At the behest of the Consumer Affairs Victoria I participated in a widely-covered press interview, jointly with the Minister [The Hon Marlene Kairouz MP: Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation] to provide warnings to people about the dangers of romance scams in the lead up to Valentine’s Day this year. Whilst the press articles covered the full story, the TV news shorts offered the message “Beware dodgy scammers”. There are a number of problems with this message.
- It implies that you can determine up front that these people are “dodgy” and “scammers” and so avoid them, when their success is because they are the opposite of this. They appear respectable, reasonable, capable, financially secure, caring and articulate. They build intimacy and trust, and only when they have you fully in-love and hooked do they ask you for money. By then it can be too late, and even suggestions that they are scammers are not believed. Though there might be variations in the types of scams, the mechanism is similar – get you to trust them beyond your own reason.
- It gives no real red flags to look out for, such as moving contact off the dating site to email and phone, early and strong professions of love, not being in your local area so unable to meet, constant contact, use of stolen photos, scripted emails, and eventually requests for money.
- The impact of being caught in a scam is glossed over, but can in fact be devastating emotionally and financially, both short and long term.
It would be better to say something like “only date locals”, though scammers are also skilled at using local phone numbers to convince you they are local, but find excuses for not meeting. Or, “beware declarations of love… it may be a scammer”.
Everyone needs to be aware of the red flags of relationship scams: To fully understand the warning signs, check out the great examples provided by the Scam Disruption Project of the ACCC or ScamWatch. Also learn how to do a Google Image search on their photo. Afterwards may be too late.
Here is a list of the press from this interview
- The Age, Feb 2: Valentine’s Day warning: Online scammers the death of romance, by Neelima Choahan. This was also published in the Brisbane Times
- Channel Seven News: Consumer Affairs issues Romance Scam Warnings
- Channel 9 News: video not available
- Channel 10 News: video not available
- Channel 7 Sunrise, Feb 13: Dating Scammers strike around Valentine’s Day
The reason I continue to do these press interviews is that most people caught in scams are unwilling to publicise their circumstances, often due to shame, and because family and friends do not know. So I have become an advocate for scam victims. Unfortunately, despite the numbers of victims, the money lost out of Australia, and the consequences for victims, the police in many Australian states continue to do nothing, saying because the money has gone outside of Australia they can do nothing. They do not even try. I know of several Private Investigators who have been able to identify scammers, and have provided this information to the police, and still they do nothing. It is unfathomable, and an abuse for those who are victims. As one of them said, its good enough for Consumer Affairs Victoria to use what you say, but not good enough for the police to do anything about it.
Scammer gets 27 years in Jail in US
It has been similar in America, but a recent article indicates maybe the tide is turning, with this article from the River Bender “Prince Charming” behind bars: Nigerian romance scammer nets 27-year prison sentence that I came across via Twitter.
Though originally from Lagos, Nigeria, but then based with his gang in South Africa, “Portraying himself as an American soldier stationed overseas, or an engineer working on a large government contract in South Africa, Sunmola cultivated romantic relationships with dozens of women across the country [USA – but most likely Australia as well].”
He has been found guilty and sentenced to 27 years in US jail. He was originally arrested in London , UK, on 9 August 2014 as he was boarding a plane back to South Africa, on the basis of the US charges.
The lists of the US agencies/people who worked on the charges shows that increasingly the keyagencies are working together in with a focus on scammers. Take note, Australian agencies, that you should be doing the same! What you are currently doing is not good enough.
As I said on Twitter [@JanCarMar] when I found this article, I wonder if this is my scammer? It could be….
Further info on money transfer agencies – MoneyGram
After the last post where I talked about Western Union and the rulings against them, I was provided with rulings against MoneyGram which are similar [Thanks Cassandra Cross].
- MoneyGram pay 18 million to settle FTC charges
- MoneyGram admits anti-money laundering and wire fraud violations
As much as these rulings show that things are changing, they are changing slowly and the jurisdictional issues mean there is no guarantee we will see any benefit in Australia. Unfortunately I have to warn – please don’t get your hopes up.