Online love scams have become a growing issue around the world, as sophisticated scammers target lonely and often quite vulnerable people and rob them of their savings – all while convincing them they’re in a loving relationship.
It’s one of the cruellest deceptions imaginable, and while many people may struggle to understand how someone could be convinced to send money overseas without ever meeting the recipient, more and more over 60s are continuing to fall for these elaborate stings.
Now, a number of retirees have shared their own personal stories after fellow victim and Aussie campaigner Jan Marshall began a blog and website offering advice on how to overcome the heartbreak and huge financial loss.
Jan, a 65-year-old former change manager, previously revealed to Starts at 60 how she was manipulated into falling in love and even accepting a marriage proposal in just 72 days from a man she believed was contacting her from Canada. Sadly, he was actually a sophisticated scammer operating from overseas. She was later deceived into giving away her entire life savings – leaving her a “poor pensioner”.
Her website and blog, ‘Romance Scam Survivor’, offers a space for other victims to share their stories too. Here are some of their harrowing experiences:
‘How could I doubt his reality?’
A woman, identified simply as ‘AW’, bravely shared her story on the site after “falling hard” for a man online in just a matter of weeks, despite initially telling him she wasn’t interested in a relationship.
“Little did I know that this man would become as dear to me as anyone I had ever known, in as little as a month,” she admitted.
AW said the man claimed to be an engineer based in China, who was preparing to return to the States and live very close to where she did at the time. However, due to being in a foreign country, he claimed he was having trouble cashing his final pay cheque to pay for his flight – so fairly soon needed $300 from her.
“The ticket was official looking. He had sent me pictures of himself at ‘home’ doing things in his yard, etc. How could I doubt his reality?” she wrote.
She readily agreed, having at this point fallen for his charm and “expressions of tenderness and care”, despite her relatives warning her it was a scam throughout. The money demands continued from there, first to pay for a hotel he was stuck in before his ‘flight’, and then for supposed surgery he needed after he told her he’d been involved in a horror car crash on the way to the airport that killed his taxi driver.
The latter has become a fairly common excuse used by scammers, as several of the victims recalled being told the same thing, and it was the final wake-up call AW needed.
“I didn’t know what a hideous and vile world-wide scam this has become, and how many unfortunate, and trusting, people have fallen victim to their traps,” she said.
‘I was lonely’
For another victim, named simply as ‘RR’, she was not only left heartbroken – but also lost $25,000 of her savings.
The woman revealed she was left feeling “devastated and lonely” when her husband of 25 years dumped her for a 20-year-old, forcing her to sell their home, move to another state, buy a smaller place and visit solicitors to unravel their super and investments.
She eventually plucked up the courage to sign up to a dating site where she was contacted by a “handsome 65-year-old man”, who claimed to be an engineer living in Sydney, but was willing to relocate to be with her as he was about to retire.
The man told her he had to make a brief trip back to Malaysia first to complete a railway bridge he was building at the time and despite her booking to fly up and see him before his flight, he cancelled their plans at the last minute – saying he’d had to get an earlier flight. It meant they then only ever spoke by Skype messenger, (as he claimed his screen didn’t work for voice or video calls).
The money demands started several weeks later when he first wanted cash because his ‘wallet was stolen’. Shockingly, he claimed it had contained $70,000 cash to pay his workers and she admitted: “I did comment how could he fit $70,000 into a wallet, he ignored me.”
“By this time he was talking about us buying a big house, travel the world together etc etc, even marrying when he returned in a couple of months,” she added. “He sent me a photo of some sort of a contract saying he was going to be paid $15 million for building the bridge.”
Next up he needed another $15,000 and she added: “I explained I was retired and a pensioner and that would take my savings but he started crying and saying he would pay me back plus he was going to buy me a $2 million house that was actually for sale in the town I was living. Well I sent him that money.”
It was only when the man requested she sell her cottage and asked her to fly to Malaysia with wads of cash strapped under her clothes that she realised it was a scam, explaining: “I reported it to the police, blocked him and cried my heart out for days.”
‘He received all my savings’
While some victims are lucky enough to escape with most of their savings in tact, one wasn’t so fortunate and admitted on the site that a scammer took their entire $16,000 savings through a series of lies.
“I fell in love with this man and believed everything he told me even though my family and friends all told me that it was a scam,” the internet user said.
“I still have a house and a car and my pension. When l looked back later I couldn’t believe what I had done as I was very good with money and would never consider doing what I had done.”
They added: “My family are now very supportive to me and have helped me but I will never forgive myself as that was their inheritance.”
‘She made me feel good and happy’
While a lot of the victims sharing their stories were female, it’s important to remember scams work both ways – and one man described himself as “stupid” after unknowingly falling for a scammer on a dating site who claimed to be “a woman calling herself Elizabeth Collins”.
“She made me feel good and happy so I just went with it. As the months went by I fell in love with her,” he admitted.
The woman claimed to be based in Malaysia at the time where she was buying gold jewellery with a total value of $2.5 million. However, she told him she needed financial help to fly it back to Australia so he transferred her $4,000, plus additional costs from there.
Sadly, like other victims, this man was also told she had been involved in a car accident on the way to the airport, so would need further money for medical costs. He twigged that it was a scam, however the woman continued to call him and slowly convinced him to believe her story.
The money demands immediately continued for everything from shipping costs to deposits and he said: “Overall this time I paid $150,000 to her.”
Having flown to Malaysia to follow up on the shipping of the goods, he finally discovered he’d been scammed when he was stopped at the airport – leaving him in utter despair. Thankfully, he returned home safely.
“This is my story of a stupid old man,” he admitted.