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Elrod’s love affair began with the sort of dodgy Facebook message that most people delete on sight.

She discovered that message in March 2011, 20 months before opening her First Community account, while cleaning out her junk-strewn “Other” mailbox during a respite at a Charlotte mall.

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The 45-year-old divorcée and junior-college dropout now lived in Bluefield, West Virginia, a fading town near the Appalachian coalfields where she’d been raised.

In addition to collecting $344 in unemployment benefits each week, Elrod made ends meet by hustling: She resold packages of discount toilet paper and peddled small quantities of prescription drugs.

As soon as Elrod would exit First Community with a bundle of $50 and $100 bills in her purse, she’d hang a right and walk across the parking lot to Ridgeview Plaza, a vast and featureless shopping mall surrounded by scraggly woods.

She would pass by the drive-through tobacco outlet, the Dollar Tree, and Bellacino’s Pizza & Grinders en route to the mall’s centerpiece, a typically gargantuan Walmart.

There she’d head straight for the store’s Money Center counter, where she used Money Gram to transmit usually somewhere between $1,500 and $1,800 to a man she knew as Sinclair.

Elrod would spend the next few hours visiting other Bluefield establishments that offer Money Gram or Western Union services: the Advance America payday loan store, the Food City supermarket, the austere cash-for-titles joint located literally under Route 460.

But more often than not, she ended the day no richer than she’d started.

As she waited for the Bluefield Area Transit bus to whisk her back to West Virginia, Elrod would think about her fiancé, a Scottish oil worker she’d met online.

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