Kiwi farmer loses $1.2 million in romance scam

Kiwis are being warned to look out for romance scams this Valentine's Day after a farmer was conned out of $1.2 million.

Fraud education manager Bronwyn Groot said there has been a steady increase in the number of people being duped out of their life savings by people they thought cared for them.

"Unfortunately these Kiwis discover the person they thought they were talking to is in fact a sophisticated organised crime ring."

Groot said he has been helping the farmer, only referred to as Mark, whose losses included the family farm he inherited from his parents.

"This woman Connie told me her parents had been killed in a car accident. I talked to her [on Facebook] for about two or three months. And then she told me she had inherited some gold, and needed money to pay fees to have it released by the American government. And I went along with it," Mark said.

Mark sent the woman $30,000, but that was just the start.

The woman was able to convince Mark to send money to the UK, the US and Malaysia for fees, taxes and transportation that she said would allow her to bring her inheritance of gold to New Zealand.

Eventually, Mark had nothing left.

Online safety organisation Netsafe estimates that New Zealanders lost $8.7 million to romance scams between January and September 2018, compared to $1.4 million for the whole of 2017.

"The tragedy of romance scams is that people not only lose money, but also have their hearts broken. They go through a grieving process over losing someone they thought they loved, and who they thought loved them." Groot said.

Romance scams can start through dating websites, other social websites such as Words with Friends, unsolicited approaches through social media, by email or through apps.

"These people will move quickly, confessing their love for you within a short time of making contact.

"They will then ask for money to help a sick family member, or for airfares to come and see you. The stories become more and more elaborate," Groot said.

Tips to avoid romance scams:

Never send money to someone you haven't met in person.

If the person who approached you sends a photo of themselves, try putting it into the Google search bar to see if they've stolen it from someone else's identity.

Show any documentation they send you to someone else and get their help to verify it.

If you think you're being scammed, stop all contact. You might need to close or change your social media pages and replace the sim card in your phone.

Comments

The law in New Zealand, like other so called western democracies, is outdated and ineffective at protecting the public like it should have many years ago. We need our politicians to completely overhaul the system. The banks have created a system that makes it easy for scammers to get money off their victims and to move it outside the jurisdiction of New Zealand law. They then claim it is not within their ability to repatriate the stolen funds with the victim. If the law were changed to keep the banks liable for refunding scammed monies, me thinks they would put the safeguards in place to protect vulnerable customers very quickly.