When 52-year-old Eddie first started talking to a beautiful woman from overseas called Kali on an internet dating website, he felt flattered by her attention.
Eddie’s wife of 26 years had recently passed away, a seismic loss that understandably left him feeling terribly lonely. The pair spoke regularly, and Kali confided in Eddie that she had recently moved from Australia to the United States because her father had died, and her ailing mother needed support. Because Kali was unable to work, Eddie offered to give her $933 to help pay for some medical tests.
That wasn’t the last time Kali asked for money.
Next, Kali told Eddie that her mother had cancer and needed a $54,000 operation immediately. Wanting to help, he took out a personal loan to cover the costs. Later, Kali told him the cancer needed further treatment, at a cost of $492,000.
Eddie felt uneasy about offering up that amount of money, but Kali assured him that once her father’s estate was settled and his life insurance policy paid out, she would be able to repay him. Eddie took out a second mortgage and sent Kali the money. Then he never heard from her again.
The scams targeting Australians
Stories like Eddie’s are sadly common. Australians lost a whopping $142 million to romance scams in 2021. And they touch both men and women: while men report losing money to romance scams more often than women, women lose a greater amount in total to these scams.
Romance or relationship scammers steal your heart in order to take your money.
“A friend request on Facebook or a message on a dating app from someone you don’t know might be the start of a romance scam,” says James Roberts, General Manager Group Fraud at Commonwealth Bank.
“Romance scammers create fake online identities designed to lure you in and gain your trust. Once the relationship develops the scammer will ask for money and often pretend it’s needed for a personal emergency. These types of scammers will use manipulative, psychologically controlling and deceitful tactics to get what they want.”
There are a few tell-tale warning signs of a romance scam. Often, scammers will express strong feelings for you in a short amount of time – a technique known as “love bombing” that makes someone more likely to fall for a scam.
Inside the scammer’s mind
After gaining your trust, they tell you an elaborate story – often a non-existent health, travel or family problem, like Kali’s – in order to ask for money, gifts or your bank account. If you don’t send money straight away, messages and calls become desperate, persistent, or direct. And even if you do send money, they ask for more.
Lastly, romance scammers typically claim to live abroad and will always have an excuse for why they can’t travel to meet you.
Romance scams are perhaps the cruellest way of defrauding someone – because not only do they take a victim’s money, but they also destroy their trust and break their heart.
The surest way to avoid a romance scam is never give money to someone you haven’t met in person and don’t know. A genuine romantic partner would never make such a request in the early stages of getting to know someone – after all, would you?
And if you suspect you may be interacting with a scammer, “stop communication with them immediately,” says Roberts.
For Eddie, the realisation he had been scammed came too late. He waited a week for Kali to get in touch with him and let him know how her mother’s treatment had gone. When he eventually called her, Eddie found the number had been disconnected.
Eddie contacted his bank, but they were unable to recover the funds because too much time had passed. He had given away a total of $546,933 to a woman who did not really exist.
For more ways to safeguard your information and find out more, visit CommBank Safe.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of victims.