Now that he is behind bars, Paul Krueger’s alleged online scam story seems absurd. He’s a homeless gambler, but he is accused of bilking more than $100,000 from 13 women who believed him to be a successful music mogul.
But his purported victims warn that if they can be fooled — anyone can be fooled.
“I think I just felt he was looking out for my best interests,” a 38-year-old Californian named Noelle told TODAY’s Ann Curry on Tuesday. “I trusted him and I believed him.”
“I had established a friendship three years prior,” added Nicole, a singer from Michigan. “So it was almost like he was more than a best friend. It was almost like [dealing with] an uncle.”
Art Wolinsky, the educational technology director for WiredSafety.com, said the Internet is a haven for swindlers, and that people like Noelle and Nicole need to be vigilant in their self-protection.
“You can’t believe anything you read,” Wolinsky told Curry. “You really have to be a detective.”
It was last Wednesday when Krueger’s apparent trail of deception reached a dead end.
With his two most vital possessions — a laptop computer and a pack of lies — Krueger was alleged to lure women, along with what was in their wallets.
On MillionaireMatch.com — which boasts of being the “largest site in the world to date, marry, successful beautiful people” — Krueger informed his prey that he had graduated from the University of Miami with a degree in music technology and become a Grammy-nominated record producer, working with the likes of Michael Jackson.
With a screen name of imreadyru2007, Krueger, it is alleged, had various schemes. In one, he looked for financial backing for a company that manufactured DVDs and CDs for a video-making business. He even went so far as to show one victim a false financial report indicating that the stock of his falsified business venture was on the rise.
With his stories, Krueger was allegedly able to swindle a total of $102,000 from 13 women as they deposited money directly into his bank account or mailed him checks at an address where his ex-wife lived.
One woman who invested $10,000 in his supposed company — who also managed to convince some of her friends to back Krueger’s scheme — filed a report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) last October.
The IC3 referred the matter to Souderton, Pa., police. At the same time, a Texas woman who met Krueger online hired a private investigator to learn of Krueger’s background. That investigator also contacted a Souderton detective.
Police were able to obtain Krueger’s bank account information, which showed a further trail of fraudulent activity.
They also learned that Krueger was using the money he bilked to fuel his own gambling habit, regularly gaining access to complimentary rooms and meals for his business. He even met one of his victims in Atlantic City and gave the impression he was a mover and shaker.
Finally, last Wednesday, Krueger was nabbed at Harrah’s casino when security alerted detectives of his presence. At the time of his arrest, he had finished a free lunch and lingered while drinking a soda.
Montgomery County [Pa.] District Attorney Risa Fermen reported that Krueger’s first comment to an apprehending detective was: “I shouldn’t have stayed to finish the soda.”
Krueger waived his right to a preliminary hearing last week and remains in Montgomery County Prison under $500,000 bail while awaiting trial. He is charged with 130 counts of fraud and theft and is set to be arraigned on Aug. 6.
Nicole and Noelle, who both withheld their last names for the interview with Curry, said they both found Krueger to be credible.
Because Nicole is a singer, Krueger first approached her on her own Web site, claiming they had much in common. A friendship blossomed online and over the phone for three years before he first asked her for money.
“He approached me,” she said. “And I believed him. He was very sincere.”
Although they had never met, Nicole was excited about the opportunity of investing or becoming an artist on an independent music label that Krueger said he was starting. She said she first gave him $1,000 and then $4,000.
When Krueger didn’t call Nicole for a month after her second payment, she became uneasy, but was still shocked when she got a call from a detective about Krueger's alleged exploits.
“I was floored at that point,” she said. “I actually thought he was dead [when the call came].”
Now she calls Krueger a “master manipulator.”
In Noelle’s case, it was a matter of trying to find romance with Krueger through MillionaireMatch.com.
She developed an e-mail and phone relationship with Krueger. Once he claimed to be calling her from Scotland, where he was working on a new record with Michael Jackson.
Convinced he was a legitimate music producer, Noelle said Krueger offered her a chance to invest in a lucrative “stock option” of a company. She wired him $10,000.
“He was going to invest the money in more aggressive stock options that would give me a better return than what I was getting myself,” she said. “I thought he was someone who was my friend.”
A few weeks later, they met in person in Atlantic City. On her way back to the airport, a police detective informed Noelle they were investigating Krueger for investment fraud.
Now Noelle is ready to testify against Krueger in court — and equally prepared to advise others to not “give anybody money” online.
“Investigate,” she said. “Do your homework. You cannot just take it at face value.”
The Internet has increasingly become a haven for fraud and money bilking. The IC3 — a partnership of the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center and the Bureau of Justice Assistance — reported in 2007 that 44.9 percent of filed complaints report Internet auction fraud, while nondelivered merchandise and/or payment make up 19 percent and check fraud accounts for 4.9 percent of complaints.
Wolinsky says the Internet breeds con artists and strongly suggests users wisely protect their online identities.
“You tend to think that you know the person — but you really don't,” Wolinsky warned. “You don't get to see the person and the body language. You always have to treat that person as a stranger.
“The Internet itself, because it is an anonymous thing and you want to believe them, you tend to let down your guard. You cannot do that.”
He suggested doing Google searches to do background checks of online associates. And if that doesn’t work, he said, try validating their backgrounds by calling them where they work — or where they say they work.
“You can do your research,” he said. “If there are phone calls involved, you can trace back to find out who that person is.
“Getting to know someone over a period of time online is not getting to know them in person.”
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints