Federal prosecutors in New York have charged a 36-year-old woman from ChampionsGate, Florida, with wire fraud after she allegedly scammed an 87-year-old Holocaust survivor out of nearly $3 million over several years. Peaches Stergo met the victim on a dating website using the pseudonym “Alice” and convinced the victim that she had settled a lawsuit and needed money to prevent her account from becoming frozen.
U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Damian Willaims and FBI New York Field Office assistant director Michael J. Driscoll alleges in court papers that Stergo made up the lawsuit and the fictional settlement as a false pretense supporting her fraudulent scheme.
Prosecutors allege that Stergo met the victim on an internet dating website “six or seven years ago.” She began her scam by telling the elderly man that she had received a settlement after a car accident but had not received the proceeds. She said her lawyer would not release her money until she paid him a sizable fee and told the victim she did not have the funds to pay the fee.
The DOJ says Peaches Stergo met the 87-year-old man on a dating website and used the money she took from him to buy a home, cars, gold coins, Rolex watches, jewelry, and expensive clothes. https://t.co/ZucP8oG2yT
— Fox5NY (@fox5ny) January 28, 2023
Stergo initially convinced the victim to send her a check for $25,000. She then told him that her settlement proceeds had been deposited into an account she owned at TD Bank. Stergo then lured the victim into sending her additional money dozens of times, telling him that she needed the money to keep her account from being “frozen” by the bank.
Prosecutors allege Stergo obtained at least 62 additional checks from the victim totaling more than $2.8 million. She kept the scam going by telling the victim that unless he kept sending her checks, she would lose access to her settlement and would not be able to repay her debt to him.
To make the scheme seem more believable, Stergo sent the victim forged letters and invoices from a fake bank employee.
Stergo spent the money on luxury items such as a home, boat, Corvette, Suburban, Rolex watches, and designer clothes.
The scam was uncovered after the victim’s son became suspicious and reported the case to authorities. Driscoll said, “The defendant callously preyed on a senior citizen simply seeking companionship, defrauding him of his life savings.” As a result, the elderly victim, who survived the Holocaust, was left destitute after losing his apartment and entire life savings.
Stergo faces a maximum sentence of 20 years for wire fraud and has yet to name an attorney.
The case highlights the dangers of online scams and the importance of being vigilant against identity thieves and scammers, especially for the elderly and vulnerable populations.