In an alarming revelation that underscores the sinister underbelly of online dating, a trio from Gold Coast has been apprehended in connection with a ruthless romance scam. This well-orchestrated operation exploited the loneliness of unsuspecting men, draining them of thousands of dollars over an eight-month period.
The Unraveling of a Deceitful Web
Detectives from the Cairns Criminal Investigation Branch (CIB) have dug deep into a troubling romance scam and are now seeking public assistance in their ongoing pursuit of justice. The alleged fraud unfolded between June 2022 and February 2023, during which time three men were ensnared in the deceptive web, losing nearly half a million dollars collectively.
The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing: How the Scam Worked
The masterminds behind this scam employed cunning tactics, using misleading personal advertisements to lure in men in their 70s who were on the quest for companionship. These lonely hearts believed they were investing in a legitimate dating service. Upon responding to the ads, they made payments and were introduced to a woman who claimed to be a widow in her 50s. This woman then spun a web of lies, demanding large payments to break free from a fabricated work contract.
One victim from the Toowoomba region suffered a loss of approximately $42,000. Upon suspecting foul play, he sought advice from a friend who encouraged him to report the matter to ReportCyber, leading to police intervention in February 2023.
Another victim, residing in the Cassowary Coast region, bore the brunt of even greater financial losses, amounting to $343,500. After the scammers cut off contact, he reported the incident to Cairns Police Station in March 2023.
The Long Arm of the Law Catches Up
Following comprehensive investigations, on July 25, detectives executed search warrants at two homes in Benowa on the Gold Coast, leading to the arrest of two women. A third search warrant was executed at a property in Mermaid Beach.
During these searches, investigators discovered $79,200 in cash stashed away within pillows at one of the Benowa properties. Further evidence led detectives to a third victim, a man in his 50s from Western Australia, who had allegedly been swindled out of over $111,000.
In total, an astonishing sum of $496,578 had been deceitfully extracted from the three victims.
Legal Consequences: Charges and Court Proceedings
A 52-year-old woman from Benowa faces multiple charges, including five counts of fraud and one count each of receiving tainted property, possessing tainted property, and contravening an order about access to information stored electronically. Another 29-year-old woman from Benowa has been slapped with five counts of fraud. Both are due to appear before Southport Magistrates Court on October 3.
On August 4, a 52-year-old man from Mermaid Beach turned himself in at Broadbeach Police Station. He has been charged with four counts of fraud and is scheduled to appear before Southport Magistrates Court on September 18.
The Path to Justice and Victim Support
Investigations into this alleged fraudulent dating service continue, with detectives urging anyone with information to step forward. Detective Sergeant Matthew Hogan of the Far North High Risk Investigations Team emphasized that anyone can fall prey to scams and urged victims to seek support and report such incidents.
Support services and resources are available for victims of fraud, including resources and links on IDCare. If you suspect you’re a victim of a scam, immediately notify your financial institution and report the matter to ReportCyber. Remember, you’re not alone, and help is at hand through organizations like Lifeline at 13 11 14.
The Bottom Line
This harrowing case underscores the crucial need for vigilance and awareness in online interactions. Scammers may be cunning and ruthless, but with the support of law enforcement agencies like the Queensland Police Service, they can be brought to justice, and victims can receive the support they so rightly deserve.