VIRGINIA BEACH - Samantha Niezgoda learned a lesson that cost her $650 - be careful if you have a big heart.
Niezgoda was taken in by an e-mail that said "Help needed ASAP!" It was signed Chuc Thanh, a name she knew because she'd met the Buddhist monk about a year ago at the Dong Hung Buddhist Temple in Virginia Beach.
"I replied back and said I could help. What would be the best way and they had said Western Union," Niezgoda stated.
She sent $350. Then she received another email asking for more money, so she sent $300 more.
Niezgoda believed Thanh was stuck in the Philippines with no way to get back - his money, phone and credit cards had been stolen, according to the email.
When she told some friends about his situation, they said it sounded like she'd been the victim of an email scheme and that she should be careful. Turns out they were right.
Niezgoda reached Thanh's brother, who confirmed he'd never left town, let alone the U.S.
Thanh says he's grateful for Niezgoda's compassion but is sorry she was duped. He says he later learned his Yahoo! email account had been hacked when he could no longer log onto it.
Niezgoda filed a police report and learned from the Norfolk detective that the Philippines is becoming a hot spot for these types of crimes. FBI supervisory agent Bob Cochran says these schemes are run by professional criminals who are good at what they do.
"They know how to pull on the heart strings of the victims in order to get the money," says Cochran.
He admits it can be hard to catch the criminals because they often live in countries in which law enforcement don't have the resources to pursue them.
"We look to target the strongest, the largest criminal enterprises that exist throughout." he said.
Cochran says 290,000 similar complaints taken at the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center in 2012 resulted in $500 million in losses from innocent victims. His best advice is never respond to these types of emails without doing some homework first.
Niezgoda says that's the lesson she's learned. Meanwhile, Thanh has opened up a new email account.