Tomorrow may be Valentine’s Day but for one widow the search for love led to a scammer who took her life savings of nearly $600,000.
The Commission for Financial Capability said 12 per cent of all frauds and scams in New Zealand were related to romance.
Bronwyn Groot, fraud education manager at the commission, said a widow in her 80s had joined a dating website but was not getting too many hits and so updated her profile, putting in a lot more information about herself and what she was looking for.
“Lots of information that the scammers could use against her,” Groot said. “That’s the first thing that the scammers are doing is profiling you.”
Scammers get people they are targeting off dating websites quickly and into some form of instant messenger service because they know administrators of websites may shut them down.
They use people’s own interests against them to lure victims.
“There’s definitely a hook that they use that the victim buys into.”
The scammer that targeted the widow supposedly lived in New Zealand and gave an address that turned out to be false.
He supposedly had to go to a job overseas, and could not access his own money because he had been the victim of identity fraud.
“All of the money that she sent it was always just a loan.”
The scam went on for about four months.
“They groom the victims on what to say to their banks when they’re withdrawing the funds,” Groot said.
The widow sent money to the scammer by wire transfer and eventually went to see a mortgage broker to borrow money who advised her to go to the commission.
The commission searched the images the scammer had used and found that they were stolen from other people and had been Photoshopped.
“She was upset at first,” Groot said. “She’s really tough, she an incredible lady.”
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Groot advised people to do their homework and search images to see if they’ve been stolen, and if they think they have been scammed to talk to the police and contact their bank. Although the chances of getting money back was slim.
“If someone has very quickly got you off the dating website onto instant messenger and they ask for money, just stop and think,” Groot said.
“They will use a sense of urgency for it, that they’ve been beaten up or that they’re stuck somewhere overseas with some story. You just need to stop and think, take some time to process what they’re asking for.”
Another victim was a nurse in her 30s who lost about $80,000 and had been sending money to a scammer that had also targetted another lady.
“I think we’re all vulnerable, we’re all lonely and all it takes is for something to happen in our lives that makes us more vulnerable today than we were yesterday,” Groot said.
“They [websites] ask for a lot of information when you sign up … and that concerns me, that how’s that information being stored and how secure is it.”
People who have been a victim of a scam should not beat themselves up, “they are not the only ones, and lay the blame squarely where it belongs, which is with the scammers, not with themselves”.