Lonely Hearts Beware – A must read – Romance Scam

I read the following article last night and was reminded once again just how conniving, scheming, ruthless and heartless these type of scammers have become. I have done other stories on scammers and frauds, and a lot of the time it involved an element of greed with all those get rich quick schemes.


Now these pathetic scammers target lonely vulnerable single people looking for love, a lot of the time even just friendship will do. The lengths they go to are just eye popping.

I sincerely plea to all the single and lonely people out there to be so careful. These tricksters will spend weeks and months hooking you in. It might take longer, but stick to finding a partner within Australia, someone you can actually meet without spending all your savings. I feel awful for anyone who has been scammed this way, and can understand the potential embarrassment on being made to look foolish. You are victims, just like in any other crime

Anyone who has a story to tell and wishes to warn others, well I would be more than happy to make that happen with all confidential and identifying elements kept private.


From Nigeria with love

July 18, 2012


We must be vigilant with our single lonely loved ones

Nigerian scammers are back with a vengeance, more sophisticated than before and using online dating and auction sites to rip off tens of millions of dollars a year from vulnerable Australians.

EVEN our computer recognises when something is too good to be true, so we don’t see them so much anymore – those emails offering untold wealth if we help a dignitary move a fortune from a hostile country, or notifying us of massive winnings in lotteries we don’t recall entering. And for the few that don’t go straight to junk mail we hit ”delete” without another thought.

Why, then, are tens of thousands of Australians still losing more than $55 million a year to mass-marketed advance fee fraud (scams tricking people into paying money upfront to secure a financial or emotional benefit at a later date), more commonly known as ”Nigerian” or ”419” scams?

Some may think it could never happen to us because we, and our computers, have become more sophisticated. But, then, so have the conmen.

Ken Gamble, of Internet Fraud Watchdog.

”Scammers are constantly evolving and finding new ways to trick victims into parting with their money,” says Ken Gamble, of Internet Fraud Watchdog.

The scammers who used to send us the emails are now finding their victims through legitimate dating and auction sites. In what have become known as romance scams, once the fraudsters hook their victim they use voice-changing devices to hide Nigerian accents or employ sophisticated software to make victims believe they are video chatting with attractive models.

Last year, consumer watchdog the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission received reports that put money lost to romance scams at more than $22 million, with an average loss of $21,000 per victim.

In romance scams, victims meet fraudsters through online dating sites and part with money to buy airfares, secure early discharge from the army or help a sick relative of a person the victim believes is in love with them.

The $5000 that Meredith Hoarey lost was all the money she had. She believed the man she had met online was an American soldier based in Iraq. In telephone and internet conversations over nine months, ”Sgt Zachary Smertyn” convinced Hoarey, 46, of his intention to be discharged from the US Army so that he could come to Australia to marry her.

His alleged commander told her via webcam that Smertyn could not be discharged until certain expenses had been covered. He sent her a variety of official-looking documents to ”prove” his claims, as well as a ”Military Wife Registration Form”.

Believing it was the only way she could be with the man she had fallen in love with, Hoarey, who lives in NSW, sold her car to cover the expenses. Soon after, she received a bill for $3000 for a weapon allegedly lost by Smertyn, which she was told had to be repaid before he could be discharged.

”That’s when my whole world came crumbling down – I knew I’d been had,” she says. ”I felt like part of me had died. How could I be so dumb?”

Miriam Munro* knows this feeling only too well. She sent $60,000 to a man she believed to be an American businessman called ”Dayne”, whom she had met on a well-known internet dating site.

She had heard of Nigerian scams, but she had no reason to believe she was being subjected to one because Dayne told her he lived just an hour away from her home in Western Australia. He even gave her a local phone number to contact him on, but then said he couldn’t meet her because he was travelling on business. In reality, the ”local” number diverted to Nigeria.

In retrospect, he fell for Munro very quickly. ”They love bomb you. They send emails, they send love poems, they talk to you on Messenger, they ring you two or three times a day,” she says.

It is easy to dismiss victims of 419 scams as stupid or gullible, but Munro comes across as neither of these; she is in her 50s, is articulate and holds down a professional job. What she was, she readily admits, is ”lonely and vulnerable and going through some personal strife”.

Gone are the days of emails full of laughably broken English and absurd claims of outrageous rewards for very little effort on the part of the victim.

”I was totally convinced I was talking to an American girl and an American guy,” Munro says. Her conviction was not unreasonable, given she spoke to him on the phone and communicated with both him and his ”daughter” over a webcam. ”I would talk to them all the time.”

But the voices and webcam videos were fakes and it turned out all communication was coming from Nigeria, still a hub for online fraudsters. Increasingly sophisticated in the running of the scams, they work in shifts and use voice changers to give themselves an American accent.

Sophisticated programs, such as that offered by CamDecoy, provide videos of models that can be manipulated by the scammers to appear as though they are interacting with the victim on a webcam. Even more sinisterly, fraudsters use footage of unsuspecting members of webcam chat rooms that has been recorded surreptitiously over several weeks.

In both cases, the scammers claim there is a problem with sound but have full control over the footage. They can pause it, type when the person on screen is typing, or jump to a clip of the model waving, laughing or otherwise reacting as the victim would expect them to.

For example, Dayne bombarded Munro with flowers, cards, telephone calls and webcam chats. ”He said everything I wanted to hear, I needed to hear,” she says.

After a few months, the requests for money began. First he needed a loan when he became stranded in Ireland. Then he offered to invest some of Munro’s funds into his successful business. Believing his professions of love and that he yearned to hurry back to Australia to be with her, she handed over $60,000.

Finally, unwilling to wait any longer, Munro decided to go to Dubai to meet him. The night before she was due to leave, he phoned her. ”He said his daughter had been in an accident and he couldn’t meet me at Dubai airport. And then, I just knew.”

She was devastated. Not only had she lost money, she had also lost what she thought was the love of her life – and her ability to trust people.

Donald Thomson, a forensic psychologist at Deakin University, says the impact on the interpersonal relationships of victims who commit themselves emotionally as well as financially is greater than those who are victims of a purely financial scam. ”They can separate themselves from it, but the person who has been a victim of a romantic scam has given all of themselves.”

Meanwhile, ”The Psychology of Scams”, a study commissioned by the UK Office of Fair Trading, shows people who have already been a victim of a scam are consistently more likely to show renewed interest in contact from fraudsters. One trick of conmen is the ”secondary scam” in which they contact a victim some time after they realise they have been scammed and pretend to be lawyers, government officials or police from the scammer’s country.

This happened to Munro. ”Sean King”, whom she chatted with on another site, told her he had also been the victim of a scammer. He said the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, a Nigerian law enforcement agency that investigates 419 scams, had helped him and a friend to recover their money. Her local police had already suggested she get in touch with the EFCC, but ”I emailed them and never got a reply,” she says. Sean told her he would get the employee who had helped him to contact her. ”So he [the EFCC employee] emailed me and then it was all on again,” Munro says.

The emails had the same EFCC logo as she had seen on the site to which the Australian police had directed her. ”They said because such a large amount of money was due to me, I had to get anti-money-laundering and insurance certificates from the bank. All the documents that came to me looked totally believable,” she says. ”They named the guy who scammed me and said they had his IP address. It was very clever. I was sucked in.”

Thousands of dollars later for a variety of ”fees” and ”certificates”, Munro realised she was being scammed again.

While romance scams target the lonely and vulnerable, usually people over 50, another type of scam targets the young and naive. The ACCC research showed an increase in ”high volume scams” that catch more victims, but for smaller amounts of money.

Brittany Smith, who lives in Melbourne, was just 17 years old when she lost her life’s savings trying to buy a car from a well-known Australian car sales website. When she found one she liked, the seller told her that the site would hold payment in escrow until she confirmed she was happy with the car. Smith soon received an email on the site’s letterhead.

”It looked legitimate,” she says of the email, which contained both hers and the seller’s information. ”It had contact details for a site representative and said I had to give it $7000, which they would hold on to until the car was delivered and I told them to release it.”

Four days later, she still hadn’t heard from the seller and was unable to contact the ”representative”. So Smith called the website to get her money back and that’s when she learnt she had been scammed. ”They told me they have no communication whatever with buyers or owners; all they do is run the site.”

Like most scams, payment was made through Western Union. Smith knows now that Western Union should never be used to transfer money to people unknown. ”In hindsight, when you look at it, you think, yeah, there were some alarm bells but at the time it seemed so legitimate.”

She contacted the Australian Federal Police but was told there was little it could do. The ability of scammers to operate in a variety of countries means that few offenders are arrested and prosecuted.

A representative of NSW Police who is responsible for Meredith Hoarey’s case says on a cost/benefit analysis it was not worthwhile tracking the culprit to Nigeria and there was no ”reasonable prospect of conviction”, which is necessary for a prosecution to proceed.

An AFP spokesperson says it has no legal right to make inquiries or conduct an investigation in a foreign country. ”However, the AFP works closely with international law enforcement, including Nigerian authorities, Australian law enforcement and industry to combat online crime of this nature in a holistic fashion.”

The consensus among these agencies and others is that a victim of an online scam is unlikely to recover any of their money.

The Australian Institute of Criminology says ”the best approach lies with prevention, in raising awareness and in encouraging potential victims not to respond to invitations in the first place”. A spokesperson says: ”Our role is education and awareness, but we do work with a number of agencies, both Australian and overseas, to try and disrupt scammers.”

On Valentine’s Day this year, the ACCC released voluntary ”Best Practice Guidelines for Dating Websites”, which most major dating sites claim to abide by. Some sites will not allow registrations from outside Australia, but Peter Brittain of Slinky.com.au says scammers work with Australian associates. Indeed, scammers use agents in Australia partly to stop alarm bells going off when victims are told to send money to Nigeria. Hoarey, for example, transferred money through Western Union to recipients in Queensland.

Earlier this year, Brisbane woman Sarah Jane Cochrane-Ramsey, 23, was convicted of fraud after being employed by Nigerian scammers to provide an Australian bank account through which they could funnel payments they received through a popular car sales website. Her payment was to be 8 per cent of all money received, but instead she kept the $33,000 she received, fleecing both victims and scammers.

Ken Gamble’s company, Internet Fraud Watchdog, tracks IPs of fraudsters for those who can afford his services. He warns of an increase in investment scams, such as boiler-room fraud (cold calls offering investors worthless, overpriced or non-existent shares) and online sports betting fraud, backed by slick websites, glossy literature and fast-talking salesmen.

The Office of Fair Trading study shows that, surprisingly, it is people who are educated in the stock market and gambling who are most likely to fall for these scams and fraudsters, particularly retirees looking for better returns on their superannuation.

For Brittany Smith, being scammed was a wake-up call. ”Being 17 years old and losing every cent I’d worked for was horrible. I was just shocked that people even did that. It was a bit of a reality check. I’m in the real world now and people do this kind of stuff.”

* Miriam Munro is not her real name. It has been changed to protect her identity.


Romance scam

A romance scam is a confidence trick involving feigned romantic intentions towards a victim, gaining their affection, and then using that goodwill to commit fraud. Fraudulent acts may involve access to the victims’ money, bank accounts, credit cards, passports, e-mail accounts, and/or national identification numbers or by getting the victims to commit financial fraud on their behalf.

Stolen Images

Scammers post profiles, using stolen photographs of attractive women (or men), asking for men (or women) to contact them. Letters are exchanged between the scammer and victim until the scammer feels they have groomed the victim enough to ask for money. This might be for requests for airplane tickets, medical expenses, education expenses etc. There is usually the promise that the fictitious character will one day join the victim in the victim’s country. The scam usually ends when the victim realizes they are being scammed and/or stops sending money. Victims can be highly traumatized by this and are often very embarrassed and ashamed when they learn they have become a victim of a scam and that the romance is a farce.

The Internet

Scammers post profiles on dating websites to fish for victims. Upon finding victims, scammers lure them to more private means of communication, (such as providing an e-mail address) to allow for fraud to occur.

Researchers have found that victims feel that there is an equal balance of self-disclosures (Whitty & Buchanan, in press).http://www2.le.ac.uk/departments/media/research/research-groups/digital-identities-research-group/online-dating-romance-scam-project

In 2011, Sarah Lacy managed to update the story from Nigeria, where many earlier 419 scams had evolved into online-dating scams. The scammer was “more a long-distance emotional prostitute, providing a service men appear to be happy to pay for,” on the one hand, but on the other was also often a brilliant entrepreneur who made the business reporter in Lacy feel a “broad smile [spread] across my face as we spoke, even [making me break] out in laughter once or twice.”

Common variations

  • Narratives used to extract money from the victims of romantic scams include the following:
  • The scammer says their boss paid them in postal money orders. The scammer wants the mark to cash the money orders, and then wire money to the scammer. The forged money orders leave the banks to incur debts against the victims.
  • The scammer says they need the mark to send money to pay for a passport.
  • The scammer says they require money for flights to the victim’s country because of being left there by a step-parent, or husband/wife, or because they are just tired of living in their country and somehow never comes, or says that they are being held against their will by immigration authorities, who demand bribes.
  • The scammer says they are being held against their will for failure to pay a bill or requires money for hospital bills.
  • The scammer says they need the money to pay for the phone bills in order to continue communicating with the victim.
  • The scammer says they need the money for their or their parents’ urgent medical treatment.
  • The scammer says they need the money to successfully graduate before they can visit the victim.
  • The scammer offers a job, often to people in a poor country, on payment of a registration fee. These are particularly common at African dating sites.


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18 thoughts on “Lonely Hearts Beware – A must read – Romance Scam

  1. Couldn’t agree more Robbo…

    I can’t believe they can even manipulate chats on web-cams :Mad:

    It seems so hard to stay ahead of the scammers… The recent local scam of a Sydney doctor http://www.smh.com.au/national/doctor-tells-how-heartless-lily-stole-his-millions-20120201-1qtgy.html is another reminder that it’s not only internet dating sites where there’s a potential to be scammed.

    It’s almost an automatic reaction to want to see the best in people and help others in apparent need. You can see how easily the “alarm bells” that might ordinarily result in a person proceeding with caution can be ignored when there’s people out there prepared to manipulate, take advantage and “groom” their victims over an extended period of time by preying on their vulnerabilities (whether that be loneliness / promise of financial riches etc)…

    The other problem with scams like these even where you can pursue the party for recovery, commencing legal proceedings to pursue your losses can be so expensive. If you’re in a situation where you need to spend $20k to recover $10k, there’s not many with deep enough pockets willing to pursue it on principle alone.

    A very timely reminder…


  2. Robbo the hardest thing is trapping these scammers with a reverse scam,they are cunning.Myself and friends have tried many times to catch them without even getting close.


  3. I have fallen victim to these lowlifes. There is an investigator in Melbourne who specalises in these scams and helped me to no end. she now runs cupidscreen.com. As a female to a female – it helps. my family disowned me and i thought noone would understand. she did


  4. Always before believing anyone in trouble or anyone asking for assistance or even companies offering employment, do a search – Google them, their name, their email address and anything else you can think of. If it is supposed to be a firm offering employment or anything else always remember – only private people or very small organisations would use free emails such as hotmail yahoo gmail mail.com etc the majority of businesses have their own web sites and do not use the normal free emails. There are several sites that have lists of scammers that will show up on searches. When doing searches put their name in quotes so that you only get that name eg “firstname surname” putting it in quotes only searches that which is between the quotation marks. Better still, if not totally positive and actually know them then don’t do it – of course an email can actually appear to come from someone you do know, “reply to” can be different to who actually sent it.Another give away is when the recipient address is different to yours, that is when it has been addressed to one person and BCC (Blind carbon copied) to a lot of other recipients. Also do not open attachments on emails unless you know and trust who they are from and the attachment reason is in the email. These are just a few points, always be wary.


  5. Something I missed in previous comment
    Always beware off links (URLs) in emails unless you know what they are, do not believe they are what they say they are. I am not sure about all browsers but in Firefox put your mouse pointer on the link and at the bottom of the page it will show the link which can be totally different to what it shows in the text of the message. Even if you do this still be aware that scammers are very innovative at making links look like they are real, by just a swap of words or a change of a letter or two. If you are not sure then do not click on the link. If it looks like a site you may use, type the site name you know into your browser, do not use the link shown. Always be wary of things you do not know all details about..


  6. I had something similar happen but on a different vein of scamming. I was looking to purchase a caravan and saw one with a picture online. The price for what it looked to be was just so cheap. On enquiring about van was told it was stored at a facility in Darwin. I live in southern Qld. After a few emails back and forth I said I was willing to fly up and take a look at the van before maybe purchasing. Seller informed me that he was overseas working and this would not be possible but if I really wanted van at such a good price would have to purchase without seeing because of his circumstances. After back and forth emails he then said I could view the van but would have to pay $2000 up front to get storage facility to open up shed where van was accommodated. Straight away I smelt a rat. I emailed him back and told him what I though of him. So this doesnt only apply to “romance”. Buyers beware of who u are dealing with.


  7. Great tips Graeme, it is always the little things that add up. I use Mozilla too, and when I am on any page I always hover over addresses to see the real link down the bottom left there. Thanks for sharing your safety tips.


  8. Gee Suzi, that is a new one too, the fake vehicle sales, thanks for sharing, I heard one where they pretend to be selling mums car because she is overseas and needs the money etc etc.

    I’m glad to hear you didn’t lose your hard earned.

    You have to be so careful. even going to buy a car with cash is fraught with danger. I would never take cash to anything I was paying more than a few hundred dollars for.

    People are getting set up to be robbed for cash transactions when scammers pretend to be selling someone else’s car in a driveway who is away etc . Unreal isn’t it :Devil:

    They keep an eye on empty houses with cars in drives, jump on ebay etc, put the details in and people turn up to buy that GREAT deal for cash and get rolled. Easier that hitting the bank.


  9. Another check, which may be a bit complicated for many people is to check the IP address the email came from, each email provider has differing ways to do this but if you can find the origination IP address you can put it in a search on google and there are several sites that will locate where it is for you, or you can go to http://www.ipaddress.net and put the IP address in. On hotmail you click on the down arrow next to a reply heading on the right top of the message, on the context menu that drops down click on message source. The IP address that it originated from is the one immediately above who the message is from. In Outlook right click on the message and select options, the window that comes up will show header information. I had one recently that was telling me they were in Australia but they were actually in Malaysia.


  10. HIya. I was scammed by a conman out of everything i owned while he cheated on me with multiple women.. (my count was 42 but there are more i now find out). he then became so obsessed he kidnapped me, beat me and rapped me repeatedly because “i knew too much”. its goin through court at the moment but he is still going to get away with destroying me financially.. any advice on what to do??


    • Hi Carla… You sound like you’ve been through the wringer and then some… There’s some evil a#[email protected] around.

      Is there a community legal centre or equivalent near where you live? You should also speak to a victims support agency (most states have them), as you may be eligible to apply for a victims of crime compensation order.

      Best of luck. Keep us updated…


  11. i’ve just been informed by a finance company that he covinced me to get a loan through so he wouldnt go bankrupt that i still owe them $8k. his debts. i can barely survive ea week… and hes out living the high life. his father also is assisting him in dodging this debt. please help me i need info on how to make him pay the money back.


  12. This scammer approached me on Facebook claiming he found me through our common facebook friends. He is a good looking guy. His timeline photos shows a mixture of both good and ugly pictures at different angles and time with extensive information on his profile. His facebook profile was constructed 2011. He got few friends and several postings on his timeline since 2011 to recent. He claimed to be an Irish descent who relocated to Bristol UK. He claimed to be a Project Engineer with 6 months project in Sabah Malaysia, constructing a bridge. This scam is very good and use all the reverse psychology on his tricks of books. Everything what is written about how the online romance scammer works was reversed to sound like you are chatting to a normal real person looking for a serious relationship. It was hardly detectable. No flowery words to lure you, all but seems like a normal chatting you do with real people online. He asked lots of questions to get to know me. He send lots and lots of photos. Every photos come with a convincing stories. The first few 6 weeks started about getting to know each other. Courtship started only after about 4 weeks. During the early days to few weeks, he only give hints all his desire to find someone to settle down for life. He said that at his stage in his life, he have accomplished everything he wanted in his life except having a loving wife and family. He indicated that if he found someone, he would like to get married in about 3-6 months time. He also indicated that relocation and rearranging his life and career to be with the woman he loves. He claimed that he haven’t had relationship for 6 years as he can’t trust woman, until he met me. He claimed that knowing me and chatting with me makes his life happy again. He sounded a normal thoughtful guy with keen interest on me, who is willing to travel and relocate to meet me first and see if we can work out things with our meeting and potential relationship. The way he found me is through the act of God or destiny bringing us together. He sounded like we have a lot in common. He seems like he did astrological profiling of me or their victims. What is bizzare even is that we have the same birthdate. They converse as if they are really intelligent professional, no errors on grammar, or punctuation etc which is common in Nigerian scammers. Their sentence are very well constructed and when you are chatting with them, their response is quick. One thing about him also is that he is a church goer and God fearing person. It’s only after few weeks time of grooming me that they get to the next level by showing how sweet they are and claimed to be the person you are longing to be in your life. They know all the nice words to say. They have prepared a convincing evidence as well like a booking confirmation from Kuala Lumpur to melbourne, which he emailed it to me to prove that he is flying to meet me and see if we can make a happy future togeather. To prove that he is a well off successful businessman, he booked for a Business class One way ticket, with the intention of staying in a 5 class hotel. Asking for money didn’t get until the last 2 days of his intended arrival to Melbourne. He claimed he forgot his wallet on the taxi with all his credit cards. The way he asked for money is not too vulgar asking money from you. He get the conversation to let you do the offering for financial help. I ended up offering financial help which he said he will return it back to me once he got his new card from UK. That went uneventful until the time I excitedly waited for his intended arrival to airport, that he didn’t showed up and realized I was scammed. I did some search on the photos he provided me and later found out that it was an stolen photos from Nico Tijsen.


  13. Not all scammers come from overseas. Not all use a fake names. Recently got in contact with a guy from Bathurst – a chef. In contact on Oasis then by phone then by Skype. He said all the right things. Never asked for money. In fact offered me money when I said I had a few bills to pay which I of course refused. He was supposed to fly over to meet me – he came over to meet me all right … he moved in – I asked how long he was staying and he said as long as you want me to. It was good for first two to three weeks but then his personality came out. He was good at twisting things around and made me feel I was causing the problems. Turns out he had no money no drivers license and lots of other lies. Because I have assets he had been out to claim my assets by living with me – he knew I would find it hard to throw him out because of my personalty. I started to work out when he was lying by his reactions to questions both verbally and physically. So moral of the story. Be very careful of anyone. I personally turned off Internet completely. I have had experience with Nigerian scammer on interpals but realised as soon as money was asked for. They hacked accounts in eharmony but frankly for me they were easier to pick up on after the first but this Australian real person real name nearly got me.


  14. Hi there, if you are in Sydney, Australia, be aware of a scammer named Damaris Milena Quintero Naranjo. She is from Colombia, DOB 19/7/1981.Once you become involved in a relationship with her she will persuade you to open joint bank accounts and transfer assets like motor vehicles into her name. She will then leave the shared house and report you to police, of course nothing will be proven, but she does this to victimise you. You will then receive demands for money.


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