Relationship fraud can happen to anyone and if it does it can have devastating consequences. Over the years internet dating sites and chat rooms have become a popular and easy way for singles to meet people amidst their busy schedules.
But often scammers are using online relationships as a way to obtain money from individuals, and break their hearts along the way.
Project Sunbird was launched in January 2013 by the WA Police and Consumer Protection to investigate whether the transfer of funds from WA to West African countries such as Benin, Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Togo, were as a result of ‘request for money’ fraud.
Individuals in WA have been convinced to enter into fake relationships with someone they have met on the internet and have never seen face-to-face.
They may think they might have met their perfect partner online but the majority of the time these ‘romantic interests’ are not who they say they are. Once these fraudsters have gained an individual’s trust they will request money, by preying on the individuals emotions and by providing convincing reasons.
Common reasons can include:
- Needing to borrow money to pay travel costs to visit you. Sometimes they’ll say they had already saved up money for a flight but their money was stolen.
- They need money for medical treatment for a sick relative or friend.
One WA victim was asked to cash some traveller’s cheques and wire the money to the man, but the cheques were fakes and she ended up thousands of dollars out of pocket.
The Project Sunbird initiative is an effort to encourage people who have been a victim of fraud to make contact with the WA Police or WA ScamNet.
Since it began in January 2013 more than 2148 letters have been sent out resulting in 176 people contacting authorities in response. Many people have contacted WA ScamNet in response to the letters and their total combined monetary loss was nearly $9,500,000. This figure could possibly climb higher.
But money is not the only loss that hits people who have been caught up by the criminals involved in this fraud.
They’ve also lost what they thought was their boyfriend or girlfriend, and the future together they believed in, which can be emotionally devastating.
Victims of relationship fraud often feel reluctant to come forward due to feelings of embarrassment and loss, and they don’t know where to turn for help.
It’s important to remember never to feel embarrassed or to think it is your own fault. These criminals, often part of organised crime gangs, are highly skilled at gaining someone’s trust and love.
Tips on how to protect yourself (courtesy of WA ScamNet)
- Always guard your anonymity and personal information until you are comfortable with the person. Ask lots of questions, trust your instincts if you have any doubts, be cautious and be selective before providing such information. Relationships Australia WA recommends discussing the situation with a trusted friend here in Perth, before going ahead and disclosing personal information.
- Be wary of emails from overseas-based singles, particularly if they start confessing their love for you within weeks of emailing you and despite never having met you.
- Watch out for personal photographs that are "too good to be true".
- Be cautious of singles asking too many questions about your financial status. Keep the topics to hobbies and interests.
- Be very wary if they start mentioning a financial difficulty or needing financial assistance. Never send money, particularly by wire transfer. If you are using a legitimate dating site and feel uncomfortable about the person, report it to the site.
For more information about the initiative, for more tips and for information about where to find help for victims please visit the Consumer Protection’s WA ScamNet website