He thought he had found the love of his life, thousands of kilometres away. He thought they’d get married and settle in Australia together.
But for an elderly Queensland man, tragedy would ultimately strike when his fiancee was in a car accident.
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Dolton*, 80, was in a long-distance relationship with a UK woman named Freda for several years. They became engaged and Freda said she would move to Australia so they could get married.
Yet tragically, Freda was in a car accident just before her flight – and Dolton was horrified to learn his beloved was in a coma.
Her doctors kept him updated, eventually revealing that Freda needed money for ongoing treatment. Fearing for his fiancee, he visited his local bank to transfer $20,000.
Then the Bank of Queensland’s (BoQ) fraud and scam operations team stepped in.
BoQ representatives said Dolton had to face the reality he had been caught in a “devastating” exchange with a professional “romance scammer” who had posed as both Freda and her coma doctors.
At one stage the scammer even sent Dolton images of Freda injured in hospital, and another time attached copies of a doctored passport to validate her identity.
“I have attached a picture of her. She has been crying,” one email read. Attached were of images of “Freda” with cuts and bruises on her face.
“Dolton isn’t alone in experiencing romance scams,” BoQ representative Ben Griffin said. “It was really clear that he is a person of particularly vulnerability. We commonly see that these people are really looking for love and affection, and this can be the first time they’ve been shown that.”
Victims are often “older and not as savvy”, Griffin added, and “wanting to believe the best in people”.
Rise in romance scams
“We’re seeing these scams happen more and more often with initial contact from a scammer occurring on every dating site you can think of, social media sites and even gaming portals,” Griffin said.
“The biggest red flags are rapid declarations of love and affection; they can be incredibly persuasive and will prey on emotional triggers. The scammers are also never available in person, but keep victims hopeful with plans of finally meeting.
“For those who fall victim, it is really devastating. Some of the cases we see have taken place over months or even years. Not only have these victims’ lost their money, but they also feel the heartbreak of a false connection.”
In 2021 alone, more than 3400 dating and romance scams were reported to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Australian Federal Police cybercrime operations commander Chris Goldsmid said criminals often invested a significant amount of time – sometimes years – building what appears to be a “legitimate relationship with their victim”.
“They will express their love for the victim and, in some cases, promise marriage but will often have a complicated story about why they cannot meet in person,” he said.
“Anyone can be a target and they will use a range of extravagant excuses to pull on their victim’s heartstrings.
“Romance scams are a common method for criminals to enlist money mules because they put pressure on them emotionally.”
*Name has been changed to protect his identity
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