A 79-year-old Texas woman hopped on a plane to Bellingham June 2, thinking she was going to meet the man who intended to marry her. A day later, she was on a flight back home alone - but not without a lot of help.
The woman, who is disabled and depends on a wheelchair and walker, said the man told her he lived in Bellingham but was serving overseas in the military. He had planned to fly back to Bellingham the same day to meet up with the woman, according to Cpl. Tawsha Dykstra with Bellingham police.
The woman had purchased a one-way ticket to Bellingham, because she and the man were planning to rent a car and drive back to Texas to live together, Dykstra said. The pair had met online, but the woman’s family knew little about the man.
The entire event turned out to be a scam.
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Bellingham police became aware of the incident when they received a call June 3 from the woman’s concerned granddaughter. The granddaughter explained the woman had very limited income and the family’s resources were limited as well. A plane ticket to return to Texas was averaging around $650, Dykstra said.
So Dykstra found a way to help. She first reached out to Alaska Airlines to see if there was something they could do.
“Thankfully I was connected with just the right customer service rep. She was great. I told her what I was trying to accomplish and why. She also felt moved to help,” Dykstra said.
In the end, the airline reduced the fare about 70 percent, and the Bellingham Police Association picked up the bill. Dykstra met the woman at the airport, helped her check in and bought her some food for her flight home.
“We felt moved to help her because that is who we are and it was the right thing to do. We all have grandmas, grandpas, mothers, fathers and relatives who, no matter how smart or savvy they might be, could be a victim of a person who preys on their vulnerable emotions,” Dykstra said. “I guess my thought when trying to figure out how to best help her was how would I want some stranger in another city to help my grandmother if she ended up there stranded, knowing absolutely nobody and having no funds.”
Dykstra said the man likely gave the woman a fake name, as she couldn't find anyone associated with that name in the Bellingham area. Dykstra said she wasn’t sure why the man chose Bellingham, but believes he had no intention of showing up, and was trying to get money from the woman.
Dykstra said she had never heard of this particular type of scam, but said the police investigate many local cases of people, usually a known person or relative, taking advantage of vulnerable adults.
The Bellingham Police Association is a voluntary non-profit organization open to all Bellingham Police Department employees. The members pay monthly dues that support activities the members can do together, like picnics, Christmas parties and baseball games.
The dues also support charitable donations to community groups, such as youth sports teams, Special Olympics, Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Services, Shop With A Cop, Boys and Girls Club, Arthritis Foundation, the food bank and others.
Because the association pools its resources, it was able to purchase the woman’s ticket without financially straining any one person, Dykstra said.
“Buying an airline ticket to help someone get home is not something we normally do, but in this situation it felt right and it felt we were serving our mission of being committed to our community,” Dykstra said. “I guess my takeaway is be kind and ‘many hands make light the work.’ ”