Gilbert woman uses ‘romance scam’ to steal nearly $34K from word game app player, police say

Whaley faces one count of fraudulent schemes and one count of financing a criminal syndicate.
Whaley faces one count of fraudulent schemes and one count of financing a criminal syndicate.(MCSO)
Published: May. 3, 2022 at 5:55 PM MST
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GILBERT, AZ (3TV/CBS 5) -- A “romance scam” cost a Tennesse woman nearly $34,000 and now a Gilbert woman is facing fraud charges. Officers arrested 70-year-old Carla Ann Whaley at her home on Monday afternoon.

According to court paperwork, the woman told police in late November she believed she was talking to a man named “Garth Davis” on the popular Words With Friends gaming app. The victim told officers she was lonely after her husband had died earlier that year. She told police she began talking with “Garth” in March 2021 on Google Hangouts when she started sending him cash cards and gift cards when he told her he was having trouble accessing his bank account. When she broke her foot and couldn’t leave her home to go to the store and buy the cards, “Garth” told her to start sending money to Whaley, who he said was his friend.

The woman sent Whaley $20,000 in cash and $3,000 through CashApp until July. The woman grew suspicious and called the police shortly afterward, who went to Whaley’s home to speak with her. According to court paperwork, Whaley told police the name “Garth Davis” was familiar to her, but it was “not on her list.” Court documents state that Whaley also told police she was helping a friend move money but did not tell officers who the friend was. Police found the victim had lost a total of almost $34,000.

In late December, Whaley was taken to the Gilbert police station for more questioning. Court documents state Whaley told police she “wasn’t entirely truthful” the first time she spoke with police and admitted receiving $20,000 in cash from the woman. Police searched Whaley’s CashApp and saw that the money she had within the app was being exchanged for cryptocurrency and bitcoin and then exchanged for cash. Whaley transferred just over $10,000 from the CashApp to her credit union account from July to August. Police say “Garth” is an unknown suspect.

A Gilbert police detective says this sort of scam is common. “Most commonly, the subject that the person’s communicating with will say they are out of the country, maybe they’re in the military, deployed; they can be in a part of the country that doesn’t make it easy for the people they’re communicating with to meet with,” explained Detective Gary Kidder. “They create that distance between them and the person they’re communicating with.”

Kidder says once the subject builds trust, then they make their move to try to get money. “They basically come up with some sort of medical problem or some sort of business crisis to where it’s now an urgent issue--they don’t have access to their personal bank accounts — now they ask the subject they’re communicating with. They’ll say, hey, I really need some money and quickly,” Kidder said. “As compelled, you feel to help somebody out. If you send them money and you don’t know who these people are, and you’ve never met these people personally, they’re going to accept that money, and they’re going to turn around and require more money.”

Another common red flag you or someone you know is being scammed is if they are asking you not to send the money directly to them. Kidder added that if you notice a relative is speaking with someone online, open up the conversation about who that person is and how they met.

Whaley was booked into jail on Monday. She faces one count of fraudulent schemes and one count of financing a criminal syndicate.