The Lure of Romance Scams

Scams online

The Lure of Romance Scams

Many are aware of the risks associated with online dating. Many scams occur on online dating platforms and it is crucial that users are aware of them. According to Scamwatch, this year alone has 1687 reports of online dating scams with over one third reporting financial loss. The estimated total financial loss is in the vicinity of over $17 million in 2020 so far. It is lucrative and relatively easy to obtain money from strangers online as many people on such platforms are simply looking for love. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs puts love as the third most important need for humans after physiological needs (food, water, clothing) and safety. Given that Australia is a rich and advanced country, most of the population can have their first two needs met, which leaves Australians who are looking for intimacy and love an open target for romance scams.

The lure of easy cash was too much for a Sydney based woman who was allegedly part of a syndicate which scammed $9.7 million out of people looking for love. The State Crime Command’s Financial Crimes Squad detectives uncovered a sophisticated romance scam whereby multiple men were defrauded after connecting with a woman through online dating platforms. The operation targeted the Australian-Thai community whereby the woman allegedly portrayed herself online as studying to be a doctor, lawyer and pilot and used the victim’s emotions to obtain their personal information. It is alleged that victims gave their personal information to her in pursuit of a romantic relationship only to find out that their information has been used for loan and credit card applications. She also allegedly used victim’s personal information to register a business to further obtain loans and conduct other fraudulent activity, profiting over $670,000.

Imagine if someone you loved and trusted used your personal information to incur debt in your name without your knowledge. It is sickening to think about, but it is fairly common.

The woman was charged with 62 offences including 25 counts of dishonestly obtain financial information or cause disadvantage by deception and 23 charges of deal with identification information to commit an indictable offence. She was refused bail at Burwood Local Court.

THE LAW

Section 192 of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) (‘CA’) deals with Fraud. If a person who, by any deception, dishonestly obtains property belonging to another, or obtains any financial advantage or causes any financial disadvantage is liable for imprisonment for up to 10 years.

Similarly, where a person who deals in identification information with the intention of committing, or of facilitating the commission of, an indictable offence, he or she is liable for 10 years imprisonment according to section 192J of the CA.

Considering the number of charges and the type of offences, it is likely the Director of Public Prosecutions (‘DPP’) will be taking on the matter. This means the process for justice to occur for the heartbroken and distraught victims will take a considerably longer amount of time. Unfortunately, the victims are unlikely to see all the money that they lost to return.

THE COURT PROCESS

When the DPP takes on matters, the process of the Early Appropriate Guilty Plea is initiated. This process means that the accused does not need to enter a plea to the charges until police serve all the evidence that they have on the accused. Typically, this takes around 2 months but given that there are 62 charges, in this case, it is likely to take more time. Once all the evidence is served on the accused, the matter is then pushed further to allow negotiations of the charges. After negotiations, the DPP ‘certifies’ which charges they will proceed with. It is likely that not all offences initially charged will actually make it to court.

After the DPP decides on the charges, the accused is then brought before the court to enter a plea of either guilty or not guilty. If a plea of guilty is entered, then the accused will be brought before the Court to be sentenced.

If the accused enters a plea of not guilty, then the matter will be set down for trial. Given the backlog due to the Covid-19 pandemic, it is unlikely a trial date for such a serious matter will be listed this year.

HOW TO STAY SAFE ONLINE

If someone approaches you online and expresses that they love you, it is extremely likely that it is a scam. Scams often have an elaborate story designed to play on your emotions. They will often ask for gifts, money to ‘help’ with family or other personal matters. They may also keep making excuses as to why they cannot meet up in person. The best way to protect yourself online is to simply never send money to someone you have not met in person and never transfer money for someone else. Never give your credit card details or personal information to strangers online. While this may seem like common sense, sometimes the need to be loved becomes so strong that even the most cynical can be blinded.

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