Thursday, January 08, 2015

Woman Scammed Starts Support Group for Survivors of Online Dating Fraud

by Simon Leo Brown

(AUS)  In 2010 Jan Marshall tried online dating, and soon after met a man she thought she would spend the rest of her life with. 

Less than two months later he disappeared, leaving her heartbroken and in thousands of dollars of debt. 

"I just took everything on face value – I wanted to be loved by a man, I wanted to be taken care of by a man," said Ms Marshall.

Now Ms Marhsall, who trained as a social worker, is starting a support group so survivors of online dating fraud can meet and talk about their experiences.

"Just in the talking and hearing themselves talk, there is a healing process," she said. 

By the time she discovered she had been conned, Ms Marshall had paid out more than $250,000.
Her ordeal started soon after she moved to Melbourne to be closer to her family.  "I had a job organised down here before I came, so I was feeling pretty good about myself and decided that I wanted someone to explore Victoria with," said Ms Marshall.

She signed up for online dating site Plenty of Fish, and shortly after was contacted by a man named Eamon, who claimed to be an English civil engineer living in the USA.  "I was a bit surprised [by] somebody contacting me from so far away, when I was clearly saying I wanted somebody to explore Melbourne with, but we continued to communicate," she said.

Over the next month Eamon expressed a keen interest in Ms Marshall, and soon began professing his love for her.

"They bomb you with love," she said.  "This was somebody I felt I could marry and spend the rest of my life with."

"They make sure they take up a lot of your time and they isolate you from your friends," said Ms Marshall.  "If your friends say watch out for this guy, they say 'don't listen to that friend; what we have between us is special and they will never understand'."

She said the late nights left her tired, lowering her defences.

By this time the man claimed to have gone to Dubai to take up a short-term work contract, after which he said he would come Australia to be with her.

It was then that he started to ask for money.

"In Dubai there were an increasing number of problems that he needed financial support for," said Ms Marshall.

"There was supposedly a cheque he had received for the work which he couldn't cash because it needed to go into his bank in England."  He also said he needed money to pay taxes or they wouldn't let him leave the country.  "I gave him money for the taxes and that night he was attacked and he lost the money."

Just as she thought she had paid his way out of the country, he claimed to have a car accident on the way to the airport. 

"The next thing he's in hospital needing money for medical treatment," said Ms Marshall.

Finally, just after he told Ms Marshall he had left Dubai, he cut off all contact.

"I realised it was a scam," she said.

Ms Marshall was left thousands of dollars in debt.

"Some of it was personal savings, some of it was increases in my credit cards, and finally when I was getting desperate I took money out of my self-managed super fund, which I was not allowed to do."
The tax office made her close the fund down and demanded she pay tax on the amount she withdrew.  "I've ended up with a tax debt of over $70,000," she said.

"I've got absolutely no idea how I'll pay it because my job was made redundant last August."
She hopes to find a publisher for a book she has written about her experience.
Ms Marshall used reputable companies to transfer the money, but police later discovered the funds had been diverted to Nigeria. 

Seeking out support, Ms Marshall discovered a number of online resources for victims of so-called romance scams.

However, Ms Marshall feels the word "scam" underplays the seriousness of the crime she and others have suffered. 

"We are subject to fraud from professional fraudsters," said Ms Marshall.   'I had been put in a thrall, hypnotised in a sense. I understood later how effective they are at the fraud and how professional they are.  It creates an environment where people don't share, don't talk about it."

She said she "basically became a hermit" after the experience, and it has affected her ability to meet another man.

"It's very hard to trust," she said. "It's very hard to share what's going on with you because it's so awful."

Potential partners found it difficult to relate to her story.

"The couple of people I did meet and share that with, they're aghast," she said.  "I've never spoken to anybody else who's been impacted by a scam the way I was," said Ms Marshall.

That will soon change.

On New Year's Day Ms Marshall started a new group on the social networking site Meet-Up where people who have experienced an online dating scam could meet and talk. 

More than a dozen people have joined the group, and the first meeting is planned for January 15, 2014 
Ms Marshall was inspired to start the support group after seeing a similar group in Queensland.  "The ability to talk to others who have had the same experience is a very healing thing," she said.

No comments: