Feb 08, 2023

Older man the latest victim in dating scam, days out from Valentine’s Day

08_02_23 scams HC
The poorly Photoshopped image "doctors" sent Dolton of Freda’s injuries. [Source: 7News via Bank of Queensland]

An older man from Queensland has been the latest victim in an online dating scam just days away from Valentine’s Day, the annual holiday of love – shining light on the importance of scam awareness and cyber safety for older people when meeting people online.

80-year-old Dolton* was about to send thousands of dollars to his online lover when his local bank intercepted the transaction because they suspected he was being scammed.

Dolton was in, what he believed to be, a long-distance relationship with a woman from the United Kingdom named Freda for several years. She was due to join him in Australia where they were to eventually get married.

However, just before her flight, Freda was in a “car accident” and was left in a coma. Her doctors notified Dolton of her condition and that she needed money for “ongoing” treatment, even sending him an image of Freda injured in the hospital (pictured).

Fearing for his fiancee, Dolton visited his local bank to transfer $20,000 when the Bank of Queensland’s (BoQ) fraud and scam operations team grew suspicious of the situation and intervened. 

BoQ representatives said Dolton was then faced with the reality that he had been caught up in an exchange with a professional “romance scammer” who had posed as both Freda and her coma doctors.

BoQ representative, Ben Griffin, said these scams are happening more frequently with many older people getting approached through dating sites, social media sites and even gaming portals.

“Dolton isn’t alone in experiencing romance scams,” Mr Griffin told 7News

“It was really clear that he is a person of particular 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.”

“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.”

Mr Griffin added that victims are often “older and not as savvy” and “wanting to believe the best in people”.

In December 2022 alone, dating and romance scams were the second most common type of scam reported to Scamwatch and were experienced mostly by older people. Amongst those over 65, $121,000 was lost across all of 2022.  

eSafety Commissioner, Julie Inman Grant, told HelloCare last month that older people should keep their eyes open and be wary of situations that seem too good to be true while looking for love online. 

“Scammers are becoming more sophisticated in the way they target potential victims and older Australians can be particularly vulnerable,” she said.

“The best way to defeat scammers is by equipping all Australians with the skills to recognise this predatory online behaviour before it’s too late, by raising awareness of the dangers and educating people about how to avoid them.”

Warning signs of a romantic and dating scam

If you are an older person navigating the internet or looking to meet people online, there are a few common signs you should look out for to gauge if you may be being scammed.

Some of these signs include:

  • A scammer may profess strong feelings for you after just a few contacts 
  • Messaged may be poorly written and vague 
  • Sometimes, you may be able to detect a scammer by looking up their name on social media and fact-checking what they tell you. Does their profile picture fit the description they tell you? Is their English poor but they say they have a university degree?
  • Scammers will often tell an elaborate story and ask for money, gifts or your bank account/credit card details, often becoming more desperate, persistent or direct if you don’t send money straight away
  • Scammers often won’t keep their promises and have an excuse for why they can’t travel to meet you and why they always need more money

*Name has been changed to protect his identity

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