As a warning to others, a Mount Gambier man is sharing the details of his three-month dialogue with scammers who assumed the alias of a Russian woman on a popular Australian dating website.
‘Her’ name was Aleksandra and ‘she’ was young and pretty with a long, dark mane of hair and dark brown eyes.
She contacted Dave (not his real name) on dating site Zoosk in November last year, telling him she was a 32-year-old Russian woman eager to pursue a serious relationship.
“And every day my feelings to you become stronger and I feel that we have a connection! And now we meet each other…”
Her emails from a Gmail account arrived every two days and at first were full of the little details of her life, like walking in the park with her friends and hanging out for pizza.
She sent dozens of pictures of her eating cake, dressed in a bathrobe, lying chastely on the bed, always dressed in white.
It was a mere two weeks before Aleksandra’s emails swung in a more intimate direction, peppered with loving endearments and declarations of their future together.
A smitten Dave began to make plans, discussing travelling to Russia to see her — but he also had his doubts.
Unusually for someone her age, Aleksandra had no Facebook, Twitter or Instagram accounts. In fact, there were no online traces of her at all.
She had emailed her phone number but told Dave he could not call her, saying “my phone doesn’t accept international calls”.
Although she said she was 32 years old, the pictures she sent appeared to be of a much younger woman.
It was December when the first plea for help with her travel arrangements arrived in Dave’s inbox.
“My dear, you have 310 dollars now? Help me. Let’s do it and meet me! I love you. I can’t live without you.”
But Aleksandra told him she had no bank account so money must be sent via transfers through Moneygram or Western Union.
When Dave told his friends about his new girlfriend, they laughed and said: “mate, you’re getting scammed” but Dave kept emailing and Aleksandra always knew the right thing to say to assuage his doubts.
“I’m not a crook, and not cheat on you. I’m honest with you. My intentions are serious. I have for you a huge and sincere feelings. I am the one in the photos. I am a real. I love you!”
She sent him passport pictures, told him she had spoken about their future to her family and even started to call him “husband”.
“You are my loved man and I don’t want to lose you,” she reminded him constantly.
But Aleksandra repeated her requests that Dave transfer money to pay for her visa and half her airfare so she could travel to Australia and arrive at “the day when our dreams and desires become real”.
A call from ‘Aleksandra’
On Valentines Day this year, Dave was woken up just before 7am by a call from a private number.
The Aleksandra on the phone was less loving, more forthright and after wishing him “happy Valentine’s Day”, she quizzed him: “you are going to send the money?”
When he tried to call back, using the number she had emailed him, it was disconnected.
Dave emailed her to say he was starting to doubt her story, which provoked a lengthy and impassioned response.
Included with the email was a copy of her passport, showing her name, address and photograph.
Despite his concerns, in February Dave went to his Mount Gambier bank branch to make a transfer of $400 to Aleksandra but he was stopped by a bank employee who told him bluntly she believed he was being scammed.
When Dave’s friends suggested ‘Aleksandra’ might even be a man, his mood changed abruptly.
He wrote Aleksandra a final email.
“Sorry but I’m not a pay-for-everything sort of bloke. If you are serious about loving me and coming here, you will have to pay for it all yourself. Goodbye Aleksandra.”
A week went by and there was no reply from the woman who had told Dave multiple times she was going to marry him.
Aleksandra had moved onto new victims.
Aussies losing out to dating scams
The Mount Gambier man shared the contents of the roughly 50 emails he received over three months conversing with ‘Aleksandra’ with ABC Local Radio, wanting to help prevent further victims.
The case is a textbook example of a classic dating swindle, said Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) deputy chair Delia Rickard.
Just in the month of January, Scamwatch data revealed Australians lost an astonishing $1.8 million to dating and romance scams.
Ms Rickard said it was important for people who had been duped by such a scam to both report it and tell their story.
“We know that when other victims hear victims telling their stories, that is when the penny starts to drop,” she said.
“The more people stand up and talk about it, the better it is for other people.”
Do you think you may have been scammed? Report a scam to Scamwatch or the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network (ACORN).