Ruth Robertson, 65, Buninyong, Vic
Logging on to my computer, I had a new message.
I came across your page and really like your photos, it read.
My heart skipped a beat! I’d recently joined a dating website and this message looked promising. It was from a friendly, grey-haired man called Jeff Thomas, and his profile said he lived in Sydney. He was so handsome!
Chatting more, I discovered his wife had died of cancer years earlier and he was lonely. I could relate. Months earlier, my marriage of 25 years had ended. Heartbroken, I’d moved from Queensland to Victoria with my son Ben, 26. My other five children were leading lives of their own, and I often felt lonely too.
After a few messages, Jeff suggested we talk on the telephone. Hearing his smooth voice, I noticed he had quite a strong accent.
‘My mum was Australian but my dad was Polish, so I spent most of my childhood there,’ he said.
As we chatted more, I was surprised by how much we had in common. Every time I expressed an interest in something, Jeff loved it too! I also discovered he worked as a construction engineer. He was managing the build of a railway bridge in Malaysia. Once it was finished, he would get a $15.7 million payment. Handsome and successful – Jeff was the perfect package!
After a few weeks, I could feel myself falling for him. Jeff said he felt the same. ‘You’re so beautiful,’ he told me.
'I could feel myself falling for him...'
Unfortunately, the camera on his laptop wasn’t working, so when we spoke on Skype I couldn’t see him. I was dying to meet him in person!
Then one day Jeff told me he was flying to Malaysia for work. ‘Shall I fly up to meet you before you leave?’ I asked.
‘I don’t think I’ll have time,’ he told me.
Once Jeff got to Malaysia, barely an hour went by where we didn’t talk. Each day he’d send me photos of the progress he’d made with the build. Then one day Jeff called in a panic.
‘My wallet’s been stolen,’ he said. It turned out Jeff had taken $75,000 cash to pay his workers and had been robbed on his way home. They’d also taken all his bank cards and credit cards.
‘It’s going to take 10 days to get new ones,’ he told me.
Stranded in a foreign country with no money, Jeff asked if I would be able to wire him $1300 to tide him over. He was in a desperate situation, so I transferred him the money right away. Then things got worse for him.
‘The thieves drained $350,000 from my bank account and maxed out my credit cards,’ he told me.
Feeling sorry for him, I transferred $600 more, but it wasn’t enough.
‘I need another $15,000 to pay the builders’ wages,’ Jeff said. ‘They’ve downed tools until they get paid.’
By now Jeff was frantic. I wanted to help in any way I could. But $15,000 was so much money! Still, I loved Jeff and he assured me he’d pay it back. He even sent me a scan of his passport to reassure me he was who he said he was. So I sent it through. But sadly the $15,000 still wasn’t enough to get him out of trouble.
‘I really want to come home but because I haven’t finished the bridge, the authorities are going to arrest me,’ he said. He was sobbing down the phone. I hated to hear him so bereft.
‘How can I help?’ I asked.
That’s when Jeff mentioned a solicitor. The problem was he’d need $8000 to pay him. I’d already sent over my life savings, so I drained my credit card and wired money to Jeff’s solicitor. Thankfully, he managed to save Jeff from being put in prison but he still wasn’t allowed to leave Malaysia. Then Jeff’s solicitor called me.
‘He needs $20,000 to escape. If you give us the deed to your house then we can get money against it,’ he suggested.
Escape? That sounded illegal. I didn’t want to break the law! Before I had time to think, another man called.
‘I’m Jeff’s accountant,’ he said.
He had a suggestion of how I could help Jeff, who he said was still trapped in Kuala Lumpur Airport.
‘Fly to Sydney,’ he said. ‘I’ve got $200,000 which you can strap to your body and board a flight to Malaysia.’
'Strap $200,000 to your body and fly to Malaysia...'
I was so shocked I started laughing! I’d worked as an air hostess and knew that was illegal.
Looking for advice, I rang my daughter Heather, 35, and explained the situation.
‘Mum, stop sending money. This is a scam,’ she told me.
In that moment I felt like I’d been hit by a bus. Suddenly it all made sense. It was all a lie. Jeff probably wasn’t even a real person! Reporting it to the police, they told me they thought they knew who ‘Jeff’ was.
A conman who’d used a fake name and a photo of an innocent man to dupe women before. Another poor lady in Melbourne had been conned out of $300,000.
It was likely ‘Jeff’ lived overseas, and so could evade Australian police.
Devastated, I spent two days crying. Not only had I lost the man I thought I was in love with, I’d been scammed out of $25,000. I sent ‘Jeff’ an email calling him a scumbag and blocked his number.
It will take me a long time to get over this ordeal, but I’m telling my story to warn others about how easy it is to fall victim to a scam. Despite never meeting him, I believed I was in love with ‘Jeff’. But it was all just a big lie.
If something sounds too good to be true, then it probably is.
Originally published in issue 30 of that's Life! magazine - July 30 2016.