Caught up in the love net

AS the owners of internet dating site Global Love, Jacki Hendry and Kelly Lowry know a lot about love rats.

Using an old photo or exaggerating your achievements are some of the minor problems, but internet fraudsters, mostly based in Africa, are now using social networking sites such as Facebook and dating sites to prise thousands of dollars out of the love-lorn.

Internet fraud will be the focus of the National Advance Fee Fraud Symposium to be held on the Gold Coast this weekend. High-level police and fraud investigators from locations as diverse as the United States, The Netherlands and Nigeria will be in attendance.

Many of the frauds, such as the “Nigerian letter” are well known. It involves the target sending thousands of dollars to help a person in desperate straits transfer millions of dollars out of the country they are trapped in.

The love scams take a predictable path.

The man on the other end of the email is a handsome British businessman, but a business deal in Africa has gone sour and he ended up in jail. He then asks his internet sweetheart to send him a few thousand dollars to bribe his way out of the country. Mr Romeo is really in Africa, but the only business he is operating is a “love scam”.

Two years ago, in a rare win, a Nigerian man was jailed for 19 years after defrauding a Gold Coast woman of $47,000.

Detective Inspector Jason Saunders of the Queensland Police said that “love scams” were a growing menace, but established scams such as a promised inheritance, oil investments and lottery wins were “all still strong”.

Protecting their site and their customers is an important part of their business for the Currumbin-based Global Love pair, and when it comes to fraud they have some strong words for the romantically inclined.

“Don't trust a photo and don't get lost in love,” said Ms Hendy. “And don't ever send money to anybody.”

As Global Love is a relatively small site, they can track where potential Romeos come from and monitor their mail usage. Sending multiple messages to many recipients is one of the warning signs, as is men or women who offer undying love and devotion before even meeting in real life.

Others are too good to be true, such as young and beautiful woman showing interest in a much-older man, or men who are rich and successful but “just can't meet the right woman”. “People should trust their intuition,” said Ms Lowry

She cautioned that anyone who felt doubtful about someone they were dealing with on a website should contact the operators of the business and “don't be afraid to ask questions” of their new love.

Mr Saunders said policing the area is difficult, as many victims were too embarrassed to speak up.

Mr Saunders said there were also cases of victims defrauding others in turn, in an effort to get back the money they believe they are owed.

Police became aware of the problems after banks notified them of the amount of money going from Queensland to Nigeria, and they believe more than 80 per cent is going toward scams. Across Australia, the figure of fee-forward scams is now $42 million.

Mr Saunders said that in a world first, Queensland Police has now created an on-line reporting system, similar to that used to report on-line auction scams.

He said early results were positive and, in an ironic twist, people who had been too embarrassed to report scams felt more comfortable with the anonymity provided by the internet.

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