JAYNE RICKARD, The West Australian December 9, 2010
A 43-year-old Perth widow was scammed out of $600,000 after falling for a man online who was involved with a professional crime gang.
The woman, who has two children aged 16 and 17, is now homeless, bankrupt and without a car after selling everything to give the man she believed loved her with funds for a business venture.
"All the time I was questioning myself but I had to give something a go, I wasn't working and I was trying to change my life, trying to make it better, a better life for my kids," the woman said.
The woman met the man through an online dating service in November 2009.
She went online in search of a partner after her husband died 11 years ago and met 'Christopher', who told her he was of Greek origin and living in the US with business interests in West Africa.
The pair were soon messaging each other directly in what she believed was a budding romance. Christopher began calling his victim almost every day and after chatting with him for a month, invited her to invest in an oil export project in the vicinity of the Nigerian/Cameroon border.
Later she began wiring him money through a series of deposits to overseas bank accounts over 12 months.
"He was really convincing, he was a master, a master of convincing and making me feel loved and trusted that he knew what he was doing," she said.
"I had to borrow funds from my investment property, which they helped me set up, I sold my properties, sold jewellery, sold my cars to raise the funds for this."
She was sent numerous fake documents and certificates supposedly from lawyers and accountants in the US and Nigeria.
The victim borrowed against her Redcliffe home and investment property in Swan View and also borrowed money from family and friends before realising she had been scammed.
"I didn't want more of the same from the past, I wanted to do something more, I wanted to travel the world and experience everything.
"I was lonely and the kids are grown up now so I thought I could have a man to grow old with," the woman said. "It was like Christopher hypnotised me into a false sense of a dream of what could be possible. I am back to reality now and I want my life and home back.
"I'm bankrupt now, none of my family talk to me, except my daughter, my daughter still loves me and I've got a couple of friends left but no, everyone deserted me."
The scam is a timely reminder for women who could be dealing with fraudsters online.
Consumer Protection Commissioner Anne Driscoll said romance scams targeted vulnerable people and built up trust using false documents and websites to support their claims.
"The person perpetrating this scam is a professional conman. There is no sense of remorse as he has cold heartedly groomed his victim with regular telephone calls and promises that have convinced her to send money overseas," Ms Driscoll said.
"People searching for partners online should never entertain business propositions or send money to people they have never met in person or don't know they can trust."
The woman's complaint to WA ScamNet at Consumer Protection has also been reported to the WA Police for further investigation.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission estimated money lost by Australians in romance scams totalled $6.5 million in 2009.
WA ScamNet has got information and advice about romance scams.
Never send money by Western Union/Moneygram.
Never give personal information.
Online anyone can claim to be anyone, any age and from anywhere.
Click here > Advice - useful links
Click here > Online safety