Pam Schmidt thought Patrick Giblin was the perfect guy - someone who accepted her despite her weight issues and the fact that she was legally blind.
In a three-hour phone call arranged through a dating service, he told her he felt a connection so strong that he wanted to fly her from her home in Wisconsin to New Jersey to see his beachfront property, she said.
Giblin ended the call with one last question: If he ever needed money, would she help him?
In that instant in 2014, the excitement of a new relationship gave way to concern as Schmidt, 48, of Milwaukee, wondered if this was too good to be true.
Her instincts were right.
Giblin, 52, who had lived in Ventnor and Atlantic City, did not own a beach house. He is a convicted felon, college dropout, and compulsive gambler who scammed more than $200,000 from dozens of women across the United States and Canada in the past decade. More than one of the women declared bankruptcy; one gave him life insurance money after her son died, another loaned him $50,000 over time.
In 2007, he was sentenced to nine years, but in 2013, Giblin escaped from a Philadelphia residential-treatment program. He was found at an Atlantic City hotel, again romancing women out of their money.
On Monday, Giblin was sent back to prison on fraud charges after Schmidt and numerous other women reported he was scamming again from 2012 to 2014, with at least eight women loaning him more than $7,000, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal court last month. Schmidt did not give him money.
"I may be vulnerable, but I am not dumb," said Schmidt, who turned down Giblin's request to borrow $500. She had found website postings that Giblin was convicted in 2006 of stealing from lonely women.
"Oh God, this is the same guy," she realized. When he called a few days later, she told him, "I found out who you are and what you have done. You belong back in jail."
Giblin is among a growing number of crooks around the globe committing romance fraud. Unlike Giblin, most create fictitious profiles for online dating sites and often work from public places, such as coffee shops. After initiating the online relationship - usually never meeting in person - they concoct emergency situations and ask for money.
Last year, the FBI reported 12,500 victims of romance fraud with losses exceeding $203 million. By comparison, in 2011, the FBI recorded 5,563 victims and losses of more than $50 million.
New Jersey reported 203 victims of romance crime and losses of $2.9 million last year. Pennsylvania reported 101 victims and $6 million in losses.
Since 2011, the FBI has identified romance scams as a major concern. Criminals are increasingly taking advantage of personal information on social media websites to target mostly women over 40. They are usually widows, divorced, single parents, or disabled.
Schmidt, now in a happy relationship, ended her conversations with Giblin after she saw his name and picture on the website LoveFraud.com created by Donna Andersen of Atlantic City, who is not connected to the Giblin case. In 1996, when she was 40, Andersen answered an internet ad and fell for a "late 40s Sean Connery look-alike" who was a widower.
He started borrowing money from her while dating, promising to repay her when business took off. They married in 1997.
By 1999, she had spent all of her savings, $227,000, and taken on $68,500 in debt for business, including travel.
She soon learned she had married a guy who made a business out of scamming women. He had a child in Florida who was conceived while he was married to her. She found documents showing he was involved with multiple other women who were demanding money they had loaned him.
In 2005, Andersen launched her website to identify the nefarious and to educate the innocent. Now 60, she counsels others on how to avoid becoming a target.
"What's missing is an understanding how people can be influenced by others who have bad intentions," Andersen said during an interview. The human brain, she said, is wired to trust others.
"People want to blame the victim because they don't want to believe it can happen to them," Andersen said. "It's too scary to think it can happen to you, but anyone can be targeted."
Giblin's public defender, Christopher O'Malley, declined comment for this article.
Giblin was well known in Atlantic City casinos and sports bars, and for his frequent appearances at Global Cash Access from 2000 to 2003, when he received money transfers, sometimes several a day, collecting "tens of thousands," a Global employee testified at a hearing in 2007 when Giblin was sentenced to serve 91/2 years in prison.
At the 2007 hearing, U.S. District Judge Robert Kugler noted Gibln had 33 previous convictions, mostly involving theft, many targeting women. Federal authorities said he lured more than 100 women, stealing between $200,000 and $400,000 - possibly more.
Two women appeared in court to tell their stories.
Kugler said, "I can't mend the broken hearts of the victims."
A woman from North Carolina said that in the 1990s, she divorced, her mother died, her brother suffered a fatal heart attack, then her father died of leukemia. At first Giblin was comforting.
"He promised me romance and led me to believe he was going to move to North Carolina," she told Kugler. "He was a smooth, fast-talking Northerner." She loaned him all she had and eventually declared bankruptcy.
"Emotionally I will never be the same. Not trusting people and especially not trusting the opposite sex to have a meaningful relationship," she said. "I want him to feel the pain, hurt, and agony of each and every one of us as long as he lives, and not have any freedom ever."
A woman from Texas had contact with Giblin in 2003. Her only son had recently died in a car accident. She lost her job, and then her father was diagnosed with terminal cancer.
"After I lost my job, my son, and my dad, I just wanted some companionship," she told Kugler. Giblin contacted her through Quest Personal dating service. "He told me he was moving down to Texas, that he had a job in Houston ... that we'll be getting together and basically possibly marriage."
Giblin said he was on his way to Texas, but then called for money to fix his car. He asked for more money, draining the savings from her son's life insurance policy. Over time, she loaned him $18,000. "He took everything I had. My self-esteem, my money," she said.
At the hearing, Giblin confessed, "It was all a lie."
During his rambling apology, he faced the women in court and admitted he gambled with their money because, "I'm a greedy idiot who's only concerned about one thing, myself."
He added, "I'm a complete loser."