Kirsty Wynn

Kirsty Wynn is a senior reporter at the Herald on Sunday.

Big cost of online dating scams

Seven Kiwi victims duped for more than $100,000 each

Helen Barnes says the scammers 'prey on people's hearts'.
Helen Barnes says the scammers 'prey on people's hearts'.

Online romance and dating scams are cruelly fleecing New Zealanders of millions of dollars.

Last year, more than 130 were betrayed by people they thought loved them.

Kiwis looking for love on the internet lost $680,689 in 2013, according to the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment.

Figures from the Consumer Affairs network Scamwatch are even higher, at $1.3 million. Seven of those victims reported losses of more than $100,000 each.

Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker said victims transferred an average of $7000 each to overseas bank accounts.

He said the humiliation at being fooled meant the problem was hugely under-reported.

"People become emotionally invested. They want to believe the person they are in contact with is genuine," Cocker said.

There was a scam for everyone, whether they were looking for a partner, a car, a pet or a holiday.

"As soon as someone asks for money to be sent via a transfer or Western Union, alarm bells should ring," Cocker said.

The most lucrative scam was an upfront money transfer connected to a fictional inheritance. This gleaned $1,565,270 from unsuspecting Kiwis last year.

Cocker said the most common swindle this year was people duplicating profiles on social media such as Facebook and asking the account-holder's friends for money.

He urged anyone who suspected they had been targeted by an online con artist to report it so the enormity of the problem was recorded.

Auckland University of Technology lecturer Dr Pantea Farvid has researched online dating and said scammers knew how to get as much information about their victim as possible to establish a rapport and personal connection.

"Some people are open with the information they share on dating sites," Farvid said. "Finding where someone lives and what they do for work allows the scammer to make a personal connection."


Wise to scam

A woman who realised the "perfect guy" she met online was a Nigerian scammer turned the tables on him — and got it all on camera.

Helen Barnes thought she had found love with "Dan", who saw her profile on a New Zealand dating site and messaged her.

The two got on "like a house on fire" for weeks until she became suspicious when planned meetings in Auckland never eventuated.

Barnes — whose husband had died a couple of years before — mentioned a windfall and the scammer took the bait.

But before she confronted him, she called 60 Minutes.

Barnes said a call centre in Nigeria had created a fake persona that fitted what she was looking for. "We live in the age of digital preying, and they prey on people's emotions," the Northlander said. "They prey on people's hearts. "

Helen Barnes' story screens on 60 Minutes, tomorrow, 9.30pm on Prime.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_n1 at 20 Sep 2014 17:10:43 Processing Time: 795ms