Internet Dating and Romance Scams

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Farmer Paul Ballini fleeced of $350k in dating scam

By Greg Stolz
October 17, 2009 12:00am

A RETIRED Queensland farmer has been fleeced of $350,000 as escalating online dating scams leave a trail of broken hearts and empty bank accounts across the state.

Queensland police yesterday warned that thousands of Queenslanders were falling victim to scams run by increasingly sophisticated crime syndicates from West Africa and Russia.

Fraud squad chief Brian Hay said that, despite repeated warnings, romance hoaxes had skyrocketed from 7 per cent of all advanced fee frauds to hit 65 per cent.

“Their hearts are smashed and their lives in ruins,” he said.

Retired central Queensland grazier Paul Ballini yesterday told a national fraud convention on the Gold Coast how he had lost at least $350,000.

The 73-year-old from Emerald said his heart was “cut in half” when his wife died a few years ago from a massive brain haemorrhage and he joined a seniors friendship/dating website out of loneliness.

“Your brain seems to go into reverse after that (losing a spouse) and you’re gullible – you believe everything they (the prospective online dates) tell you,” he said.

He began an online relationship with a woman known as Selina, who lured him to Ghana with the promise of love and a fortune in gold.

All he had to do was help her pay some medical bills and some back taxes on the gold.

In Ghana, he was introduced to a tribal chief who asked him to buy machinery for a mine. “That money disappeared . . . $85,000,” he said.

“It’s pandemic, the situation – they all do it (rip people off). They see people like me walking around and say, ‘I can get you some gold, I can get you some diamonds’. Originally, I believed everything they said.”

Mr Ballini said he wanted to return to Ghana in a bid to get his money back.

Police have warned him against this for fear he could be murdered by organised crime gangs believed to be behind many cyber-scams.

“In the past couple of years, there have been 19 murders associated with people trying to retrieve their money associated with Nigerian advanced fee frauds,” Supt Hay said..

Online romance scams were among the worst of all frauds because they crushed victims emotionally as well as financially.

“The investment of emotion in a romance scam . . . unless you’ve been there and have dealt with the victims and understand the torment, the heartache, the pressure, the stress, you haven’t seen anything,” Supt Hay said.

Romance hoaxes had become an international “scourge”, often leading to other scams such as that Mr Ballini was embroiled in.

Andrew Bolton, of Gold Coast-based online dating company Cupid Media, said scammers targeted dating sites because they were used by hundreds of millions of people worldwide who had to provide personal details to join.

The fraudsters often created fake profiles and used “sob stories” to get victims to pay for bogus plane tickets, medical fees and prison bail.

Mr Bolton warned people to avoid free dating websites and deal only with sites with high security features. Cupid runs a site called OnlineDating SafetyTips.com

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October 20, 2009 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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