Kiwi women are being conned out of millions of dollars a year in romance scams run by organised crime rings based overseas.
Stuff has spoken to two New Zealand women, Joanne* and Donna* who were both tricked into giving more than $500,000 each by men they met on Tinder in near-identical cons.
The elaborate scams involved fake news videos, a fake bank site and dozens of emails and daily phone calls.
Detective Senior Sergeant Chris Allan of Auckland City’s District financial unit, told Stuff on Friday millions of dollars a year were being “swiped by scammers taking advantage of those looking for love online”.
* How a ‘prince charming’ Tinder swindler conned a woman out of $540k
* ‘Prince Charming’ Tinder swindler targeted Kiwi women for years
* There are bad dates and then there’s The Tinder Swindler: Anatomy of a romance nightmare
Police investigations indicated those behind the scams were predominantly based offshore.
“They are typically organised criminal networks who are scamming multiple victims at once.
“To keep their story on track when engaging with multiple people, they use the same profile. Police often see the same photo used over and over again, with a different generic name, pedalling a similar story about their fraudulent background.”
Police were receiving a “consistent stream” of reports from people who had been scammed by someone they met online either on a dating website or dating app.
“Those who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring, and believable. Unfortunately, they are present on most dating platforms.”
Allan said there was a pattern where the scammer would move the conversation from a reputable dating site to WhatsApp. Police had also seen the same stolen image used on doctored New Zealand drivers’ licences.
The scammer then “quickly professes their love and admiration for the victim”, before revealing they are either a wealthy businessman or military staff who are based overseas.
MARK TAYLOR / STUFF
Joanne* lost about $540,000 in a Tinder swindle.
“Once trust has been gained they request financial assistance from the target.”
The method of payment varied depending on the capability of the victim, with cryptocurrency the preferred method.
“However, sending cash or making a bank transfer offshore via a money remitter, transferring funds to a bank account of someone else that is being scammed, or handing cash to a money laundering cryptocurrency trader, are other potential ways a scammer will ask the victim to provide them with funds.”
Private investigator John Borland, who is looking into Joanne’s scam, said there was a “criminal pattern emerging” with the other women’s experiences.
”It’s clearly a well-planned and pre-meditated approach whereby they are building rapport by asking typical questions such as ‘favourite colour, favourite food, likes/dislikes’ – all the normal stuff you expect to see on dating app conversations,” Borland said.
He earlier said he believed those behind the operation lived offshore, with connections in New Zealand.
This is a fake news video provided by the swindler to the victim.
“There’s no standalone offender. There are multiple offenders – a pseudo-ring.There’s been lengthy communications and multiple parties involved in it. It’s quite obvious that it’s just not one person … it’s too large of a scale and I think the volume defrauded is too high.”
Police earlier told Joanne her case was “closed”, and would be held by police pending any additional information.
However, on Sunday, they emailed to say her case had been forwarded for further assessment.
“If further steps are able to be taken with your case, an officer will be in contact.”
The money Joanne sent went into a Kiwibank account. On Friday, a Kiwibank spokesperson said they were unable to answer questions about individual customers or accounts due to “confidentiality obligations”.
“What we can say is in situations such as this there is often layer upon layer of scams and multiple victims. The New Zealand police is the appropriate forum for victims to raise concerns about the actions of any person suspected of receiving money.”
Banking Ombudsman Nicola Sladden earlier said she was seeing a “concerning rise” in fraud and scam complaints, year-on-year.
There were a few scam types where customers were tricked into sending their own money to a scammer – such as online purchase scams, investment scams and romance scams.
The sending bank was unlikely to be liable where a person instructs it to send money to someone, and they later find out the individual was a scammer.
The ombudsman expected banks to take “reasonable steps” to identify and act on red flags such as a customer being evasive or unwilling to provide information about the purpose of a transaction, or where their description of the purpose had a “hallmark” of a scam.
Police advised people to be wary of any online approaches where something might seem amiss.
Red flags to be aware of:
- People who always have excuses about why they can’t meet you in person or even video call
- Those who are often in a hard-to-reach place (eg working on oil rigs, in the military, working overseas)
- People who always have a sob story (eg a child or family member is sick), and there’s always a degree of urgency
Police advice for those looking for love online:
- Be careful what you post and make public on the internet. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you
- Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere
- Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly
- Note if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you
If you believe you are the victim of a scam you can contact police and report the matter via 105.
Visit consumerprotection.govt.nz/general-help/scamwatch for more information on how you can prevent yourself, family and friends from being scammed.