Saturday, August 25, 2012
ANOTHER ONLINE DATING FRAUD NIGHTMARE
by Chris Brooke
(U.K.) After her husband of 26 years died of cancer Dena White thought she had found her dream man on the internet - a dashing major general in the U.S. army.
In reality the 52 year old's romance was a hoax created by a cruel African fraudster - a fact she discovered after he succeeded in tricking her into remortgaging her home and handing over £50,000. (note: they aren't all African - many are just cyberpath predators looking for money, sex or kicks)
The mother-of-two thought she was helping 'Steve Moon' - who the fraudster represented with a picture of U.S. Infantry division commander Major General John Batiste - in a legal dispute over the impounding of his war medals.
The fraudster convinced her he could not get access to his cash because he was serving in Iraq and she agreed to provide the money he needed. Three weeks later police knocked on her door to reveal she had become the latest victim of a massive worldwide 'rom con' against lonely middle-aged women.
She said:'Hindsight is a beautiful thing. Of course I feel silly and embarrassed but I was lonely, vulnerable and wanted to find love so it was easy to fall for. When someone you love asks for help, you want to do anything you can.'
It all began when Mrs White, of Market Weighton, East Yorkshire, registered with well known website DatingDirect.com and within weeks had been contacted by a Steve Moon – who claimed to be a Major General in the US forces. The pair were soon chatting online for hours each day and she fell in love with the 50-year-old serviceman who claimed to be going back to the frontline in Iraq to help train their police force. He told her his wife had died and that he had a young son. He would even chat to her youngest child Emma, 11.
Mrs White said:'Of course I was wary but everything he told me seemed to check out. The US were sending retired officers back to Iraq to help train the police and I even checked the address he gave me in the States and a widower called Steve Moon was registered there with a son. We started chatting on instant messengers for hours every day. He’d send me poetry. It sounds silly now but we were in love. He was going to come to the UK when he was done in Iraq and then I was planning to have a holiday in America to be with him. It seemed very romantic.'
After eight months, in August 2009, ‘Steve’ asked her if he could have a parcel containing his war memorabilia and medals, delivered to her house by a diplomat. Mrs White agreed and spoke to the man she believed to be a diplomat on the phone several times before being told that customs had impounded the parcel and it would cost £3,000 to retrieve.
'I didn't think it through': The fraudster persuaded her to transfer £45,000 in a legal dispute over his medals. She agreed to pay the bill, however weeks later she was told it would cost around £45,000 for the parcel to be changed into her name so she could receive it on his behalf.
'I was worried but he didn’t give me time to think it through properly. That’s what they do. I remortgaged the house. He promised to repay me as soon as he was back in the US and I thought I was protecting myself by transferring the money through a bank.'
It was at this point that police told her the truth about the internet scam.
'At first I couldn’t believe it,' said Mrs White, a former distribution manager. After further internet research she realised the profile picture of her 'new love' was actually a high-ranking soldier whose image was used for an advertising campaign.
Mrs White, who is seriously ill with COPD, a chronic lung disease, was forced to sell her home and downsize to a property which she now also stands to lose because of the crippling debts she has been left with. The man said to have conned her, 31-year-old Ghanaian Maurice Asola Fadola, was arrested in May 2010. He is now awaiting trial in Nigeria after allegedly scamming at least £771,000 from five women.
'Because I am now seen as an easy target my details have been sold on to other fraudsters so I’m regularly contacted by scammers. Now I talk to them to find out what new methods and technology they are using to help warn others. I would just tell people to meet people in person and never ever send money to anyone who contacts you online.'
Colin Woodcock from the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) said:'In a romance fraud the vulnerability is that the victim is someone looking for love, so the fraudster knows how to exploit them. But we're not just talking about vulnerable people being caught by this. Intelligent people are duped as well.'