For several years, 80-year-old Queensland man Mr Dolton thought he was in a long-distance relationship with a young woman called Freda. It turned out to be a cruel romance scam.
Freda claimed to live in the UK and the two had made plans for her to visit Australia so they could get married.
But right before her travels, Freda said she was involved in a car accident and urgently needed $20,000 to cover her medical bills. Mr Dolton even received calls from Freda’s alleged doctor, who pressured him to transfer cash for the operation.
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“As compare to our phone conversation, if you pay £18,000 GBP out of the 25k we can proceed with the surgery with no delay as this is very urgent which we must treat as such,” a badly written email from the supposed ‘Dr David’ said.
Mr Dolton was also sent supposed images of Freda in hospital and copies of her passport to validate her identity. But these images were badly photoshopped, with one showing a fake bandage and black eye.
Bank of Queensland’s Fraud and Scam Operations team was able to identify the situation as a scam and intervened right before Mr Dolton lost the $20,000.
“Unfortunately, Mr Dolton isn’t alone in experiencing romance scams,” Bank of Queensland customer advocate Ben Griffin said.
“We’re seeing these scams happen more and more often, with initial contact from a scammer occurring on every dating site you can think of, social media sites and even gaming portals.”
Bank of Queensland Group, which includes ME Bank and Virgin Money, said it detected more than $16 million in attempted scam losses during 2022.
According to the ACCC’s Scamwatch, Aussies lost more than $40 million to romance scams in 2022 and $568.6 million to scams overall.
“Just like we saw with this case, romance scammers tend to “borrow” photos of people to catfish the victim. The lengths these scammers will go to, to accentuate their story and make it appear realistic cannot be underestimated,” Griffin said.
Some red flags include quick declarations of love and affection, and scammers finding excuses to not meet up in person.
“For those who fall victim, it is really devastating. Some of the cases we see have taken place over months, or even years. Not only have these victims lost their money, but they also feel the heartbreak of a false connection," Griffin said.
According to the ACCC, people over 55 make up close to half the losses of romance scams.
“Never send money or give personal or financial information to someone you’ve only met online. Think very carefully about taking investment or financial advice from someone on a dating app,” ACCC deputy chair Delia Rickard warned.
“Do an internet search with the name or photo of your love interest or some of the phrases they have used to try to identify if it is a scam.”