“It had pictures of everything from bridges in South Africa and tall buildings and painting and decorating.”
However, when she investigated further, she could find no references to the company anywhere online. She then complained to the Elite Singles website.
She was shocked to see the story about Plumides on Sunday.
“I was like, ‘God, that’s the guy I told all my friends about.’
“I think what amazed and horrified me at the time was the extent he’d gone to create the fraud.”
Another woman, who lives in Auckland, matched with a Dale Plumides on Tinder in August 2021.
“I liked the look of him, and he seemed to have similar interests as me, and so you do the old swipe right thing,” she said.
The conversations started on Tinder, before Plumides told her he did not like typing on his phone, and asked if they could switch to email.
However, in his first email he called her Mary, which is not her name. She asked if he sent it to the wrong person.
Plumides responded that he had “got the name wrong”.
As it was a dating site, the woman decided to give him the benefit of the doubt.
However, after he sent her his bio (which was the same sent to the other women), she became more suspicious.
“I just stopped emailing him back because it didn’t ring true. It sounded too good to be true.”
Then, in December, the woman matched with someone named Alan Caston. He, too, asked for her email address. When he sent her his bio, alarm bells started ringing.
“I thought this sounds really familiar and was sitting there thinking, ‘I’m sure I had an email from another guy.’
“So I started going through my Gmail account and I came across it … it was virtually an identical email.”
The two websites he used also looked “identical”, she said.
She then emailed Caston, “Hello Alan/Dale, So much for honesty. You can’t even be original when you lie.”
A photo purporting to be that of Plumides has also been used on a Twitter account for a man named Tony Rae Walker. It is not known whose photo the real scammer used.
The Plumides “bio” also popped up on a website about male scammers in 2015 from a woman in Sweden, suggesting the scam had operated for years. However, instead of the subject’s mother being from New Zealand – which all the Kiwi targets were told – she was Scandinavian.
Joanne said she felt sick when she heard about the other women who were targeted.
“I am so sorry to hear that this has happened to you. Look after yourselves. If there are any other women out there, please come forward and let us know what happened to you,” she said.
“These people are predators and it is not just happening in New Zealand.”
On Saturday, police told Joanne her case was closed, and would be held by police pending any additional information.
However, on Sunday, they emailed to say that her case had been forwarded for further assessment.
“If further steps are able to be taken with your case, an officer will be in contact,” the email read.
Private investigator John Borland, who is looking into Joanne’s scam, said there was a “criminal pattern emerging” with the other women’s experiences.
“It’s clearly a well-planned and premeditated approach whereby they are building rapport by asking typical questions such as ‘favourite colour, favourite food, likes/dislikes’ – all the normal stuff you expect to see on dating app conversations.”
Borland earlier said he believed those behind the operation lived offshore, with connections in New Zealand.
“There’s no standalone offender. There are multiple offenders – a pseudo-ring,” he said.
“There’s been lengthy communications and multiple parties involved in it. It’s quite obvious that it’s just not one person … it’s too large of a scale and I think the volume defrauded is too high.”
Tips to avoid being scammed
- Be alert for requests of financial information or support.
- Investigate recipients to ensure they are genuine, before sending money.
- Ensure that the conversation stays on platforms you are comfortable using and already have accounts with.
- Look out for over-the-top claims that are hard to verify (“I’m a millionaire”).
- If you believe you have encountered a scammer, block them and report them to the platform on which they contacted you.
- As many of these scammers are based overseas, there isn’t always the opportunity to arrest them. But the outgoing funds can sometimes be frozen and then recovered.
- If you gave personal information, the scammers may have used this to open accounts in your name, so getting a free credit check will ascertain if this has happened.
- Never disclose PINs or passwords.
- Take advice from someone independent and trustworthy before making commitments.
- Never accept money for subsequent transfer to others.
- Check your accounts regularly.
Source: CERT NZ, Banking ombudsman
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