A couple of years ago, I was approached by my scammer, who called himself Mark Wilson, on the app Words With Friends. He sent me a supposed picture of himself – he was very good-looking – and started paying me compliments. He also said his wife had just died of lung cancer, which I realise now was part of his ploy for sympathy.
He asked to communicate outside the app, and we started to text one another privately. I wasn’t looking for a relationship as I’d just moved to a small country town and was looking forward to getting to know my new home.
But I was flattered, I suppose, because he told me I was beautiful and he was nice to me. He promised to cook and clean for me, and said that we would travel around Australia together. We spoke on the phone and even video-chatted – and he did look like the man in the picture.
One day he said that pirates were attacking the oil rig he was supposedly working on overseas, and he kept asking for more and more money to help him leave. The first time I transferred money, I was aware that he may be a scammer, but I also felt this could be my chance at future happiness. I was in love with him, so my heart was ruling my head.
I would accuse him of scamming me, but he would respond, “Why would I talk to you so much if I was a scammer?” I sent him some money in November 2018, and thought I would never hear from him again. But I did. He kept asking for more, saying it was just until he could access his own. I don’t know why I sent him more.
I ended up losing nearly $16,000, which was all my savings. Then I was scanning a website that features common pictures scammers use for fake profiles and there he was. I realised at that moment that he really was a scammer, but I was so in love it was a long time before I cut him off. If he had not been a scammer, he would have been the perfect partner – when we were talking it was 18 months of sheer joy.
I always thought of myself as quite intelligent and sophisticated so it comes as a surprise to me that this happened.
‘It has put me off another relationship’
Sarah*, 53, a Melbourne nurse, lost almost $20,000 over two years.
I went on a dating site about eight years ago and connected with a man who called himself Charles. He said he was a vet working in Sydney. We were going to meet up, but he was called over to a farm in the UAE to immunise livestock. He made up an excuse about not being able to access medication after it was seized at the dock, and asked for $5000 for help.
Initially I said no way. But then I thought maybe he really was in trouble so I decided to send some money. I’d been talking to him for about four months by that stage, via [Facebook] Messenger. I would feel euphoric at times, like being on drugs.
‘I never told my family and they still don’t know. The embarrassment and the shame are the worst. It has put me off another relationship, and I still don’t think I have fully recovered.’
A few times I would say, “I think you’re a scammer,” and he would deny it. I would tell him he needed to prove it by coming over to visit, and he convinced me to send him money for a plane ticket. It went on for two years with me sending him money, but no trip forthcoming.
Finally, he suggested we Skype and I saw he was an African man, not Charles. My father had just died and that was the final straw for me. I cut off contact and reported it to police.
In the back of my mind I always knew, but I didn’t want to believe it. There were lots of red flags: things moved much more quickly than usual in a relationship, and he said he’d grown up in Germany but knew nothing about the country.
Taking into account the interest on the credit card, I lost $20,000 and I nearly lost my house, too. I sold my car and saw a financial counsellor, and, after two to three years, I was back on my feet.
I never told my family and they still don’t know. The embarrassment and the shame are the worst. It has put me off another relationship, and I still don’t think I have fully recovered.
‘People around me were warning me’
Jan, 67, handed over more than $260,000 to a scammer. She has since started the not-for-profit Life After Scams service.
I moved to Melbourne to be closer to family when I was 59. Everything was going well and I had a good corporate job, so I decided to start looking for companionship, someone I could explore Victoria with.
I put my profile on a dating site and connected with a man. He moved our conversations off the site very quickly. He would say things like, “I only want to talk to you. I think we are destined to be together. I have been waiting for you all my life.”
We were intimate, we had cyber sex, and he confessed his love for me. I had fallen in love with him and when he asked me to marry him I said yes. We spoke on the phone, texted and exchanged emails. We would video-chat – although, rather conveniently, his camera wasn’t working each time we spoke.
He purported to be a British engineer on a contract in Dubai, but there came to be a lot of problems: he couldn’t access his money, he was robbed, in a car accident, in hospital. I would send him money, which he promised he would pay back, and he showed me his fake bank statements with millions in the bank.
I made a conscious decision to lend him money out of love because I didn’t want to be cynical, even though I knew he could be a scammer. People around me were warning me not to send money, but I was already in too far to hear that.
Over the next month, I loaned him – because I thought it was a loan – $260,000. This included $166,000 from my self-managed super fund that I had put aside to buy a property and $30,000 I put on a credit card. Eventually, I sent my weekly pay. Finally, he said he was boarding a plane back to England and a few days later I realised he was never going to contact me again. I had only known him for 72 days.
I suffered low-level depression for about 18 months, but my family was supportive in a non-judgmental way. I had to be creative about my finances but I was able to eventually get myself out of debt. Luckily, I am in a good rental situation at the moment, but I do exist solely on the age pension now.
Signs of a love scammer
- They are quick to declare love.
- There are holes in their stories.
- They invent hurdles that prevent them from meeting in person.
- They quickly move victims from the online site to a private messenger chat.
- They supply a fraudulent image of themselves, which a quick Google Image search will reveal to be fake.
Source: ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard.
I have since started a not-for-profit, Life After Scams, to support other victims. This support is important because in the immediate aftermath you don’t understand how it happened, and I know now that it is because of the hypnotic altered state you’re in when you fall in love.
However, people feel ashamed, and they don’t tell anyone because of the shame. But that shame is very damaging to carry around alone.
* Names have been changed.
This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale September 13.
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