Could an online love connection leave you convicted as a drug trafficker? While it might sound like a Lifetime movie plot, that is precisely what happened to a Sydney, Australia grandmother, Maria Elvira Pinto Exposto.
The scariest part of all, she was found guilty by a Malaysian court and told that she would be given the death penalty. Learn just how this 55-year-old grandmother was targeted, conned, and how it could happen to you or someone you love.
Maria Exposto Freed from Death Row
Imagine falling in love with someone you met online. Maybe you have already experienced long-distance love, or it has happened to someone you know. For Maria Exposto, her online connection with a man pretending to be Captain Daniel Smith, a U.S. soldier based in Afghanistan, seemed mean to be. Unfortunately, although he would sing to her and they’d talk all the time, he didn’t exist.
He would make excuses as to why he could not get on a video chat with her and say his camera was broken. Maria was excited to find love again and thought that her relationship with Smith was serious enough for them to meet in person. Confident that their love might be something lasting, she traveled to Shanghai, China, to meet the solider.
The only problem?
He never showed up. Maria didn’t know that he was not a real person yet. Instead of the meeting (supposed) Captain Smith, Maria came into contact with a friend of his. This friend asked her to carry a black backpack, Smith’s supplies, along with her.
Not understanding the implications, she agreed and carried the backpack with her, where it was discovered during a flight transfer in the capital of Malaysia.
Maria was initially convicted and spent a total of 5 years in prison, until she was finally acquitted in November 2019. During her experience, Malaysia was ironically trying to undo their death penalty, though some citizens still support it.
Maria’s supporters, family, and attorney always knew she was innocent and that she was naively conned and tricked into committing a crime, totally unaware she was doing so! Not only was she convicted for a crime, she had no intention of committing, the criminal also depleted her savings, using her love for him to get her money.
Maria’s first post-acquittal hope was to be home by the end of 2019, before the holidays, and finally put an end to her awful ordeal.
If Maria or her family had known better, they might have done a reverse image search or searched by name, username, phone number, or email address! Are you wondering if someone you or a loved one connects with online or via an app, is who they say they are?
Don’t trust anyone you haven’t met in person, particularly if they ask for money or don’t video chat. Social Catfish can be an essential tool to protect yourself: