Christy Maxwell first met “Mike Reynolds” on the dating app Plenty of Fish in mid-January.
The 27-year-old single mom and hair stylist was instantly hooked on the stranger’s handsome looks and “charming” personality, she told Oxygen.com.
“He had a great smile, pretty eyes,” Maxwell recalled. “Just a wholesome-looking guy.”
The man claimed he worked as a reception manager at Walt Disney World's Swan Hotel.
Their online courtship quickly blossomed. And soon Maxwell was exchanging messages with Reynolds on Facebook. One day, a strange request popped up in her inbox: Reynolds allegedly claimed he had misplaced his bank cards and needed cash to get by temporarily.
He said he could repay her once his new cards arrived, according to an Orlando Police Department arrest affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com.
However, in the following days, Maxwell’s online flame continued showering her with empty promises of repayment, ultimately coaxing her into forking over $3,000 and nude photos of herself, which were later used to extort her, the affidavit alleged.
Investigators now suspect Mike Reynolds never existed at all.
Instead, police believe 35-year-old convicted fraudster Michael William McDougal created fake social profiles in Reynolds’ name, and targeted Maxwell. McDougal was arrested by Orlando police in connection with the alleged scheme on March 11. He was booked on suspicion of scheme to defraud and extortion, according to court records.
Maxwell, who only communicated with Reynolds online and never met him in person, first agreed to lend Reynolds $1,000, according to the arrest affidavit.
“I felt uneasy and definitely strange,” Maxwell admitted. “But also the fact that he seemed to trust me enough to ask for help made me feel like we had a connection.”
Reynolds allegedly asked her to deliver the money to an address in Winter Garden, Florida where she met McDougal, who promised to hand the cash to Reynolds, police said in the affidavit. Maxwell said she then sent thousands more to Reynolds on a banking app.
Reynolds provided “multiple stories” and claimed he could pay her bills to repay the debt, but never followed through, the arrest affidavit stated. Maxwell said she received PayPal notifications, indicating an incoming transfer from Reynolds, but never received any funds.
As Maxwell became increasingly frantic, McDougal’s alleged role emerged in the suspected romance scam. McDougal, who police said posed as Reynolds’ wealthy pal, furthered the scam by messaging Maxwell on social media, claiming he would solve the dispute on behalf of his friend, according to the affidavit.
“McDougal steps in via Facebook messenger and begins to befriend [Maxwell] saying he wanted to clear up some confusion about his friend Reynolds,” the affidavit stated. “Eventually he begins to boast about his bank account and offers to pay for the things that Reynolds did not due to his generosity.”
McDougal denies posing as Reynolds or participating in any online romance scam.
But the self-proclaimed career poker player insisted he was a millionaire, sent bank statements as proof, and promised he could rectify the matter, the affidavit alleged. He also allegedly vowed to pay off Maxwell’s car and offered her cash to drive him to and from a casino.
“Do you have any idea how much money I have?” McDougal allegedly wrote in a series of messages, according to screenshots Maxwell shared with Oxygen.com.
Maxwell was in the hole for $3,000 by the time she suspected she might be entangled with a con artist. The barbershop stylist, who has a 5-year-old daughter and was already living “paycheck to paycheck,” said she was “mortified.”
“I thought I ruined my life and my daughter’s life,” Maxwell described. “I felt trapped. I didn’t know what to do.”
Reynolds then allegedly promised to pay her $5,000 in exchange for a collection of nude selfies, claiming they were for his 16-year-old cousin, “Aaron,” the arrest affidavit stated. Maxwell allegedly sent him the racy snapshots, which quickly backfired.
“The only thing I thought about was I need to take care of [my daughter] and I’ll do what I can to do that,” Maxwell explained.
Reynolds began “harassing” her for money and threatened to inform police about the illicit images, detectives said in the affidavit.
“She turned him down at which time [Reynolds] threatens to call the police and tell them what she did,” the arrest affidavit alleged.
McDougal then appeared to belittle Maxwell for sending the nudes.
“You flashed a minor? Please never message me again,” McDougal allegedly wrote her in separate Facebook messages, according to additional screenshots Maxwell shared with Oxygen.com.
“You should absolutely be in jail.”
However, McDougal’s supposed disgust quickly shifted back to claims he’d repay her.
“Wanna meet me and I’ll give you some cash?” he added, according to Maxwell’s screenshots.
She subsequently filed a complaint against McDougal with Orlando police.
“It appears after looking at each conversation that McDougal and Reynolds are the same person,” Det. Annemarie Esan wrote in the affidavit. “The two accounts are more than likely authored by the same person.”
During a telephone interview with detectives on Feb. 4, McDougal allegedly admitted he knew of Maxwell — and that she may have been scammed — but denied ever speaking to her directly. However, after hanging up with investigators, McDougal allegedly texted Maxwell additional threats regarding the nude photos.
“We both know I never took anything from you or paid anything for you,” McDougal wrote her in a message obtained by investigators, according to the arrest affidavit. “I’m meeting with the detective next Friday to give them everything, even your inappropriate conversations with Aaron.”
When investigators again confronted McDougal, he once more insisted he had “proof” he wasn’t Michael Reynolds, and promised to meet with investigators, but never showed up, according to the arrest affidavit.
Prosecutors are examining the case, but haven’t yet officially filed charges against McDougal.
“I am reviewing a criminal complaint to determine whether to file formal charges against Michael William McDougal,” Jonah Farr, Assistant State Attorney, wrote Maxwell in a letter obtained by Oxygen.com.
If formally charged and convicted, McDougal could face a maximum of 20 years behind bars for the alleged romance scam. He’s since posted a $4,500 bond and was released. McDougal was on probation at the time of his arrest, police said. The 35-year-old hasn’t yet retained legal counsel.
Orange County’s Office of the State Attorney didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment on the case.
McDougal blasted the allegations against him as “unfair” and “nonsense,” claiming Maxwell was needlessly dragging his name “through the mud.”
“Justice will prevail in my favor,” McDougal wrote in a chain of messages sent to Oxygen.com. “These are accusations and that’s all they will ever be. I look forward to these charges being dropped and I look forward to being able to tell the real story of how all this [came] about.”
He denied being Mike Reynolds and insisted detectives in the case were outright lying.
“Everything pertaining to Michael Reynolds will [be] turned over on my court appearance including why nobody went through Facebook to verify IP addresses,” McDougal wrote.
At one point during the exchange, the 35-year-old appeared to threaten legal action for any media coverage of his case.
“Post it,” he told Oxygen.com. “And when council (sic) is acquired later in the week you’ll be hearing from them.”
An individual operating the Mike Reynolds’ Facebook profile also denied ripping off Maxwell in cryptic messages exchanged with Oxygen.com.
“[T]here was no fraud committed,” the mysterious user wrote. "[F]or any other questions I will have counsel my family hires to get in touch with you."
But before terminating the conversation, the individual shared the nude screenshots the single mom allegedly sent him. Oxygen.com notified Maxwell and deleted the sensitive photos and corresponding message thread.
McDougal has been arrested — and incarcerated — on several fraud-related charges throughout Florida, court records show.
In 2014, he scammed a Craigslist buyer out of a Samsung Galaxy smartphone, according to a Lake County Sheriff’s Office probable cause affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com. He was found guilty of fraud and grand theft, according to court documents. A year earlier, he was slapped with organized fraud and grand theft charges related to the circulation of a number of bad checks. He was sentenced to a year and a half in prison on those and other charges.
McDougal was also accused of operating a “systematic” scheme to defraud car dealerships in 2012, according to an Apopka Police Department arrest affidavit obtained by Oxygen.com. He was found guilty of hornswoggling a Ford car lot out of nearly $40,000 and was sentenced to a year behind bars, a court order stated.
Americans fall victim to tens of thousands of internet romance scams every year. Con artists cheated online daters out of $475 million in 2019 alone, according to the FBI. However, only a fraction of those cases are ever successfully prosecuted, according to some experts.
“It’s very difficult to actually catch these guys and punish them,” Debby Montgomery Johnson, 61, a romance scam victim advocate, told Oxygen.com.
“Women who are bilked in these types of situations — financially and emotionally — are often terrified to come forward because they’re afraid of what people are going to think of them."
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