LANCASTER COUNTY, Pa.-- A Michigan woman is facing charges after deceiving a Lancaster County woman out of over $110,000.
Audrey Voulgaris, 69, of Farmington Hills, Michigan, is facing nine counts of criminal conspiracy to commit theft by deception and receiving stolen property for her role in the incident.
From late June 2018 to early January 2019, the victim conversed with a subject who was posing as a physician on the social media platform "Google Hangouts."
That subject lured the victim into what police are calling an elaborate months-long scheme that resulted in the victim being defrauded out of $110,400.
Trooper James Spencer with Pennsylvania State Police says it's known as a "romancing scheme."
He explained that they are typically long, drawn-out online relationships in which a scammer pretends to be a suitor, eventually evolving into requests and demands for money.
“Say, ‘Hey, these are my needs, these are my wants, can you help me out?’ They’ll start an online relationship, building the trust factors, then they’ll slowly ask for money. ‘Hey, I’m stuck in a bad situation, can you give me some money?’” Said Trooper Spencer.
The subject told the victim that they were a doctor from England on a humanitarian mission in Syria when they became trapped. The subject proceeded to say that they were being assisted out of Syria by the UK and U.S. governments, and requested financial help for airfare, legal fees, and other costs.
According to the subject, agents with the governments were awaiting payment in an office in Poland.
The victim sent approximately $10,000 to an account in Poland through a series of minor transactions over a period of two months to help the subject leave Syria.
The subject claimed that after they left Syria, they were placed into FBI custody and being housed in New York for safety. The subject further told the victim that they told the FBI that the victim was his spouse, and she was now responsible for his fines and fees.
The subject concocted a story that the victim was to send money to FBI agents in Michigan, and the victim wired over $99,000 over the course of three months to an account in Detroit.
The subject said this was for legal fees and other fines and costs.
Then, people posing as FBI agents allegedly contacted the victim by telephone and threatened her with arrest if she did not produce the funds.
The subject told the victim that he would return the money once he returned home to England.
When the subject failed to return the money as promised, the victim became suspicious and contacted Pennsylvania State Police.
After an investigation, police issued a search warrant to a Detroit based bank where the victim wired $99,000 through a series of transactions over several months.
Police found that Audrey Voulgaris laundered money for herself and possibly other individuals involved in the fraud.
Trooper Spencer said it's very rare investigators make arrests in these types of cases.
He explained that since the wirings happened in the United States with money, as opposed to gift cards or credit cards, they were able to make breakthroughs in the case.
"We were able to track that a little better. Bank accounts have to be opened by a person so we were able to track down that person who accepted the money. That’s how we were able to make an arrest with this one,” said Trooper Spencer.
The scope of the fraud and whether or not other victims are involved is currently being investigated by Federal law enforcement.
On March 13, an arrest warrant was obtained for Voulgaris.
On March 22, Voulgaris was taken into custody by Michigan State Police, and is being held in a Detroit area prison, pending extradition to Lancaster County.
The Lancaster County Sheriff's Office said Voulgaris' extradition could take as long as three months.
Trooper Spencer said investigators currently believe Voulgaris served as a "middle-man" for the scheme: Receiving money and sending it to someone else.
Police also issued an arrest warrant for the subject who posed as the physician, known as "John Doe," being that their identity remains unknown.
Once that person is identified, police say that the arrest warrant will be transferred to his/her name.
Voulgaris will now face charges, and the investigation continues.
Trooper Spencer said a law enforcement agency will never call asking or demanding money in relation to a case or an arrest.
He said requests to send money overseas are red flags for any scam, partly due to investigative powers being limited outside of U.S. borders.
He said if you have to send money overseas, go through a charity or reputable organization, such as the American Red Cross, not through individuals.