Investigators flushing out cyber love rats

By Sam Boyer

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Singles in search of online love are enlisting the help of private investigators to ensure their potential mates are who they say the are.

Private investigator Rod Moratti said background checks on potential suitors was becoming commonplace in New Zealand.

"I've done a lot of work on checking out the backgrounds of people. We've had quite a few cases. I would probably get one job a month and they can be relationships that have been going online for as little as one month to two years or more," he said.

In many cases money was involved, as scammers lulled their suspects into relationships before guilting them out of their cash, he said, but in other cases people just got in over their heads.<inline type="recurring-inline" id="1003" align="outside" enforce-sites="no" />

And one particular case stood out for Mr Moratti, concerning a girl who had fallen in love with a boy from the Bay.

"He was from the Bay of Plenty. She'd [even] spoken with him over the phone. And [he] has turned out to be a girl pretending to be a boy.

What tends to happen is people get online for fun, but then it gets too deep and they realise they have to back out," he said.

In the last five years internet relationship activity has increased, Mr Moratti said, and investigations had corresponded to that increase.

But Rod McQuilter, from television's reality-reconciliation show Missing Pieces and chair of the New Zealand Institute of Professional Investigators, said online daters were turning to private eyes for reassurance.

"There's certainly more people getting online and there's more people checking them out to see they are who they say they are," he said.

It was a fairly simple check for experts to find out the truth, he said. "In New Zealand I can check you out quite quickly. If you are who you say you are it's quite simple for us to check. If I couldn't tell who you were relatively quickly then I would be saying, 'Hang on a minute now'."

Often, he added, it isn't the person being conned who alerts the private investigators when things get fishy.

"More often than not we get it not ... from the person themselves, because they're normally besotted. The majority of [the cases] would come from the family, not happy about the person," he said.

One Tauranga woman, though, didn't need the help of a private eye or anyone else to sniff out her fraudulent Casanova.

The 42-year-old professional, who preferred not be named, said she had used online dating regularly since splitting from her long-term partner and father of her children. She said she'd found love over the internet in the past, but this week she caught out a man she thought was trying to scam her.

"To be honest, he was too good to be true. He was too nice, too good-looking. Everything was too good, he was just Mr Lovely. He just said he wanted to be happy and just meet someone who was honest," she said.

But she soon learned honesty might not have been on his agenda. The man alleged he was French and was living in Opotiki. He said he had a degree from a university that hadn't existed for centuries. After about two weeks of chatting online he had to rush off to Nigeria to take a job painting a hotel and suddenly things weren't adding up.

The woman said she knew something was up, and soon he started talking about money and being in danger.

"He said, 'I can't access my international bank account, I've run out of money, I think I'm going to die here.' He was saying, 'I hate it here, I want to come home, I want to be with you'."

She cut her ties with the man before he actually asked her for money, but said she felt betrayed.

"It upsets me that I trusted him that he was real ... I sent photos to him, and they can be used now [for false profiles]. It makes you feel so helpless," she said.

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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