Anna Leask at the Herald reports:

A pensioner scammed out of more than $140,000 by a woman he met on a legitimate dating site is ashamed and embarrassed that he was deceived for almost three years.

Police say he is one of thousands of Kiwis being sucked in, and today the man is sharing his story to prevent others being financially and emotionally destroyed.

The elderly man, who spoke to the Herald on the condition his name was not published, is one of an increasing number of people being tricked by romance scammers.

They prey on the emotional vulnerability of lonely or older people and police say they are making phenomenal amounts of money from New Zealand victims.

The man met his scammer after he signed up to a dating website. He said he was very lonely at the time and was desperate for companionship.

A woman who claimed she lived in a small town in West Africa made contact with him.

Sadly that should have been the first danger sign.

As she and the victim became closer, she suggested travelling to meet him in New Zealand. He was thrilled, and although he was hesitant when she asked for money to renew her passport and for flights, he was assured she was genuine because of their “natural” conversations.

Best in that case to pay for the tickets directly. Never ever send cash.

But each time she purportedly set off for New Zealand, something went wrong. She told the man of visa and passport issues and being detained for trying to travel with a large number of gold bars without an export licence. Each time, she needed more cash to get her out of trouble.

That’s a pretty big warning sign. I don’t know anyone who tries to travel with gold bars!

She never came to New Zealand, but kept in constant contact with the victim. He was soon sending her money for her daughter’s school fees, uniform and swimming lessons.

He paid for a new laptop for his “friend” and was sending regular amounts to “maintain her”.

The woman also conned him out of $1000 each week, supposedly to pay a security company to store her gold bars, which she said were worth more than US$28,000 ($32,320).

Gold is around US$1,300 an ounce so that’s around 21.5 ounces or 600 grams of gold. That’s not gold bars. That’s a small slice.

There were times when he questioned the woman or suspected a scam, but each time she would come up with a plausible explanation.

The requests for cash would stop for a time, but as soon as she had his trust again, she would slowly convince him to keep making deposits.

He made the deposits through money-transfer companies, and when he was turned away from one because it was concerned about how often he was sending cash to Africa, he found another service.

Okay now that’s beyond stupid. It’s one thing to be gullible, but another to ignore the fact that even the money transfer company is telling you it is a scam.

Police were alerted to his frequent money transfers and went to see him.

At first, he did not believe what they were telling him. He went online to confront the woman, and she “explained it all”.

After several days going back and forth with the Auckland city fraud squad, he finally realised he had been duped.

Good on the Police for being pro-active, but really sad they had to intervene.

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