Grandfather scammed out of $300,000 by online 'girlfriend'

Jordan Cutts and Emma Canavan

A Perth grandfather has lost over $300,000 in an online romance scam.

The 80-year-old reversed his mortgage to send money overseas to a woman posing as his online girlfriend.

The scam is one of many ways international criminals are finding to target Australians.

Robert thought he had found a credible relationship on the internet but it turned out to be a scam that cost him over $300,000. Photo: 7 News

The victim in this case, known only as ‘Robert’, thought he had found a credible relationship on the internet.

Over two years, the grandfather transferred funds to a woman pretending to be his online girlfriend.

“The thing that gets to you the most is the betrayal of trust,” Robert said.

The elaborate romance scam saw him reverse his mortgage and empty his savings.

“It’s brought me back to having to exist on not very much at all,” he said.

The cautionary tale came as WA’s commerce minister released figures on scam and consumer fraud In Western Australia that showed 456 people lost money in scams in 2015.

Most transferred cash to international criminals in west African countries.

Most internet scams targeting Western Australia were operating out of west African countries. Photo: 7 News

Detective Sergeant Steve Potter said once the money was sent, “it's very difficult to retrieve”.

While the number of fraud victims had halved compared to 2014, the figures showed romance and relationship scams topped the list last year, with $4.9m paid out.

For Robert, it all started with a message on an online dating site from a woman who claimed to be half-German, half-Brazilian.

After striking up what he thought was an online relationship, Robert was conned into sending various amounts of money. Photo: 7 News

“If you’re looking for a real relationship and it looks like that’s starting to happen, you go along with it,” he said.

His hope was that she would come to visit him in Australia and if it worked out she would apply for a visa to stay.

She started requesting money in small amounts for things like clothes and “university fees for a supposed sister”.

“Then it developed into me paying for visa applications, airfares, the cost of transferring valuables to Australia, which all amounted to a fairly substantial amount,” he said.

“You start to get worried about what’s happening, you ask yourself why isn’t she coming out to see me?”

The scam was brought to a conclusion in December when Robert responded to a second letter from the Department of Commerce.

The WA figures showed how scammers are finding new ways to target people’s money.

Losses doubled to almost $87,000 in accommodation scams, with holidaymakers falling for fake online ads.

Inheritance scams surged to $1.5m as victims paid fees to have funds released that did not exist.

Robert’s advice to online users is clear and simple: “Don’t send money to people you’ve never met”.

If that is not enough, the videos below might offer greater insight into the world of scamming.

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