WILLMAR - An arrest warrant was issued last week for a Texas woman who allegedly used an online relationship to steal a pickup, electronics and weapons from a Kandiyohi County man.
The warrant was issued after Joyce Samantha Marie Valadez, 39, of Corpus Christi, Texas, missed her first appearance in Kandiyohi County District Court on felony charges of theft, motor vehicle theft and theft with indifference to the owner's rights.
Such romance scams rank number one on reported losses to scammers, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In 2018, more than 21,000 romance scams were reported, and losses reached a total of $143 million, the FTC reported in February.
The numbers have risen in recent years. Numbers for 2015 were 8,500 scams reported with losses of $33 million.
In the case of Valadez, she and an area man had allegedly been corresponding online for about a year after meeting on the internet, according to court files. The man told authorities he paid for her bus ticket to Minnesota so they could meet. He picked her up in St. Cloud in late November 2018.
The man contacted authorities when he woke up the next morning to find Valadez gone along with his pickup, his cell phone and his laptop computer. A crossbow, three handguns and his wallet had been inside his truck and were also gone.
When a Kandiyohi County deputy called the man's cell phone, Valadez allegedly answered and said she was driving back to Texas. She allegedly said the man could fly to Corpus Christi and pick up the truck, but she was not going to come back.
According to the criminal complaint, the victim activated a tracking app on his phone and saw that it was just south of Sioux Falls on Interstate 29. He also discovered that a credit card and his PayPal account had been used.
Valadez allegedly left behind her cell phone along with a debit card with her name on it.
Law enforcement authorities in Texas told county authorities that the truck had been located in Texas with a man believed to be Valadez's boyfriend behind the wheel. Valadez allegedly claimed to have evidence of wrongdoing by the truck's owner and would be contacting law enforcement. She never did that, and she refused to speak with Corpus Christi authorities through December and January.
In January, the man's vehicle was returned to a dealership in the St. Cloud area. Drug paraphernalia was found in the truck.
The Federal Trade Commission offers some tips to help spot potential scammers online:
• Never send money or gifts to a sweetheart you haven't met in person.
• Talk to someone you trust about your new love interest. In the excitement of a new relationship, we can be blinded to things that don't add up. Pay attention if your friends or family are concerned.
• Take it slowly. Ask questions and look for inconsistent answers. Try a reverse-image search of the profile pictures. If they're associated with another name or with details that don't match up, it's a scam.
• Learn more at ftc.gov/imposters.
• Report suspicious profiles or messages to the dating or social media site and then to ftc.gov/complaint.