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A pensioner scammed out of more than $140,000 by a woman he met on a legitimate dating site is ashamed and embarrassed that he was deceived for almost three years.
Police say he is one of thousands of Kiwis being sucked in, and today the man is sharing his story to prevent others being financially and emotionally destroyed.
The elderly man, who spoke to the Herald on the condition his name was not published, is one of an increasing number of people being tricked by romance scammers.
They prey on the emotional vulnerability of lonely or older people and police say they are making phenomenal amounts of money from New Zealand victims.
The man met his scammer after he signed up to a dating website. He said he was very lonely at the time and was desperate for companionship.
A woman who claimed she lived in a small town in West Africa made contact with him.
"We seemed to hit it off straight away and she started to tell me about her situation, which didn't sound the best," he told the Herald.
The woman claimed she had little money and lived with her young daughter and elderly aunt in a town that was fraught with danger.
As she and the victim became closer, she suggested travelling to meet him in New Zealand. He was thrilled, and although he was hesitant when she asked for money to renew her passport and for flights, he was assured she was genuine because of their "natural" conversations.
But each time she purportedly set off for New Zealand, something went wrong. She told the man of visa and passport issues and being detained for trying to travel with a large number of gold bars without an export licence. Each time, she needed more cash to get her out of trouble.
She never came to New Zealand, but kept in constant contact with the victim. He was soon sending her money for her daughter's school fees, uniform and swimming lessons.
He paid for a new laptop for his "friend" and was sending regular amounts to "maintain her".
The woman also conned him out of $1000 each week, supposedly to pay a security company to store her gold bars, which she said were worth more than US$28,000 ($32,320).
There were times when he questioned the woman or suspected a scam, but each time she would come up with a plausible explanation.
The requests for cash would stop for a time, but as soon as she had his trust again, she would slowly convince him to keep making deposits.
He made the deposits through money-transfer companies, and when he was turned away from one because it was concerned about how often he was sending cash to Africa, he found another service.
"I was sending her a lot of money and getting into a lot of debt," the man said.
He sold a large amount of property to pay off that debt, but it did not stop him sending the woman more money.
He is now $10,000 in debt.
Police were alerted to his frequent money transfers and went to see him.
At first, he did not believe what they were telling him. He went online to confront the woman, and she "explained it all".
After several days going back and forth with the Auckland city fraud squad, he finally realised he had been duped.
The man has now cut all contact with the woman and is trying to rebuild his life.
He feels lost, and cries as he tells his story and realises the enormity of the scam.
Detective Senior Sergeant Aaron Pascoe said the man was one of an ever-growing number of New Zealanders being tricked through romance scams.
"People used to rob banks, but they don't any more, because with the internet there's a more-modern way to try to get money from people."
Don't be fooled
*Never send money to anyone you do not know, especially in other countries.
*Never give personal details, including financial information, to anyone you do not know.
*If you think you are being scammed, stop all contact and payments and contact the police for advice.
- Anna Leask, NZ Herald