Here, Jamie-Lee Moreland, 21, tells the story in her own words.
R￼iding my horse, Tank, at the rodeo, I was loving life.
He and our other horses were my passion.
As I walked back to our horse float, a girl came over. ‘I saw you riding,’ she said.
A couple of years younger, she seemed friendly. But there was something odd I couldn’t put my finger on.
‘What’s your name?’ she asked, opening Facebook on her phone and adding me as a friend.
I can always unfriend her later, I shrugged, seeing her name was Riley*.
When she dropped me a message, we started chatting and I found out she was a big horse lover too.
Riley also revealed she was doing it tough and living alone at just 17.
My first impression was wrong, I realised.
‘Mum, can Riley come for a few days?’ I asked.
My mum Heather treats everyone like family, so she made up a bed for Riley in our sunroom. As a guest, she was a joy.
‘Can I help?’ she’d ask, always happy to lend a hand.
Mum loved Riley and on her third visit, Riley said we felt like family.
‘I feel I’m safe here,’ she said. ‘Can I move in with you?’
Mum and I agreed she could. Excited, we went to pick up Riley’s stuff.
‘I can’t believe we’re going to live together,’ I smiled to my new bestie.
But as I helped pack up Riley’s room, I spotted something odd. My jeans were mixed in with her stuff. Is she stealing from me? I frowned.
‘Let’s give her the benefit of the doubt,’ Mum said, always wanting to see the good in people.
At first, Riley settled in well. But things didn’t quite add up.
One day she said she had a certificate in nursing, another time it was veterinary nursing.
Then, browsing Facebook posts from my horseriding friends, I saw warnings about a scam. They named Riley, claiming she’d sold someone a saddle, but never handed it over. There was a photo, too. That’s Mum’s saddle! I thought, horrified.
Was sweet Riley really ripping people off? Confronting her, she admitted everything.
‘Don’t scam in my house,’ I told her angrily.
Grounding Riley, Mum was disappointed. She even put her hand in her own pocket to pay Riley’s victim back.
Soon after, when we’d lived together for around four months, Riley moved out.
We’ve seen the back of her, I thought, relieved.
Then, a few weeks later, a stranger messaged me on Facebook.
Apparently I was selling him a phone on Gumtree, but thinking something was suss, he’d tracked me down to double check.
Then he sent me a photo that made my stomach drop.
It was of my driver’s licence. The seller ‘Jamie-Lee’ had sent it to him, to prove who she was.
Searching my wallet, I felt sick. My licence was gone.
Two days before Riley left, we’d gone to the bottlo.
I’d flashed my licence, then asked her to put it back in my wallet as my hands were full. She pocketed it! I realised.
Mum and I went to report it, but the nightmare was just starting.
Next, Riley’s housemate got in touch to say Aus Post had left a delivery notice – with my name on it. It was a phone that I hadn’t ordered.
‘Collect it and bring it straight here,’ the police said.
After that, I got letters about more phones and contracts. And then bank statements and credit card bills – all in my name!
Opening them, I was horrified. On paper, I owed thousands of dollars.
Checking Facebook posts from the horseriding community, I was shocked to see some that looked like they were from me, advertising items for sale. I never posted that! I thought.
Someone had made an almost identical copy of my profile and my horsey friends were starting to question my honesty.
Horrified, I collected everything for the police and they prepared a case.
Meanwhile, sick to my stomach with stress, I rang around the companies who thought I owed them money. ‘This isn’t me!’ I said. But it was so hard to prove when my ID was being used.
The debt continued to rack up – to the tune of $160,000.
At my wits’ end, I was pleased when Riley was arrested.
In court, she pleaded guilty to 10 counts of fraud, two of identity theft, two counts of forgery, and one of stealing.
In February last year, she was sentenced to two months in jail for each offence, suspended for one year. It meant Riley walked free.
I was trapped in financial hell, though. ‘It’s so unfair,’ I wept to Mum.
My credit history is in ruins and it’s proving impossible to clear my name. Police advised me to legally change it so I can start over! But I don’t see why I should. Meanwhile, her name is protected as she was 17.
Sometimes I feel so low about my future, and I dread letters in the mailbox in case it’s more bad news.
Before all this, I was happy and carefree. Now, my trust shattered, I find it hard to leave the house let alone go to horse events.
I’m determined to warn others – keep your ID close and be careful who you trust. My ‘best friend’ has ruined my life.
*Name has been changed for legal reasons
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