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Scammers prey on the innocent and vulnerable


Scams come in various sizes and guises; from simple scams involving a few dollars, to elaborate stories which can take years to develop and which can rob their victims of small fortunes.
The following two stories are true. Your writer has direct involvement in both.

Grandma’s Gold:
They met on a dating site, she a stunning blonde from Eastern Europe looking for a husband and a new life in a democratic country; he, a lonely Gippsland farmer in his forties. She had no ready money but she did have a significant amount of gold inherited from her grandmother which had been kept secret from the authorities. She was keen to come to Australia and all she needed was the cost of a passport and the airfare. The farmer promptly sent the money.
But she hit a hurdle. Authorities in her country had to be bribed in order to get the gold out. Given the gold was worth around $200,000, a $3,000 bribe was certainly worth paying and they would live happily ever after. The money was sent to cover the bribe.
About this time my wife and I and another neighbour became involved and tried hard to convince the farmer he was being scammed; but he wouldn’t have it. Loneliness was a stronger motivator than reason.
Quite some time went by and then she was in Singapore. So close! But the Singaporean authorities were demanding an assay and an audit of the gold in order to establish a transit tax and this was to cost a few thousand dollars. Again, we tried very hard to alert him, but again we failed. He simply refused to believe he was being conned.
Eventually, I helped this poor bloke track the scam to Nigeria and I actually spoke to the scammers, pretending to be a senior officer with the Nairobi Fraud Squad. As soon as I mentioned any detail, the phone went dead.
My farmer friend reluctantly confided that the entire exercise, which dragged on for some time, cost him in excess of $120,000.

The lonely cleaner:
She is a decent woman in her seventies in Melbourne. He posed as a British citizen who worked for the UN in the Middle East and then moved to Europe and then to Australia where he is currently imprisoned on ‘trumped up’ visa charges.
They met on the internet some years ago and she still believes he is genuine; even though he has scammed more than $100,000 from this lonely vulnerable woman who could ill afford to lose it. She is still working as a cleaner.
His latest ploy is to seek money to get him out of prison. Traf District News has seen the letter supposedly from the British High Commission in Canberra and it is clearly a fake. It goes on to suggest that with a little more money he could get out of prison and finally join her in Melbourne.
The real tragedy here is that this poor woman may give him yet more money because she can’t accept that this person she has never met, is a fraud. She lives in hope they will meet soon.
There are common threads in these two stories and common practices employed by the scammers.

1. They seek out the very lonely.
2. They build confidence and rapport over time, exchanging personal and intimate details.
3. They claim to be equally lonely and commit to a permanent relationship and they are happy to come to Australia.
4. They ask for very small amounts of money to begin with, gradually upping the ante.
5. They are master manipulators.

This sort of scam is huge. Scamwatch reports that it tallied up the dollars of the romantic scams reported to it in 2021 and it was a staggering $37million. Given many such scams are never reported, the real figure is likely to be huge.
You might think most of the people caught in romantic scams are elderly but not so. Scamwatch reports that nearly half of those reported to it are under 35.
It could be happening to a friend or relative of yours, so be mindful.
Not all scams are big but they all have one thing in common; they prey on the honest, the fearful and the vulnerable.
This scam is currently on my mobile.
Note: Your past due toll bill may affect your credit. Please resolve it promptly
Clicking the link takes me to a convincing invoice from the Linkt Corporation requesting $5.83. How many busy people who use Linkt tollways, would pay this small amount rather than spend time checking its validity? How many would get it out of the way and move on and if you are the scammer and a few hundred people fall for your little scam every week, then big money is to be made.
Citilink’s official website warns of this particular scam.
Another favourite is what looks like an official text from Australia Post asking to complete an order and pay some money. Australia Post warn it’s a scam but how many people don’t bother to check and fall victim to the cyber criminals?
A very popular scam doing the rounds a few years back was the inheritance racket. I received one from a law firm in London which tracked me down as the only living relative of an obscure and distant unknown aunt in England who had left me a tidy sum of £2,480.00. My luck was truly in and all I had to do was provide my bank details.
Earlier this year I noticed a $307.05 charge on my credit card I did not recognise from a company called Simple Site in Copenhagen. I went to our local bank which recognised it as a scam and the money was returned to my account.
Currently in my ‘spam’ folder is an order from PayPal for some bitcoin I supposedly ordered. All I have to do is confirm the order and provide some bank details.
That is the key. If anyone asks for your personal details, particularly your bank details, don’t provide anything and make sure you have this conversation with your friends and relatives.
If in doubt, check the Australian Government site ‘Scamwatch’ and remember the sixteenth century adage ‘If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.’