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6 May 2008

Love hurts

A heart-wrenching story from New Zealand shows the human impact of an 419/advance fee fraud involving a dating site, a fraudster and a naive indivudual.

Some if not most of the people who use online dating sites deliberately expose vulnerable parts of their personas as part of the deal. It's an inevitable part of the process of falling in love. But, as in Real Life, there are some who exploit such vulnerabilities to take advantage of the situation.

A woman who initially claimed to be in South Africa struck up an online relationship with a kiwi man. Things developed, as they do, with the couple swapping little love notes online and through text messages. Flattered at the attention and besotted with the woman, the man agreed to send NZ$2k "towards her air fare", sending it to Kuala Lumpur where she was (allegedly) staying. It was OK, she assured him, because she was due US$30k from a company her father had worked for, but he and his wife had been "killed in a car accident". The requests continued and so did his generosity, sending thousands more by Western Union for taxes, expenses and air fares to Pretoria and Ghana, mostly on his Mastercard.

The woman even wrote to his mother, saying "I love him and I will get the money to him". All lies of course, but it's easy for me to say that. I'm a cynic who has seen thousands of 419ers before. For those caught up in the drama, it's not nearly so obvious. "It was all believable" said his mum, but when he was already $10k down, the bank stopped his card and when he asked her for more money, mum said "Err, this sounds like a scam. I'm not happy about that. It just sounds ... like ... bullshit." But still she lent him the money "because that's what mothers do."

After the total crept up to around NZ$20k, the penny finally dropped when he noticed that the cellphone bill recorded calls to Ghana not South Africa. "The weren't just alarm bells. They were great big gongs!".

The passport copy she had sent him was a fake and her claimed address didn't exist, according to Google (naturally). Her 'friend' via whom he had been sending money turned out to be a known scammer using different aliases. "I thought oh-oh, I've been scammed! I've been conned ... I'm stupid. Gullible ... 10% of me, even now, thinks she still might be genuine." And that, of course, is how the scam works.

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