Tracy McLean, 49, Geraldton, WA
Feeling nervous, I began to type.
Hi, my name’s Tracy. I’d love to make some new friends!
I’d joined a website where you could connect with people and find a date. I wasn’t looking for love, but just hoped to ease my loneliness.
Nine months earlier, my partner Anthony, 47, passed away after suffering heart problems.
We’d spent five happy years together and his death left a huge hole in my life. I hoped that meeting new people would ease my pain.
Looking through the website, I came across the profile of a man named Mark. His photo showed a handsome, clean-shaven man with glasses.
He was 47 and lived in Sydney.
Hello... I typed.
Hi sweetie, he replied.
It felt exciting to be talking with a stranger!
I discovered Mark was also looking for new friends and maybe even a relationship.
He told me he’d once been married but his wife had left him. Originally from Sweden, he said he now lived in Sydney but spent a lot of time in Canberra for work.
I felt sorry for him as he sounded lonely too.
Over the next few days we messaged more.
Delete your profile so we can start a relationship, he asked me one day.
I did so, flattered that he wanted to call me his girlfriend.
Mark hadn’t used Facebook before but set up a profile so we could chat. Before long we were messaging every night.
Your smile is so beautiful, he would say.
I wasn’t used to such compliments and felt flattered by his attention.
I couldn’t believe I’d found a man who was good looking, romantic and successful!
Sometimes we’d speak on the telephone, but Mark seemed quite shy. He’d often giggle, and although he spoke English, his accent proved to be a barrier. Still, I was smitten and put any worries to the back of my mind.
A month later, on Valentine’s Day, I got the shock of my life. I received a delivery of two bunches of long stemmed roses, a bottle of wine, two boxes of chocolates, and a teddy bear!
The card read: Love Mark x.
My parents, Gloria, 68, and Archie, 73, were really impressed by my new boyfriend’s gift.
‘I love them,’ I told Mark later that night. I couldn’t stop smiling!
Not long after, Mark sent me another message. Could you do me a favour?
He needed me to receive some parcels for him. One of his clients was shipping some items from Australia to Thailand.
Mark asked if the items could be delivered to my address as he was living in a hotel in Canberra, and no-one was at his Sydney home.
At first I was hesitant.
‘What will be in the parcels?’ I asked.
‘It’s just clothes and jewellery too expensive to buy in Thailand,’ he explained.
‘Can you send me a scan of your driver’s licence, just to ease my mind?’ I asked, wanting to be sure Mark was who he said he was.
When the first parcel arrived, I opened it to have a look. Inside was men’s clothing and watches worth up to $400.
At Mark’s request, I took a photo of each item and sent the pics to him.
Over the next few weeks, more and more boxes began to arrive. They were filled with designer T-shirts, watches, shoes, cameras and handbags.
Before long I was receiving one each day and they were beginning to stack up.
But Mark still hadn’t sent me a scan of his licence.
‘Please don’t send any more boxes,’ I said one night.
‘You are doing it for me,’ he replied. ‘Don’t you want our relationship to work?’
I didn’t want to lose him, so I carried on accepting them.
Then one day Mark asked me to send one of the packages to Bangkok.
I agreed and spent $67 of my own money to post it.
Then in May, I received a parcel and something caught my eye. Inside was a credit card invoice in my name.
But I don’t have a credit card, I thought.
My heart began hammering. Had Mark bought these in my name?
Feeling betrayed and stupid, I told Mum about the invoice. She called Consumer Protection, who advised I should report it to the police.
At the police station, I was terrified I’d done something illegal and would be arrested. Thankfully the police realised I’d been scammed.
Mark had duped me.
He’d used me as a middle person to smuggle items bought with stolen credit cards overseas. He’d made me his mule!
The police seized about 50 of the items and are trying to find Mark. They advised me not to make contact with him again, which I haven’t.
Mark begged me to post the remaining items, but I ignored his messages.
I realise now that my boyfriend wasn’t who he said he was. His photo was probably of someone else and it’s likely he doesn’t even live in Australia.
I’m sharing my story to warn others about internet scams. I was preyed upon because I was vulnerable, and I want to stop the same thing happening to someone else.
If things seem too good to be true, they probably are.
NEW SCAM ALERT!
Consumer Protection senior regional officer, Danni Bloomfield, said it appeared the items Tracy had been sent were bought using stolen credit cards.
‘With general romance scams you’ll often find that they’re asking for money,’ she said. ‘Scammers are now encouraging victims to become a mule in the middle of their ring to send the stolen items overseas.’
For more information, go to www.scamnet.wa.gov.au