Nine million dollar annual loss to romance fraud
West Australians are losing almost $25,000 a day to romance fraud in the latest scam figures released by Consumer Protection.
In 2013, 187 victims of romance fraud reported losing a total of $8.97 million, an average of about $48,000 per victim, who are equally male and female. This compares dramatically with 2012 figures when 23 WA victims reported a total loss of $870,000.
On Valentine’s Day, Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll warns those who are having an online relationship and are sending money overseas should seek urgent advice.
“Fraudsters are extremely clever and very professional in their deceit, expressing their supposed love for their online victims by sending flowers, cards and photos to make the relationship appear authentic,” Ms Driscoll said.
“The photos are fake and the identities usually stolen from the internet, particularly from Facebook profiles. While the relationship is created in the virtual world, there are physical gestures which, for the victim, make it seem ‘real’.
“One victim received a scented handkerchief and another received a sketched drawing of her and the man from the photos posing as a happy couple – all tricks that are designed to distract the victims from doubting the true motivation behind the requests for money that will ultimately come.
“Often the fraudsters will involve others in creating the con, with many victims also receiving communication from people pretending to be family members, business colleagues, lawyers or accountants of the scammer – all reinforcing the story that’s being fabricated.”
In the latest reports received by Consumer Protection and Project Sunbird (a joint anti-fraud initiative with WA Police), one woman reported sending hundreds of thousands of dollars over a month to a man she had met on a dating site, supposedly to assist with his business activities.
(Audio grabs of this scam victim, who we have named “Linda”, are available to media)
The Project Sunbird team also recently informed six different women (three in WA and three interstate) that they were all dealing with the same man and were sending money to the same bank account in Turkey, even though the emails appeared to originate from West Africa.
The women had sent about $550,000 in total over a six month period in the belief that they were paying for equipment needed for a construction project and that their money would be returned. They had received calls from the conman which had construction noise in the background, intended to give the story credibility. Other calls were received supposedly from the airport where fees needed to be paid to release the equipment. These calls had airport sound effects in the background.
“These heartless fraudsters go to extraordinary lengths to make their stories believable. For the victims, the internet romance is real but unfortunately they are caught up in a well organised, international criminal operation,” the Commissioner said.
“If anyone is involved in an internet relationship and sending money, I appeal to them to think carefully and objectively about what they are doing. Seek advice from family and friends or from the professionals at WA ScamNet who are skilled at detecting these types of fraud. Don’t send any more money unless you are sure that the story being told and the person you are communicating with are genuine.
“The consequences for victims who get caught up in these frauds are not only financially devastating, but also emotionally and psychologically distressing and the effects will remain with them for the rest of their lives.”
More information about romance fraud and Project Sunbird, including victim stories and a factsheet, are available at www.scamnet.wa.gov.au. If you would like to talk to WA ScamNet about a suspected scam/fraud, you can do so by calling 1300 30 40 54 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Alan Hynd 9282 0961 or 0429-078791 email@example.com
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