REAL LIFE

‘I lost $100,000 in an online love scam’

Woman left heartbroken by cruel conman

Patricia Meister, 64, wasn’t looking for love, but when she received an intriguing message on Facebook she found herself falling for a handsome stranger.

Sadly, what should have been the start of a happily ever after quickly turned into a nightmare.

Logging in to Facebook, I saw a friend request from a stranger.  I’m Carlos, I like your photos, he’d messaged. I wondered if we could be friends?

Browsing his photos, I saw a middle-aged businessman with a friendly smile. I wasn’t looking for love, but I’d been single for a while. Intrigued, I accepted his request. It can’t do any harm, can it? I reasoned.

Soon, Carlos and I were chatting. Based in Brisbane, his heritage was Italian and Scottish. His job in interior design had taken him overseas, but he was due home soon. Sadly, his wife had passed away eight years before.

I want to meet someone special, he confessed. So do I, I admitted. Running my own business, it was hard to find time to socialise, let alone date. Carlos seemed educated and cultured. Sharing his favourite poems with me, he sent links to beautiful songs.

This one reminds me of you, he wrote once. As the weeks passed, I found myself eagerly awaiting his messages.

Patricia wasn't looking for love when 'Carlos' got in touch
I was busy running my business and wasn’t looking for love (Credit: Supplied by Patricia Meister)

‘I want to be with you,’ he told me. My heart leapt.

After a month we finally spoke on the phone. I felt a little nervous but I needn’t have worried – we got along wonderfully. When I heard his voice, I couldn’t place his accent. It must be his Scottish and Italian roots, I thought.

To my relief, he was a charming man. After that, we were in touch every day.  I’ve fallen head over heels, I soon admitted to myself. To my delight, Carlos felt the same.

‘I want to be with you,’ he told me. My heart leapt.

In my early 60s, I hadn’t imagined this fairytale ending. We couldn’t wait to meet, but Carlos’s latest project was in Malaysia. He was planning to return home when his goods were held up in Malaysian customs. And his credit card wouldn’t work in the country either. ‘I need $600 for living expenses,’ he explained. ‘Just until it’s sorted.’

‘I can lend it to you,’ I told him. After all, this was the man I loved. But Carlos’s run of bad luck didn’t end there. He needed to make a large payment to get his belongings from customs. Luckily, I had some savings for my retirement.

Worried about him, I sent several thousand dollars to cover his growing costs. ‘I’ll pay you back as soon as I can,’ he said.

Online scammers abuse people's trust
Scammers hide behind computer screens (Image: Stock- Unsplash)

I pushed any doubts I had to the back of my mind. I’d read about online scams, but they’d asked for money for medical bills. Besides, everything Carlos said was backed up by documents and emails with his lawyer.

To my relief, he got back on his feet and arranged to send me the money. Unfortunately, his bank couldn’t do the large international transfer. So, he arranged for a courier to deliver the cash instead.

Here’s the tracking number, he said. Logging on to the website, I kept an anxious eye on the package’s movements. But when it reached Kuala Lumpur airport, there was another expensive snag – a $25,000 fee for letting the cash leave the country. Carlos had a document from a Malaysian ministry, listing my business address as the recipient.

I suppose I better pay it, I thought, hesitantly. It might look suspicious if I let a parcel of money in my name just sit there. I didn’t blame Carlos, I just wanted to keep our love on track. We can put this all behind us soon, I thought.

Paying up, I was relieved when the package made it to Melbourne. To my horror, there was yet another fee. This time the documents were from Australian customs. Sending the cash, the last of my savings, I waited.

Overseas scammers are targeting Australian women
Overseas scammers are targeting Australian women (Image: Stock Unsplash)

‘Catch me if you can, my dear…’

Then, I got a phone call. ‘There’s been an accident,’ a man said. ‘Carlos and his lawyer need money for medical bills.’ My stomach dropped to my shoes.

Oh my God, I thought. I’ve been scammed. In my heart I knew I’d been drawn into a fantasy world. Feeling sick, I hung up. In total, I’d lost $100,000.

Pulling myself together, I went to the police but there was little they could do. My broken heart ached, but a bigger problem was my missing cash. Two months later, ‘Carlos’ messaged again. This is all a terrible misunderstanding, he said.

You’re a scammer, I fired back.
Catch me if you can, my dear, was his chilling reply.

It took 18 months to recover financially and I found emotional help through a support group called Romance Scams Now. The women there all had remarkably similar stories. I can see I was groomed using all the psychological tricks in the book.

Scammers get you to invest emotionally, just so they can abuse your trust. To protect their identity, they often steal and use photos of innocent people. Even intelligent, educated women with fulfilling lives can fall into the trap. 

I’m on a mission to warn women everywhere. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

If you’ve been scammed, report it at www.scamwatch.gov.au in Australia, or www.netsafe.org.nz in NZ.

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