"If you're on a dating website you WILL be approached by a fraudster. There's no 'if', 'maybe', 'but'. It will happen." - Det. Supt. Brian Hay, Queensland Police.
JENNY BROCKIE: Welcome everybody, good to have you with us tonight. Jenny, you lost a six figure sum in just six weeks in an on-line romance scam, how did it start?
JENNY: I went onto an on-line dating website. I was contacted by someone who seemed legitimate, took the romance, if you like to call it that, off-line and that's where it started.
JENNY BROCKIE: So a photo popped up. Who did this person say he was?
JENNY: He said he was living in Perth, he was working in the mining industry, originally from the United States.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, and you were living in Perth as well?
JENNY: Yes. The suburb he said was probably twenty minutes away from where I lived.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what did you think when you saw him?
JENNY: Seemed attractive, professional, yeah, legitimate, clean cut.
JENNY BROCKIE: How quickly did it become romantic?
JENNY: For him, a week, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how romantic in a week?
JENNY: Well, he said his name was Garry, he always signed his messages from the first message as "hopeless romantic Garry", which I thought was just a bit of fun really but then I realised all part of the game, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what sort of things would he say to you?
JENNY: The first email he sent was extremely lengthy and gave details of himself - that he was widowed, had no children, no siblings, no parents, was all alone in the world. Different qualities about himself - like his religious following, what he believed in and things like that.
JENNY BROCKIE: How long before you fell in love with him?
JENNY: I didn't, I don't think. He convinced me I was but, yeah, it's not really a falling in love. It's a more like doing as you're told.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you mean?
JENNY: Being controlled. It was quite controlling and ironically I was not comfortable with a lot of things he used to say.
JENNY BROCKIE: What sort of things?
JENNY: After a little while it would be things like when I can't, because he always professed he was coming - oh, that's right, he did profess to have to leave Perth and go to the UK and finish a contract and it was always that he was coming back. When he came back we would never be apart again. You know, and so on and so forth which made me very uncomfortable because I didn't like the possessiveness of it.
JENNY BROCKIE: So he was avoiding meeting you all the time?
JENNY: It was - the finish line was always moving, it was always a week and then another week and another week. It was always moving.
JENNY BROCKIE: That's interesting. So you'd been in a 25 year marriage? And you were going through divorce? And he just gradually became more and more controlling with you?
JENNY: Yeah, and every time he wanted money the communication would intensify in frequency and just what it was, and, yeah, it would be relentless.
JENNY BROCKIE: When he did start wanting money?
JENNY: Probably after about two and a half weeks.
JENNY BROCKIE: How much?
JENNY: 10,000 initially.
JENNY BROCKIE: 10,000?
JENNY BROCKIE: And you gave that to him?
JENNY: I actually gave him more than that.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why did you do that?
JENNY: I'd really like to know that myself. I thought I was helping him.
JENNY BROCKIE: Had you spoken to the person you thought was this man?
JENNY: Yes, I received a phone number from him while he was allegedly still in Perth and it looked like a Perth phone number. I now realise it was not, it was dialling to a computer somewhere.
JENNY BROCKIE: What was the money he asked for, for?
JENNY: For the project he was working on for various consumables and wages and things like that.
JENNY BROCKIE: And why was he saying he couldn't pay that money?
JENNY: First of all his money had been delayed and then because of the delay, the project had gone a bit south so he needed money to make up for the fact that things had gone wrong because he hadn't had the money in the first place.
JENNY BROCKIE: How many tranches of money did you send all together?
JENNY: Four, one was teeny tiny, and then three very large ones.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you don't want to say how much all together but it's six figures?
JENNY BROCKIE: Well into six figures?
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. Tracee, you thought you'd met this man who you thought was an American Australian soldier through a dating website called Are You Interested?
JENNY BROCKIE: Now after about five weeks he told you he'd found gold in Afghanistan?
TRACEE: Yes. He said that he'd found 125 kilos of gold bullion and he had hidden it. It was stolen from, he'd stolen it from the Taliban and he'd hidden it and he was putting it in a bank vault in Kabul and needed money to pay the fees on the gold.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you were sending him money how soon?
TRACEE: Initially it was only very small amounts, just the original bank vault fees were, I think, 700, $800, and then it progressively got higher and higher and higher and then it got to $10,000, $20,000, $25,000 till it reached close to $80,000.00
JENNY BROCKIE: All together you sent 80,000 to him?
TRACEE: Yeah, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: To the people you thought was him?
TRACEE: The man I fell in love with, this fictitious photo here.
JENNY BROCKIE: How quickly did you fall in love?
TRACEE: Very quickly.
JENNY BROCKIE: And why do you think you fell in love, what was it like, explain it to me?
TRACEE: I'd been looking after my mum for six months, sorry, six years, caring for her. My children are adults and I'd led a very lonely life, gave up my job to care for my mum, worked part-time, had no social life whatsoever, no friends because I was a full time carer and primarily worked from home. And a friend suggested that I go on a dating site, you know, to try and meet somebody, people, because I'd been single for eight or nine years. And"¦.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how did he seduce you or how were you seduced on that site?
TRACEE: Well, to me I just look at him and I melt. I even melt now looking at that photo and he, he said the same thing about me. It was almost like an instant attraction straight away.
JENNY BROCKIE: So even know you know it's a scam and that he's not the person you were communicating with"¦.
TRACEE: Oh yeah, I actually know"¦.
JENNY BROCKIE: You still connect with that photo?
TRACEE: I do, yes, I actual know the real soldier now and his wife and they know, both know that I still look at him, this particular photo, and have emotional feelings for this man.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you know who that really is now?
TRACEE: Oh, yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: But it's not the person you were sending money to?
TRACEE: No, the person I was sending money to was a 22 year old Nigerian kid who I found as well, I know where he lives, I know where he works, I know everything about him.
JENNY BROCKIE: The scammer was talking to you on the phone?
JENNY BROCKIE: And also talking to your mother?
TRACEE: Yes, and my children.
JENNY BROCKIE: And your children?
JENNY BROCKIE: So what was the scammer saying and were you getting suspicious?
TRACEE: No, not at all. I come from a military family so there was an element of doubt there regarding some of the things that he was saying, both my parents are military, especially when he was sort of saying things like we're running out of food, we need money for food, can you send an extra $500? Mum and I both sort of went, you know, the army doesn't work like that, we've been in the army, we know what it's like. That's when suspicion started creeping in.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you ever Skype? Did you ever Skype this person or"¦
TRACEE: We did Skype once but his camera didn't work, which is the same usual story you get from all"¦.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you were getting the voice but you weren't getting the"¦.
TRACEE: Yeah, and he had the American accent, he had the twang.
JENNY BROCKIE: And he quickly took your relationship off the dating website as well, didn't he, onto a private Facebook page?
TRACEE: Yes, he took me - he got me off Are You Interested very, very quickly and then onto Facebook and we - he asked me to set up a private Facebook profile. I never used Facebook before that and it was just him and I with our own private Facebook profiles.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you were in love?
TRACEE: He sent me an engagement ring.
JENNY BROCKIE: He sent you an engagement ring?
TRACEE: I still wear it on this hand to remind me of the deception, the lies, the deceit and my fight for justice.
JENNY BROCKIE: Is the engagement ring a fake?
JENNY BROCKIE: A fake stone?
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you find that out at the time or found out later?
TRACEE: I found out later.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. Bill, you joined a dating site called Gay Romeo after your wife died, your wife of 30 years, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Died. Why did you join the site?
BILL: When my wife passed away and my two children were grown, I found that society had changed and accepted those who were gay into society far than what they used to when I was a young person. I’d seen that that was my opportunity to live what rest of my life I had the way that I was intended and it was only a short time that the, my posting had been done that I got this reply which came from a US army sergeant in, in the Middle East. And I was a lonely person then and I was looking for a new life and what transpired between us made that promise of being possible.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you fall in love with him?
BILL: I developed a love of him but a respect and a willingness to find out more.
JENNY BROCKIE: So how long did this go on before he started asking you for money?
BILL: He didn't ask me for money, he asked me if I would accept delivery of a box, two boxes.
JENNY BROCKIE: So boxes with money and gold in them?
BILL: He dispatched the boxes from Baghdad with a consignment note assigned to a courier, a diplomat courier, and those boxes went to Heathrow in England and it was when they reached Heathrow that there was a request for certain documents that had not been supplied.
JENNY BROCKIE: How much money have you spent of your own trying to get those boxes?
BILL: The boxes themselves would have probably been 50,000.
JENNY BROCKIE: And there's other money on top of that?
BILL: The boxes themselves were placed in a security firm which requested payments from me for their demurrage and it went before the Supreme Court of Ghana.
JENNY BROCKIE: So how much money all together would you have spent?
BILL: I've gone up to about 80,000 altogether.
JENNY BROCKIE: When was the last time you sent money?
BILL: Oh, about eight, nine months.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you sent it to Ghana?
JENNY BROCKIE: And you've since been told by somebody that the soldier, that the person in that photo who you understand to be Miller Duncan, you've been told - a man called Miller Duncan, you've been told that person has died, is that right?
BILL: I was provided with a death certificate.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you believe that?
BILL: I did but I'm sceptic of it now, and I was also supplied with a set of his fingerprints.
JENNY BROCKIE: When did the police get in touch with you Bill?
BILL: Oh, that would be probably over, over twelve months.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what was that like, what did they say to you?
BILL: They came knocking at my door and asked had I been sending money by Western Union and did I know where it was going and such, and through their conversation, we agreed that that's what was happening, it was a scam which I quite was prepared to believe.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what that like when you heard that?
BILL: Well, it's just a case of not having much to begin with, but what you did have has gone. I lived a debt free life at the beginning and from what I did there, I took out a $50,000 mortgage on the home that I owned and that was all used.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what about Miller Duncan, what about the man you thought you knew in that photo, do you believe the person you'd been communicating with was the person in the photo?
BILL: I did, yes, because of the number of separate photographs and what was sent to me.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you still believe that?
BILL: I think so.
JENNY BROCKIE: Detective Superintendent Brian Hay, you have led the way in fighting against some of these on-line romance scams and you've spent a lot of time working with Bill?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY, QLD POLICE: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think's happened here?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: When you talk to people that have gone through this shocking experience, there's still elements that they believe because it becomes an intrinsic part of their life. It became the purpose why Bill went into debt; it became the purpose of why he went without food for days on end; it became the purpose for why he sold his car and he changed his complete way of life because the only thing he had was his future, his hope and he wanted love.
JENNY BROCKIE: Bill, do you know what's happened to your money?
BILL: Well, it's probably given somebody a good time. That's about where it's gone, I'd say.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tracee, do you know what's happened to your money?
TRACEE: I certainly do, it bought him a really nice brand new home and a car, while I'm in the process of losing mine. An enormous amount of gold jewellery and he has blatantly plastered that all over Facebook. And I'm not the only victim, there's fourteen of us now that I've found. So yeah, he's having a very good life.
JENNY BROCKIE: Brian, how much money is involved in these scams, just in Queensland where you are?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: Queenslanders send about $1.6 million every month, we're one fifth the average nationally. So looking Australians losing at least $8 million a month, but that's, pardon the pun but that's an insight to the problem because"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: People are really shocked by that figure here, I mean there's people with their mouths wide open.
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: Yeah. Our research shows that for every dollar that goes to Nigeria, there's another dollar and 4 cents going to one of 41 different countries. So all of"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Where do most of the scammers come from?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: Nigeria is certainly the hub. We've seen a great movement towards Ghana over the past ten years, I've been to Ghana, spoken, worked with their officials, they estimate 70 percent of their offenders in their country are Nigerian. We've seen a lot of money going to Malaysia over the past three years - again that tends to be a Nigerian population. We've had Nigerian fraudsters in this country; we arrested one Nigerian woman who was targeting people in United States.
JENNY BROCKIE: Who do you think is most likely to be vulnerable to these sort of scams?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: Look, we are all vulnerable - no one is excluded from that statement. If you are approached with the right story at the right time in your life, you may very well fall victim to a scam.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you say that with such confidence?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: Because I've spoken to so many victims, intelligent articulate people that have led immaculate lives, made good judgments, good decisions, and all of a sudden you think well how could they make a decision? Why could they not see the obvious? But their vulnerability at that point in their life means they wanted hope. We go out and buy - how many, how many of us go and buy a Lotto ticket for a big jackpot coming up because we live in hope.
JENNY BROCKIE: And when people are in love they do crazy things?
TRACEE: But they're also certainly convincing too with their documentation, everything that they present to you is extremely convincing, very convincing, so"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: We've got some pictures of some of the documents that I think are floating around here that people can have a look at, and Bill, you said that too, didn't you?
JENNY BROCKIE: The documents convinced you?
BILL: I have stacks of documents at home that are so convincing and"¦.
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: We have propensity to believe what we read and when you go face-to-face every day we build up a sixth sense or a degree of body language signals that we say yeah or nay, I wouldn't trust, I would trust, I'd lend you the keys to my car, there's something about - I don't know what it is but something about this bloke I wouldn't trust.
JENNY BROCKIE: Jenny, you were smiling when Brian was talking about these people are intelligent, sensible, you know, got their life together kind of people. Were you, were you connecting with that picture of yourself?
JENNY: Absolutely, yeah, yep, definitely, and also with what he just said about the sixth sense and there was often times where something would be said and like, you know, the possessiveness or even down to the fact that, oh you know, he'd lost his wife and I always thought well, I'd like to ask him that, it's not appropriate to ask someone that on-line so I'll wait till we meet.
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: One of the things Jenny that makes it so difficult is the scammers, fraudsters, scumbags, are skilled at isolating the victim from their support networks, so they become the person to which you emotionally attach and you depend upon. They have nothing left. They have no money, they have no future, they have no hope, they don't have a support network and friends and families and that's why we find a lot of people attempt suicide, consider suicide. And it's an ugly word but it's a reality.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we're talking about on-line romance fraud. Lieutenant Coronel Gordon Hannett, thank you very much for joining us, you're at a US army base in Kuwait. Now your photo is known to hundreds, and possibly thousands, of women around the world. Why?
LTC GORDON HANNETT, US ARMY: Well, they've been used in internet dating scams since about 2009.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you know how many times it's been used?
LTC GORDON HANNETT: Oh, good lord, thousands, I'm sure.
JENNY BROCKIE: Alright, we did a quick search of your photo, your image, and we found ten Facebook profiles, just very quickly, using your photos. We'll just run through them. Here you are as Mark Hannett; Michael Hannett from Virginia; Hannett Blankson from California; Glen Hannett; another Glen Hannett from Afghanistan; then we have a Hannett Glen; another Mark Hannett, a Hannett Mark, again Mark Hannett, and finally Hannett Scott in Syria. What's that like for you?
LTC GORDON HANNETT: Well, it's been irritating and frustrating. I get on Facebook almost every day and I check for scammers and I report them to Facebook and they don't always delete the scamming account. Sometimes they'll say the person has not violated Facebook standards and they'll let them continue on with their fake profile.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you know why it started with you? I mean why were you chosen for this?
LTC GORDON HANNETT: Well, another interesting thing about this is I joined Facebook in 2009 so I didn't find out about this until I got an email the second day that I was on Facebook - a women wrote to me and basically cursed me out and called me an evil person and a scammer and I had no idea what she was talking about and after that I started receiving more and more of these messages from women on Facebook. At this point I've heard from more than 550 women on Facebook through messages telling me that I've been involved, my picture has been involved in scams. I keep track of them too - I've got a notebook with all this information. But almost every day I hear from some new person about how they've been scammed by someone using my pictures.
JENNY BROCKIE: And do you have any sense of why your pictures are so appealing to fraudsters?
LTC GORDON HANNETT: Yeah. I'm not actually a handsome guy but I think the reason is that in every picture when I was in Iraq back in '05 and '06 I smiled and mostly because that was my first deployment to overseas, and my mum was a little concerned about me going to Iraq and so I made sure that in every picture I smiled, and so it looked like I was having a good time even though I wasn't having a good time.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what sort of requests are they making for money and what reasons are they giving for wanting money when they do it, when they pose as you?
LTC GORDON HANNETT: I've been in the army for 29 years now and it baffles me that people fall for some of the things they come up with. One of the most common is the leave scam where they'll tell the woman that hey, I want to come visit you or I want to come marry you even and the only way I can do it is to go on leave and the army makes me a pay a fee of $400 or $1,000 or $5,000 and I don't have the money, I don't have access to my bank account, can you pay that fee for me? Now anybody who's ever been in the military or knows anyone in the military would know that there is no such thing as a leave fee, a soldier simply turns in a form to a supervisor and he goes on leave. It's easy, but these women fall for it. And men too, there are lots of female pictures that are used by scammers as well.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tracee, did you have any doubts though, did you have doubts that this person really was who they said they were?
TRACEE: No, no doubt whatsoever. I believed everything that he said. Up until the gold. When he was courting me I believed everything that he said.
JENNY BROCKIE: Were you telling anyone about it?
TRACEE: The only person that I had to talk to was my mum and my children. My children basically didn't want to know anything about it because I actually borrowed money off one of my daughters to send to him. My mother, I spoke to her about it, my mum's quite old and quite ill, but then she was in the military and she actually said to me it seems a bit suss to me Trace, you know, like I don't think, you know, that a US marine would be going without food. But in saying that, a lot of the money had already gone or most of it had already gone. So"¦.
JENNY BROCKIE: John, tell us about the woman that you thought you'd met on the senior's dating agency website?
JOHN: Very attractive lady from, lived in Seaforth in Melbourne, she was born in Australia, went with her parents over to the States.
JENNY BROCKIE: We've got a picture here of who this person proposed to be?
JOHN: That's right"¦. Had lived in the States all her life, her uncle had a gem business or a jewellery business in Australia, he's passed away, he had no children, his wife had passed away earlier, she was apparently his favourite grand, or niece, and he willed her the business. She came to Australia to take over the business. He'd also had an agency running in Kuala Lumpar which required attention because they were, they considered that the person running the business there was stealing from them and it was her aim to go over there and to close the business down and sell the stock off and then come back to Australia.
JENNY BROCKIE: Now you'd been single for about a year?
JOHN: That's right.
JENNY BROCKIE: When you met who you thought this was?
JOHN: That's right. There was a lot of people involved in it and as I've talked with the fraud squad in WA, it's very extensive, it's very well planned, very well executed.
JENNY BROCKIE: So it started with a request for $900 for a flight to Australia?
JOHN: That's right.
JENNY BROCKIE: And then that was delayed and then there was insurance for the gems?
JOHN: That's right.
JENNY BROCKIE: That was needed and what reasons were you being given all the time that you were being asked for these tranches of money?
JOHN: The majority of the reasons were that the Customs and the Taxation Department and the Commerce Department were putting these unpaid fees and everything onto the stock that was required to be brought out. The original thing was that they had to be valued and she had certifications and valuation certifications for it, for all the stock, and the lawyer that was handling it for her was helping her with the interpretation of the language and everything for her, prepared all the paperwork and everything.
JENNY BROCKIE: Were you talking to this person?
JOHN: I spoke to the lawyer, yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you speak to her?
JOHN: I spoke occasionally"¦.
JENNY BROCKIE: Or spoke to who you thought she was?
JOHN: Who she thought she was. Communication was always very hard. Most of our communication was through typed Skype because she said in Malaysia that's the most efficient way to get through, the telephones sometimes work, they don't work, which sort of at the time I thought was a bit strange that, you know.
JENNY BROCKIE: Were you suspicious? As the requests for money started coming in, were you suspicious?
JOHN: It became a very much an urgency thing, that you know, we've got this one more hurdle, we'll get this through, I'll be on the plane and I'll be back in Australia.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you were caught up in a process really?
JOHN: It was really a snowballing process.
JENNY BROCKIE: What you thought was a process?
JENNY BROCKIE: Jenny, you talked about doubts. So how were you feeling when you were making the payments?
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you feel confident about what you were doing?
JENNY: No, absolutely not, and the last one I made I was feeling physically ill. I was just shaking. It was - I still did it though, I can't explain why.
JENNY BROCKIE: Had you told anybody what were you doing?
JENNY BROCKIE: So it was totally secret? You were doing it "¦
JENNY: Yes, it's the isolation definitely, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: What about you Bill, how were you feeling when you were making all these payments?
BILL: Anxious. Telling myself that I was a fool, a fool what I was doing.
JENNY BROCKIE: You were saying that to yourself, were you?
BILL: Yes. Well, I was sending money away that I didn't have - that I was sending money away of which I should have been using to pay the debts that I had accumulated.
JENNY BROCKIE: John, you eventually, after all of this, you know, carry on with this situation and increasing demands for money and so on, you eventually got an hysterical call from this woman who called herself Victoria and her solicitor supposedly at Kuala Lumpur airport. What did she say?
JOHN: She supposedly made the last payment, the gems had been cleared, she was walking through Customs and they, as she was walking through an Australian woman asked her if she'd assist her with a package and when she'd gone through Customs, Customs found that this supposedly had drugs in it and she was arrested for transporting of drugs.
JENNY BROCKIE: And did she ask you for money at that point?
JOHN: She was supposedly arrested by the Customs and the solicitor, her solicitor person came into the Customs and negotiated with them and for $90,000 they would let her go free.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you were asked for the 90,000?
JOHN: That's right.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you pay it?
JOHN: No. I paid some of it, but I was"¦.
JENNY BROCKIE: You paid some of it, how much?
JOHN: I paid 20,000 and that was my total end, I couldn't do anymore.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you also got a call from somebody claiming to be her sister in America?
JOHN: That's right.
JENNY BROCKIE: Also hysterical about what was going on?
JOHN: Her only sister was going to die unless I could do something about it - that she would die surely and I had to do something, otherwise I'd have blood on my hands.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you were being put under incredible pressure?
JENNY BROCKIE: Emotional pressure?
JOHN: The other call I finally had was from the supposed gem buyer.
JENNY BROCKIE: So this was an incredibly elaborate operation?
JOHN: It was elaborate. When I rang the gem buyer in America the phone number came up as a San Francisco number; her sister's number came up as a Baltimore number, so they had the phone systems and everything all worked so that it was so obvious.
JENNY BROCKIE: So every time you tried to check something it checked out or it seemed to check out?
JOHN: I even tried to do - there's a security site on the computer in America for checking out people, their identities and everything, and I went through and put all the details in and paid the $30 and that was a scam.
JENNY BROCKIE: How much money did you send to this woman called Victoria altogether?
JOHN: Approximately $380,000.
JENNY BROCKIE: Over what sort of period of time?
JOHN: Over about six months.
JENNY BROCKIE: And when did you realise you'd been scammed?
JOHN: Um, I didn't like to think of it, but the last time when she went through the Customs I just shook my head and I thought no, this can't possibly, these incidents couldn't possibly happen to one person and that was where - I think had I had the same endeavour I'd had in previous occasions to raise the money, if my heart was in it I would have still raised that money to get her out, but then I started to realise it wasn't true.
JENNY BROCKIE: How did you feel when that dawned on you?
JOHN: I had a very sick feeling. I've worked so hard for so long and there's, you just see it all within two seconds pass before your eyes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you have the money to give or did you borrow money?
JOHN: I borrowed about half of it.
JENNY BROCKIE: And where did you borrow it from?
JOHN: From friends. I've got some amazing supportive friends.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you tell them the story?
JENNY BROCKIE: And they believed it too?
JOHN: They, the most comment I got was well, if you believe it we believe it. See friends, sometimes friends are amazing things, they can do you good and they can do you bad. I wish they had of said no.
JENNY BROCKIE: Dom, you know, this case falls under your jurisdiction?
DET.SNR.SGT.DOM BLACKSHAW, WA POLICE: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you know about the scammer, do you know very much?
DET.SNR.SGT.DOM BLACKSHAW: We're learning more and we've struck up a relationship with the Economic Financial Crimes Commission in Nigeria and other law enforcement around the place. What we found in this particular case there's a certain bank account the money's gone into it. There's also other people's money going into that same bank account as well. But within law enforcement, as Brian knows too, we hit a lot of barriers too and that's already been alluded to, we don't always enjoy the same cooperation that we do within Australia when you start talking about overseas bank accounts and things.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you want to elaborate on that?
DET.SNR.SGT.DOM BLACKSHAW: Well there's certain countries obviously that just fob us off as well, that for whatever reasons, whether it's because of their own internal corruption issues or whatever else.
JENNY BROCKIE: How do you approach people you think are victims, what do you do?
DET.SNR.SGT.DOM BLACKSHAW: Within our Project Sunbird structure, we, we're able to able to identify where funds are going overseas and the initial approach made by us is the form of a letter. The letter goes to the household where the money's come from saying that if the money's going to these particular countries, and we're talking about Ghana, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Benin and Toga, they're the countries we're most focused on, if the money's going off to those places, it's highly likely you're being defrauded. If the money's still going overseas, we back it up with a second letter.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, how often do you have to back it up with a second letter?
DET.SNR.SGT.DOM BLACKSHAW: We find we're stopping about 60 percent of the people we're engaging with that first letter.
JENNY BROCKIE: And when do you get involved face-to-face?
DET.SNR.SGT.DOM BLACKSHAW: We try and prioritise, we're looking at people where we're getting information they're about to travel. We'll try and stop them from travelling. We had a very unfortunate incident or very tragic incident with a woman that did travel to South Africa and was found deceased. And we're also looking for people that are sending in the vicinity over and above $10,000, that's how we have try and prioritise and then it is home visits
JENNY BROCKIE: And how do people react?
DET.SNR.SGT.DOM BLACKSHAW: Most people don't believe. And that's, it's when you get those little bits, little snippets through simple thing like a Google image search, or something along those lines.
JENNY BROCKIE: Brian, you actually intercept people at the airport, how do they react if you try and stop them?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: Yeah, not a great deal of success.
JENNY BROCKIE: So for you it's really important to get the message out about this tonight?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: Oh look, I guarantee this program will save thousands of people across this country. If you look at the sheer volume of Australians going into dating websites, if you are on a dating website you will be approached by a fraudster. There's no if, maybe, but, it will happen.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Ken, I'm interested in just asking you about this because you're a private investigator, you don't like these cases, do you? You don't like doing them, why?
KEN GAMBLE, INTERNET FRAUD WATCHDOG: Because they're frustrating cases to work on because very difficult to get results, very difficult to recover money and also very difficult to convince the actual victims that they are a victim in the first place. There's never a happy ending that's the problem, there's never really a happy ending to these sort of cases.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we're talking about on-line romance fraud. Brian, what about the systems enabling all of this, because we've heard mention tonight of a whole lot of ways that people are meeting and making contact and so on. I'm interested in the money, how is it so easy for these vast sums of money to end up in the hands of international criminals?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: Look, we have a very efficient cash remittance process, if I want to send money to a fraudster or fraudster wants me to send money it would take two minutes, I go into a cash remittance agency and I simply fill out a form and I send it and the money's gone, it can be picked up by the crook a couple of minutes later anywhere else in the world. We see a lot of money being transmitted through banks, electronic transfers and that's where we see some of the big sums. It won't be a $10,000 transfer it could be $250,000 transfers.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well I know most of the cases here, not yours Jenny but I think all the others went through Western Union, is that right?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: Western Union's the largest in the world, they've got more outlets than anywhere else, and I daresay that's one of the reasons that they're so used.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what do you think of the way that they do business and the role they play?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: I think the cash remittance agency can stand up a bit more. We've been to Western Union, I've been to MoneyGram; Western Union put their hands up to come forward and actually do some education processes with us. A couple of years ago they launched a safe program. Is that enough? You know, poor old copper from Queensland allowed to have an opinion? I'd suggest no it's not personally.
JENNY BROCKIE: What would you like them to be doing?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: Well I think not just Western Union but the whole banking finance industry needs to get up and say hang on a sec, we've got a responsibility under anti-money laundering legislation to know our customer.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Lyn Walker's here from Western Union. You do emphasise speed with the transfers, I mean you sell your business on the basis that you can collect money transferred internationally within minutes. Are you making it too easy for this to happen?
LYNNE WALKER, WESTERN UNION: It's a good question Jenny. I mean essentially our business is built around being able to service a customer base where people have families back home that are relying on money and they're the majority of our customer base, are people who are genuine customers, that are living in this country, working in this country and are trying to send money back to their families. So the question is do we deliberately slow everything down for the sake of what might be a fraud transaction to the detriment of all those genuine customers?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: Look, I'd say on high risk countries such as Benin and Toga, Nigeria, Ghana, why not put a 48 hour time delay on it to give some, a cooling off period and recommend that that client go get some base because I can show the stats and the majority of the money that goes to those countries is fraud.
LYNNE WALKER: Sure.
JENNY BROCKIE: Hasn't Western Union just made it easier to transfer money to Nigeria?
LYNNE WALKER: I did see that information come through, that there are, there are going to be some new services available in Nigeria.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think about the idea of in some countries slowing it down and doing a bit of an investigation?
LYNNE WALKER: We, we do have a lot of controls in Western Union now. We have education both before a customer sends a transaction, we have education during the transaction and we also have back office controls. So essentially when you go to Western Union, you can't send a transfer without seeing a little quiz that we have on the forms that say do you know who you're sending to? Is this supposedly to pay for a lotteries - a lottery win and a series of little questions. We also train our staff to ask questions and obviously we give them a lot of guidance around suspicious transactions. And then at the back end we have transaction monitoring so the troublesome jurisdictions are the ones that obviously we're looking at in terms of volumes and things like that.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, I know Jenny you tried to transfer money through Western Union and you had to go somewhere else because they wouldn't let you, is that right?
JENNY: That's right.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you went ahead anyway, even though you had a warning from them?
JENNY: Guess who I called? - "Hopeless Romantic Garry".
JENNY BROCKIE: "Hopeless Romantic Garry" to get advice on how to do it?
LYNNE WALKER: I've got say that it's true, a lot of customers push back very strongly when we try and deliver that message. We can’t put in so many roadblocks that our genuine customers are being impacted by that.
TRACEE: I just think that we need more of a duty of care over the individual by all banks and Western Union, MoneyGram.
JENNY BROCKIE: But the individual has to be alert to this stuff too?
TRACEE: I know, I sent most of my money through a reputable bank. Not once was I asked. Do you know where the money's going?
JENNY BROCKIE: So you felt like it was too easy for you to do?
TRACEE: Very easy, very easy.
JENNY BROCKIE: What about the role of dating websites in all of this, what do people think? We've talked a little bit about that. What do you think about that Jenny, you went on RSVP initially?
JENNY: I've been on a few. RSVP mostly, yeah, that's where I - the person contacted me.
JENNY BROCKIE: That's where you met "Hopelessly Romantic Garry"?
JENNY: Yes, that's where I met him. He might be for all we know. I just sort of feel from what I've learnt since then that it is very, very easy to create a profile that is completely fictitious with a stolen photo. There is no requirement to prove who you are or to supply ID, and I think that's something probably missing because everywhere else in Australia, in financial institutions, whatever we do, you know, to put your mail on hold or redirect your mail, you have to have ID, and there's this one thing where there's a huge gap where you can use a fake name, a fake photo, a fake birth date and away you go. At no stage is there any requirement.
JENNY BROCKIE: We have tried to contact all the dating agencies that were involved in these stories that you've heard tonight, RSVP wouldn't come on tonight but theirs other responses will be on our website for anybody who'd like to have a look at what some of the agencies have to say. Now Dave, you did come on, you're CEO of Oasis.com which is a free on-line dating website. How often do you find fraudsters on your site?
DAVE HEYSEN, CEO OASIS.COM: Look, we take this matter extremely seriously - we want to provide the best user experience. In terms of finding fraudsters, look, we have, I guess we have a four pronged attack to this which is we have invested very heavily, and by heavily I mean millions of dollars in technology that we've customised to actually try and block out as many not getting there in the first place. We then actually pick up what we think is the rest within about two or three minutes. We"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: How do you find them?
DAVE HEYSEN: Look, there's a number of ways. The IP address is one of them. There's certain behavioural traits that we can look for, there's certain, I guess, email addresses in particular traits that they do. What we need to do is try and educate people which is great we're having shows like this and that's why we're not afraid to come on this show. We provide a lot of information on our site and one of the major points here is if someone asks you to jump off our site you should bring - that should ring alarm bells with you because all of a sudden they're trying to get off something that is going to eventually capture them.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you do automatic Google image searches of everybody to make sure they are who they say they are?
DAVE HEYSEN: Our customer care staff has a direct link into Google images when we're manually approving everything. So everything gets manually approved before it gets published.
JENNY BROCKIE: They have a direct link but do they use it?
DAVE HEYSEN: Absolutely.
JENNY BROCKIE: On every photo?
DAVE HEYSEN: Absolutely, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah?
DAVE HEYSEN: Not on every photo, no.
JENNY BROCKIE: Brian, what are the chances of fraud survivors seeing the perpetrator ever go to court or any kind of justice?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: Well, we have, I'll tell you now, it's slim, but we have probably had, I think between Ghana and Nigerian, Malaysia over thirty arrests over stings we've set up so far. A couple last year we caught working with the economic and organised crime office in Ghana, a couple of perpetrators Bill's matter. Our first one in Nigeria got 19 years imprisonment.
JENNY BROCKIE: But it's not common for people get their money back?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: It's not common.
JENNY BROCKIE: Or to see someone go to court?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: I always tell them you'll never see your money again because I don't want to give false hope. These people have lived enough false hope, it would wrong for me to put them in a position where they think there's a glimmer. Get on with, you know.
JENNY BROCKIE: Jenny, you're one of the very, Jenny you're one of the very unusual pones, you have got some of your money back very recently. How much?
JENNY: As of a phone call today, 40 percent of what I sent.
JENNY BROCKIE: You got a phone call today?
JENNY BROCKIE: And there's been an arrest in your case, just this month?
JENNY: So I've been told, yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Dom, what do you know about what's happening here?
DET.SNR.SGT.DOM BLACKSHAW: Yeah, at the moment in Nigeria they have apprehended someone and Jenny, through her own endeavours, as I was saying before, it's not because of anything we've done as a police agency to get the money back, she's taken on her own endeavours to achieve that result.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, we are going to have to wrap up. I know Delia, the ACCC is making this a priority, isn't it, why?
DELIA RICKARD, ACCC DEPUTY CHAIR: Because we've been seeing the complaints and the money lost grow year by year. 2009 it was 600 complaints, 6 million; last year it was 25 million and over 2000 people contacting us. And we've been doing a lot of education but clearly education alone isn't enough. We're really impressed by the disruption work that's been going on in WA and in Queensland and we think we need to do more to help notify consumers elsewhere in Australia that they may be victims of scam and also more work, working with the enablers, be they the dating websites, the money remitters, the Facebooks, the email services that allow it to happen.
JENNY BROCKIE: Could those enablers, as you call them, be doing a lot more?
DELIA RICKARD: Some stuff's being done but yes, I think clearly more could be done and I know Brian and others have also been working on this. So we want to look generally at that to see what sort of systemic solutions we can put in place to try and, you know, cut down the opportunities of these scammers.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. Jenny, you say you can pick a fake profile a mile off now. What should people like for?
JENNY: Well, if it's a lady looking for a gentleman between 50 and 60, he'll probably say he has no children for a start, he'll be widowed, possibly separated, divorced but there's no baggage to speak of. If he's saying he's in Australia, he won't be from Australia. He'll usually be someone in mining or certainly in my area he'll be in mining or something like that and you can really start, if you read enough of them you'll pick the language, it's poor English or the profile will be very much about what I would like to do for a woman, not like a typical Aussie bloke, I like barbecues and water skiing sort of thing. So yeah, I think"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Beware of poetry?
JENNY: If you read it, and also in the selection criteria they'll be happy with a woman that fits every category there is. You know, no punctuation, no, you know, the grammar is poor, things like that. If anyone's communicating with someone whose music tastes are U2, Uncle Cracker and Norah Jones, stop now.
JENNY BROCKIE: That combination?
JENNY: That combination.
JENNY BROCKIE: There are many reasons, anyway, we won't go there. Brian, what should raise alarm bells for people?
DET. SUPT. BRIAN HAY: They're overseas, you know, keep your love domestic. I know that in Jenny's case there that this person claimed to be from Perth but you know what? They couldn't be contacted there. So never send money overseas. Check your images that you receive on this person, do a Google image search, do a ten I image search, if you can dig in the internet you'll find ways to check and identify the IP address and all of a sudden they claim to be in the UK but the IP's bouncing back from Lagos, Nigeria, you know you've got a problem. You've actually got to take a little pill called cynicism, take it a couple of times a day and question anything on the internet.
JENNY BROCKIE: John, how, what do you think now when you look at this period of your life, this slice of your life?
JOHN: I think I went from a teenager to a very old man very quickly. I no longer have the same, and I take the point of taking a cynicism tablet but I've always been very open with people, very caring and sharing and wanting to help someone that's seemingly in trouble. Now I always ask three or more questions more than what I normally would. But in reverse to the whole situation, I through the dating site actually met a very nice person who I've now been in a relationship now for six months and we're sharing a good time together. And she is a real person, which is, returns a little bit faith in human nature.
JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah. Tracee, what about you?
TRACEE: I've lost trust completely.
JENNY BROCKIE: If you'd been warned when you were in love, would you have listened to anyone, when you were in love with this photo?
TRACEE: Yes, I'd never even heard of a dating scam. I led a fairly sheltered life as far as the internet was concerned - I never, ever used it. Now my life, as far as I'm concerned, I don't trust anybody. I have barriers all the way around me. I don't believe that I will ever be able to chip away at that wall ever again in my life. It's, it's really destroyed my life.
JENNY BROCKIE: Bill, what about you, how do you feel when you look at this slice of your life?
BILL: I wait until I wake up of a morning and find out whether I have to live that day or not and I find out what I do during that day. I hope that I'll wake up tomorrow morning, but I have very little left and very little time to accumulate anything again. So I've dished myself out what I have and I have to make do with that.
JENNY BROCKIE: Incredibly brave of you to come on tonight, all of you, I mean really extraordinarily brave and really worthwhile I think for a lot of people watching to hear these stories so thank you so much. Jenny, I just want to finish with you, how do you feel looking back at this period of your life?
JENNY: Yeah. If someone had told me the middle of October that I'd be sitting here now for this reason, I would have said rubbish.
JENNY BROCKIE: This was just October last year?
JENNY: Yeah, well December I found out. But I guess it's just what happened but I was very fortunate to have three amazing children and some great friends and my daughter actually said mum, don't let this define you because this is not what you are and don't let it define the way other people see you and that gave me a lot.
JENNY BROCKIE: It's a good message to end on I think and thank you very much too for sharing your story. Great of all of you to be here and that is all we have time for here. As I said you can go to our website to got some responses from some of the organisations mentioned tonight but do let's keep talking on Twitter and Facebook about this as well. I really am interested in what you have to say about what you've heard tonight.