he was dead. He died of a heart attack while he was traveling. We never saw him. So when this happened online, if he had just gone away, what it felt like he had died. And now I was a million dollars out, you know, and I'd participated in it. So I would I don't know how I would have gotten over that. So it was a blessing in disguise when he actually came online and confessed to me.

Leanne: Yeah, I feel like that's very rare. I only ever hear of being ghosted.

Debby Montgomery Johnson:

It is very rare, unless they get angry. And here's the other thing about the “they” part of it. You have a guy that might be starting it and he's the romancer and you know, he does the beginning stuff then you have the guys that Get into the ask and the money part. And then you get into the closers who keep things going. Or if you run out of money, they turn you into a money mule. And that's the other side of the story to now is money mules package meals where they get you to not give your own money, but open your bank account up so that they can have people send you checks, or they send you packages. And so now you become the middleman. And now you're complicit. Okay, that's really dangerous for, for victims who become money mules. And so it's just, it's, there's, there's just the cycle, and it doesn't stop. But if you call them on it, and this is where it's going, if you call them on it, then they get aggressive. And then they start using these techniques where you know, if you've sent pictures, which more of the younger women do this and the older ones, they send naked pictures. Well, now they're gonna say, Well, I'm gonna show everybody your pictures. I was just reading a story about that, w