Scammed out of $250k


A Nelson woman has been conned out of $250,000 in an on-line friendship that turned out to be a scam.

It’s the latest in the long, and increasing, line of Nelson people who are falling victim to online scammers, mainly via dating or companion websites. Age Concern Nelson manager Sue Tilby says the problem has been growing over the past year, as trusting older people get more and more computer-savvy.

Sue says the quarter of a million dollar rip-off is the biggest she has heard of locally and that it took place over a year, with the amounts the victim sent growing over time. “The person was in denial and has still not totally accepted that it was a scam.”

Loneliness is a common factor in the cases Age Concern has dealt with and Sue says older people tend to be more trusting, so are open to scammers.

“Older people tend to think that the computer is a trustworthy piece of equipment. It’s quite sad because we want them to get computer savvy because it’s an extension of life, but this is one of the down sides.”

In another case, a Nelson man made a group of “friends” online who later scammed him. But Sue says it’s an ongoing case as he still believes he hasn’t been scammed. “He considered that they had his best interests at heart and as that friendship developed, so did the scamming. It’s very serious.”

Nelson internet safety expert John Parsons, says he’s not surprised as he’s also dealt with an increasing number of cases where scammers are fooling locals. In one case he worked on, a Nelson woman sent $28,000 to a scammer off-shore.
“When I met her she was on the verge of losing $100,000. By the end of working with that family we had to reformat the computers, had to change the land line and we had to give her another cellphone. We had to alert all the other members of her family because she’d given up personal information about all of them during the forming of the relationship.”

He says that personal information will be sold to a “suckers list” and they’d be targeted in the future by other scammers.

Scammers aim to create a dependency in the relationship, through love or affection, and they’ll then fake illness and say they need money for medical fees. The victim will then send $5000, or $7000 and the amount grows from there.

What makes it worse is that many of the people scammed are contacted six months later by someone claiming to be a lawyer or judge from the country where the scammers live. They’ll say if the victim sends over $5000 they will represent them in court to try and get their money back. John says it’s called a “reload” in the industry.

Both John and Sue say many of the victims refuse to accept they’ve been had. “It’s really difficult because people hold so much value in this new-found friendship” says Sue.

“These people are so plausible, and feed all the right information to them and offer that friendship.”

Other scams that people are falling for here in Nelson include replying to spam emails asking for bank account details or passwords.

Police say there’s not much they can do to help because most of the scammers are off-shore and can’t be tracked down.

In response to the increasing number of victims, Age Concern Nelson is hosting a seminar this month called Scam Savvy. It’s aimed at educating people around online scams and will be held at Trafalgar Pavilion. Age Concern are hoping for around 120 to listen to Bronwyn Groot, who is flying in to speak on Thursday, August 21, from 1.30pm.

John says SeniorNet also runs internet safety courses and they can be contacted at www.senior or 548 9401.