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Tinder swindler: Kiwi divorcee loses $580k in 14-month romance scam after falling in love with US oil rig worker | #datingscams | #lovescams | #datingscams | #love | #relationships | #scams | #pof | #match.com | #dating


The scammer claimed he was a petroleum engineer named Scott Thomas working on an oil rig off the Canadian coast. However, the victim’s family now believe the photos he sent and elaborate back story were all fake.

A US oil rig worker, a fake UK bank account and a supposed $3 million fortune. Lane Nichols investigates how an elaborate international romance scam cost a lonely Whanganui divorcee more than half a million dollars.

An overseas scammer posing as an eligible oil rig worker looking for “long-term” love tricked a vulnerable Kiwi divorcee into falling for his online affections and sending him $580,000 so they could be together.

During offending spanning 14 months, the woman thought she was funding a Northern Hemisphere oil project until her new boyfriend’s temporary cash flow problems were resolved and he could travel to New Zealand.

She believed he would pay her back once he regained access to a $3 million fortune sitting in a hacked United Kingdom bank account.

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But the man was a criminal preying on her trust and naivety, and the money was lost overseas.

The elaborate romance scam was only revealed when a friend noticed an open email on the woman’s computer and alerted family to the cruel deception.

The victim has now recovered, rekindled her marriage and says she wishes she could; “turn back the clock”.

A trove of documents obtained by the Herald show the woman only spoke to her supposed boyfriend on the phone once, but communicated daily via the encrypted online Viber app, exchanging thousands of messages and photos.

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He claimed he was unable to video call due to safety issues on the oil rig but asked her to marry him and promised to come to New Zealand so they could be together.

The scammer called himself Scott Thomas and sent numerous photos.

However, the victim’s family believe he stole someone’s identity and the smiling selfies and elaborate back story were likely faked.

An online profile describes himself as an “active, purposeful hard-working man” from Texas who is divorced with two daughters. He was looking for a long-term relationship, “not a hook up”, and enjoyed outdoor activities and “cruising my jeep into the mountains”.

The scammer called himself Scott Thomas and sent the victim photos of himself. But the victim's family believe the man stole someone's identity and the photos and back story are fake.
The scammer called himself Scott Thomas and sent the victim photos of himself. But the victim’s family believe the man stole someone’s identity and the photos and back story are fake.

He claimed to be a United States petroleum engineer and concocted a complicated narrative about his personal and professional life as he sucked the lonely woman in to believing she was in a genuine romantic relationship, in order to steal her family’s life savings.

Investigations would later discover she made 21 international money transfers to the man between November 2019 and December 2020 from her Whanganui ASB account to seven different banks in the US and Canada.

Most of the money was sourced from her elderly father’s ASB account for which she held power of attorney.

She later admitted meeting the man on Tinder after her own marriage ended, and that she became “very dependent” on the digital relationship, chatting online every day.

“However, unfortunately, I was misled by his lies,” she wrote in a letter to ASB after realising she’d been duped in early 2021.

“He claimed to be based in the United States and promised to come to New Zealand to start a new life with me. Unbeknown to the rest of my family, I was being coerced into funding a fake oil rig project for my supposed boyfriend Scott Thomas.”

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The scammer called himself Scott Thomas and sent the victim photos of himself. But the victim's family believes the photos are fake.
The scammer called himself Scott Thomas and sent the victim photos of himself. But the victim’s family believes the photos are fake.

It later emerged the woman had been sent log-in details to a fake Sainsbury’s Bank account under the man’s name, supposedly showing he had an available balance of US$3m ($4.92m) “in order to gain my trust”.

However, the man claimed the UK account had been hacked and he couldn’t access the funds. The victim was promised “all of my investments would be repaid” at the completion of the project, once he regained access to his money.

She planned to reimburse her father’s account when the proceeds came through but the money never arrived.

“My family have recently discovered what has happened, and are helping me to come to terms with the reality that I have been a victim of severe online romance fraud,” the victim wrote.

“I deeply regret everything that has happened and wish beyond anything else I could turn back the clock.”

Husband rekindled relationship and remarried wife after learning she’d been scammed

The woman’s husband said the scam was detailed and prolonged.

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It occurred while the couple had been divorced in 2019 and 2020, and before they rekindled their relationship in 2021 and remarried last year.

“If I’d known the details I would have spotted it straight away,” he told the Herald.

“I guess she’s more vulnerable.”

He said his wife met the scammer online in September 2019. The man told her he’d worked for New Zealand Oil Services but was on contract with Suncor Energy on an oil rig off the Canadian coast.

“The relationship developed, money started being sent and it amounted to over half a million.”

The scammer called himself Scott Thomas and claimed he was going to move to New Zealand. This picture is believed to be fake.
The scammer called himself Scott Thomas and claimed he was going to move to New Zealand. This picture is believed to be fake.
"Scott Thomas" told his victim his bank account had been hacked and he had a short term cashflow crisis.
This picture is believed to be fake.
“Scott Thomas” told his victim his bank account had been hacked and he had a short term cashflow crisis.
This picture is believed to be fake.

While the scammer’s story seemed far-fetched, his victim was completely convinced the relationship was real.

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“Apparently the guy was immigrating to New Zealand but in fact he’s stolen some guy’s identity. [The woman] can see the guy’s picture but that wasn’t actually the guy.

“He was in the oil industry. He was running a team and his funds were tied up and he needed to pay his team.

“The guy was saying he’s coming to New Zealand to be with [the woman] but this was holding him up.”

After being confronted by relatives about the scam, the victim was initially “in denial”, her husband said.

“When she realised what had happened, that hit her like a brick wall. She was in counselling after that. It took a lot out of her.

“It’s a huge knock in confidence. If you’re ripped off in an investment scam that’s a different kind of knock. This is much more personal.”

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Just $45,000 was recovered by the bank. The loss had put a “big dent” in the couple’s retirement savings.

No ‘red flags’ over numerous international online payments

The husband is concerned at the amount of money his wife was able to transfer to offshore banks without any red flags being raised, especially given she had no similar transaction history.

“She was moving like $60,000 a day.”

He questioned what checks ASB made before processing the payments and whether anyone asked why she was sending so much money overseas.

When ASB declined to accept liability, the couple complained to the Banking Ombudsman which found in the bank’s favour.

The ruling found ASB was acting on the customer’s instructions, that there was nothing to put staff on notice she was being defrauded and no evidence her accounts had been breached.

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The scammer called himself Scott Thomas and claimed he was paying oil rig staff with the money the victim was sending. This picture is believed to be fake.
The scammer called himself Scott Thomas and claimed he was paying oil rig staff with the money the victim was sending. This picture is believed to be fake.

The family also consulted a lawyer about pursuing a civil claim against ASB.

“They said to take on a bank financially you’re going to struggle and if you lose you’re going to be in for a lot of costs, so that put us off.”

The husband said his wife had recovered from the ordeal.

“Now she’s fine, much stronger and because our relationship has been restored she has a lot more confidence as well.”

The scam was “sick and sad”.

“It’s criminal activity with no real regard for how it’s damaging others.”

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‘This is a very sad case’

ASB’s executive general manager technology and operations, David Bullock, said the bank felt for the victim and her family.

“This is a very sad case, and our sympathy goes out to these customers. We know scams can be devastating to their victims.”

Bullock defended ASB’s handling of the case.

ASB technology and operations executive general manager David Bullock has defended ASB's handling of the case. Photo / Dean Purcell.
ASB technology and operations executive general manager David Bullock has defended ASB’s handling of the case. Photo / Dean Purcell.

“The Banking Ombudsman Scheme, which is New Zealand’s independent dispute resolution service for banking customers, reviewed this case in 2021 and in its final decision found ASB was not responsible for this customer’s loss.”

Central District criminal investigations manager Detective Inspector Craig Sheridan said police had received a report of a woman being defrauded of more than $500,000 by a person she’d been in an online relationship with.

Enquiries determined the offender was likely based offshore, with “no further lines of enquiry available to New Zealand Police”.

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The victim was advised the matter would be filed unless further information came to light.

“We appreciate this is emotionally and financially distressing for the victim and urge anyone to be wary of sending money to people they have met online.

“Those who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring, and believable.

“They lull their victims into a false sense of security and then take advantage of their vulnerability by asking for money.”

Don’t get scammed

Watch out for the following red flags:

  • People who always have excuses about why they can’t meet you in person or even video call.
  • Those who are often in a hard-to-reach place (eg working on oil rigs, in the military, working overseas).
  • People who seem to always have a sob story (eg a child or family member is sick), and there’s always a degree of urgency.

If looking for love online, be wary about who you’re speaking to:

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  • Be careful what you post and make public on the internet. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
  • Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
  • Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
  • Note if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.

If you have family members looking for love online, check in and make sure they are aware and vigilant of the risks.

Anyone who has been the victim of a scam can contact police and report the matter via 105.

Source: NZ Police

Lane Nichols is a senior journalist and deputy head of news based in Auckland. Before joining the Herald in 2012, he spent a decade at Wellington’s Dominion Post and the Nelson Mail.

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