Perils of internet dating

By Rachel Grunwell

A widow became the victim of what's thought to be New Zealand's biggest internet dating scam after losing $680,000 in a little over 10 weeks.

The North Island businesswoman said she felt destroyed and violated by the experience and wants to remain anonymous for fear of public humiliation.

She agreed to tell her story to stop other lonely Kiwis falling victim and said her nightmare began when she created a profile on match.com on March 12.

Soon after she received a message from a man claiming to be an orphan widower with no family. He replied: "I want to develop a friendship that will hopefully turn into something meaningful and lasting."

For two weeks he phoned her up to three times a day, chatted online and quickly told her he loved her.

The man said he was an American-born geologist who lived in New Zealand but was overseas on business.

"It was like a cloud of love, attention and affection that had engulfed me," the woman said. "I left myself wide open, I was in love."

On March 26, he told her he was bringing millions of dollars-worth of gemstones back to New Zealand but said the documents verifying them as genuine had been stolen.

He asked for $5000 to cover the cost of replacing the documents and the next day said he needed $7000 more.

On March 30, he said he needed extra money to get home, and wanted to buy the woman a Gucci bag as a thank you. He sent a link for the bags so she could choose a colour.

Over the next two months he requested various amounts, the largest being $320,000 which he needed to get his passport back from Hong Kong Customs. He told her he had been pulled up on his way back to New Zealand and asked why he didn't have paperwork for the gems.

Each transaction was done via the Western Union money transfer service and he said he would repay her promptly after selling the gems.

The woman, who has grown-up children, said the man was convincing because he knew geology jargon, was romantic and relentlessly reassuring. She realised she'd been conned after watching a TV documentary about internet scammers.

The ordeal has seen her go from having a mortgage-free home to being "utterly and totally in debt" and facing the prospect of losing her house.

Her children are "devastated" and "angry" but police told her no crime had been committed "because I willingly gave the money".

Senior Sergeant Dave Glossop said the woman is intelligent and it shows almost anyone can be sucked in. He said the amount was astounding and should be a big warning to others to be wary of cyber-predators.

A Western Union spokesman in New Zealand said they had "heaps" of problems with scammers, usually from Nigeria, Spain or Britain, who used fake ID.

Western Union customers were given pamphlets full of warnings before transferring money - something the woman said she did not read because "I never thought it could happen to me".

A match.com spokeswoman said such incidents were "extremely rare" and a security team worked to remove "anyone who may compromise the experience of our community and investigate all reports of inappropriate behaviour".

Ministry of Consumer Affairs spokesman Richard Parlett said at least 10 Kiwis each month reported being scammed through dating websites but that was probably "the tip of the iceberg". The previous highest amount scammed he had heard of was $70,000.

The ministry was planning an awareness campaign next year.

- Herald on Sunday

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a3 at 22 Aug 2014 18:41:05 Processing Time: 529ms