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A Dunedin woman who fell in love with an unknown man on the internet had been "scammed", but that was no excuse, Judge Dominic Flatley said when sentencing her for stealing $7136 from her employer.
It was one thing to use her own funds, but it was a completely different thing to take and use her employer's funds, the judge told the woman in the Dunedin District Court yesterday.
Delwyn Mary Pauling (42), unemployed, had admitted stealing cash from her then employer, in July, and making a false statement to police.
She was convicted, sentenced to 150 hours' community work and ordered to pay the $3200 of the reparation outstanding.
Employed as area manager for Rough Diamond Ltd to oversee the running of four local Thai restaurants, Pauling went to the premises several times between July 21 and 25 and emptied their drop safes of the daily takings.
The cash taken amounted to $7136 and she transferred the money through Western Union to an unknown receiver.
On July 27, Pauling rang her employer and said the company car had been broken into. She had forgotten to do the weekly banking and the money, which had been in the car, was gone, she said.
She then phoned police and made a formal report of theft.
Her explanation for taking the money was she had fallen in love with an unknown man on the internet. He claimed he would repay the money when they were finally together, she stated.
She incurred a considerable personal debt as a consequence of the relationship.
Public defender Campbell Savage said the scammer started off being very plausible.
Pauling was perhaps swept away by the hope he might be "a dream come true".
When the scammer became aware Pauling had access to cash, he "put the word on her" to assist him.
She thought he would repay the money when he finally made his way to New Zealand, "which he never did".
Pauling had lost her job, was made bankrupt and her furniture had been repossessed.
A conviction and the things that had befallen her outside the courtroom might be sufficient, Mr Savage submitted.
Judge Flatley said Pauling would not be treated differently from similar offenders. Her actions involved a degree of sophistication. She reported the money stolen. And she made a plan as to how to deal with the situation.
Imposing what he said was a discounted number of hours of community work, the judge took into account the background and that Pauling had no previous convictions.
Netsafe executive director Martin Cocker told the Otago Daily Times that of the $1 million worth of scams reported to Netsafe last year, three-quarters of the money lost was through romance scams.
The money sent to scammers was almost always impossible to recover, he said.
Any online requests for money, even with promises the money would be repaid, should always send up a red flag, he said.
Advice is available online from organisations such as NetSafe, dating websites and on scamwatch.govt.nz about what to watch out for when getting to know someone online.
Mr Cocker said if a person suspected someone had created a fake profile on a dating site and/or was a scammer, they should report it to the site and Netsafe as quickly as possible.