The family of a retired US dentist have hired a private investigator to hunt down a Hamilton woman who has allegedly swindled the 70-year-old out of $600,000 posing as his fiancee.
Kelsey Upright is the daughter-in-law of Dr Gary Weber who has lived in Indiana all his life and met a supposedly young Hamilton woman on a New Zealand dating site five years ago.
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Over the course of that time Weber has transferred around $600,000 in small instalments to the woman, Upright says.
"My father-in-law Dr Gary Weber is an incredible father and dentist but he is extremely lonely and I believe she preyed on that," Upright said of her father-in-law who divorced from his wife 10 years ago.
"My wife [Weber's daughter] and I have tried to tell him for two years how fake this situation was.
"We hired a private investigator about a week ago and then that's when the case broke open for us."
Weber has never met the Hamilton woman during the ongoing online correspondence and only conducted a video call with a woman with large sunglasses and heavy makeup once.
The 70-year-old retired dentist was under the impression he was engaged to the Hamilton woman.
The Herald on Sunday has seen bank transfers of US$50,000 (NZ$57,000) out of Weber's account to the Hamilton woman's account, however most of the instalments are in the hundreds and low-thousands.
Upright says she knew her father-in-law was transferring money to the Hamilton woman for two years, but never knew how much.
The 27-year-old US citizen and her wife Ellie - who is Weber's daughter - only discovered last week the retiree had transferred around $600,000 of his retirement savings.
Upright hired Hamilton private investigator Stephen Hawkins to look into the Hamilton woman last week.
The alleged woman's social media profiles were deleted after Upright posted about her father's situation on a Hamilton residents Facebook group on Thursday.
Hawkins had gone to the Hamilton address of the alleged scammer.
"I know he's given her an awful lot of money," Hawkins said.
"There's an original photo that was sent to her father-in-law and then there's another photo that was off a Facetime they gave where obviously the alleged person has tried to make herself look like that photo."
Hawkins is compiling a report that he will present to police on Monday, and has confronted the owner of the property.
This was a middle aged woman in a dressing gown, Hawkins said.
"The persons at the address I went to, given by my client [Upright] knew I was coming because her father-in-law had told them an investigator was looking into them," he said.
"So they knew I was there. I got videoed, which is normal, and no questions were answered. I was told to piss off basically."
The Herald on Sunday spoke to a woman by phone who said, "It is not accurate. I don't even know what you're talking about."It's just social media we're talking about, and I'm not interested in social media. I'm not interested in talking. You're just coming at me with allegations that are not important at all."
Although NZ Police had not yet been approached about Weber's case, a police spokesperson said such scams are not uncommon.
"Romance scams typically either seek money from the victim, or personal details which are subsequently used fraudulently.
"Police would urge anyone who believes they have been victim of a scam to contact police."
Netsafe chief executive Martin Cocker said online scams have been up in 2020, due to more online activity during lockdown.
Cocker said romance and investment scams are the two types of scams where people lose the most money.
"Romance scams have consistently been the top or second top category for dollar losses," Cocker said.
"There's a relatively low rate of reporting compared to some other kinds of scams, but when people are drawn into the [romance] scams they tend to lose larger amounts of money."
Upright said the "best case scenario" would be to recover some of the money once police are involved, but she would at least hope to see some justice.
"He has given the majority of his life savings to this woman," she said.
"I would hope to see her punished so she can not do this to anyone else."
Upright said her father-in-law has this week "finally" been convinced he is not in a romantic relationship with the Hamilton woman.