Romance scam: Melbourne woman met Gabriel on a dating site. He emptied her bank account and broke her heart, ‘I was beaten’
He asked her to move their chat somewhere else almost immediately, sent her an explicit video and asked for one in return.
It was all good material for a laugh when she caught up with friends.
Then came the man she knew as Gabriel, whom she also met at Zoosk last year.
“Looking back on it now, I can see all the obvious things and that’s the hard part,” Kate said.
“I’m not a stupid person, I’m actually very smart – but this guy was so clever.”
Kate and Gabriel spent months talking about their lives.
He told Kate he was an engineer from France now living in the Melbourne suburb of Canterbury.
His wife had died when his two daughters were young, he said, and the children lived with his mother in London so he could continue working.
As the first guy, Gabriel also suggested they move the conversation to WhatsApp, but not before Kate felt she knew him.
She had also researched Gabriel herself.
She did a reverse image search of his photos, and found him on Facebook.
His posts on Facebook went back many years. She would later discover that it was a hacked account.
Their conversations on WhatsApp were a mix of sweet flirting and the sad days at work and at home during covid-19 lockdowns.
There were a lot of selfies and they talked over the phone on WhatsApp.
“I was smitten by him. If you’ve ever heard a Frenchman talk to you, man, it was so hot,” she says.
Last December – three months after they first met – Gabriel told Kate he had to fly to London urgently.
His daughter needed surgery for appendicitis and he wanted to be there with her.
After he arrived, Gabriel told Kate that he was having problems with his bank.
The flight was so last-minute, he said, that the bank picked up that he was in another country and blocked him from withdrawing money.
After the surgery, Gabriel asked Kate if he could borrow $5,000 for three plane tickets home so he and his daughters could spend Christmas with her.
When his bank account allegedly malfunctioned, Gabriel convinced Kate to buy cryptocurrency and transfer it to his crypto account.
He sent her what appeared to be screenshots of the plane tickets he had purchased.
As Gabriel was apparently on his way home, Kate began to get excited about meeting him in person for the first time.
But then Gabriel claimed it was another hiccup.
While in Singapore, his daughter had tested positive for COVID-19 and they had to spend some time in quarantine, missing their connecting flight.
Gabriel needed more money to buy extra plane tickets, which Kate gave him.
Finally, he sent word that they were to board the plane home.
“I spent an hour driving to the airport to meet him and paid $50 for parking,” Kate said.
“I was sitting in that airport terminal waiting for the plane to land.
“About 45 minutes after the plane touched down and everyone had exited the terminal, I had a sinking feeling.”
Gabriel and his daughters never appeared.
When Gabriel finally made contact with Kate, he told her he was caught in customs at Melbourne Airport.
Customs officials demanded $5,000 in tax for an antique piece of jewelry he bought, he said.
Kate said she now knew deep down that she was being scammed, but a part of her still held on to a small amount of hope.
She sent $1,750 to a bank account that Gabriel told her belonged to the customs agent.
Fortunately for Kate, the transfer was picked up by her bank – NAB – who told her that the account she was trying to deposit the money into had been linked to fraudulent activity.
All told, Kate said she still lost about $11,000 to the scammer, as well as her dignity.
“It’s a kick in the gut,” she said.
“It’s just money, but that money when you’re a single parent with a single income is super important.”
While her bank initially refused to refund any of the money, it later agreed to refund $6000 after she contacted the Australian Financial Complaints Authority dispute resolution service.
Kate said she hoped sharing her story would help prevent others falling victim to similar scams.
“What I would say to other people is don’t give anyone money under any circumstances,” she said.
“As much as he might have the sexiest French accent and look really hot shirtless, you have to treat everyone you meet on these dating sites as a potential scammer.
“Make sure you meet them in person, and even then don’t give them money.”
This week is national Scam Awareness Week, an event which the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s Scamwatch says aims to educate people on how to avoid being scammed.
“We know that fraudsters are relentlessly targeting Australians,” ACCC Deputy Chair Delia Rickard said.
“Research commissioned by the ACCC shows that 96 per cent of the population fell victim to a scam in the five years to 2021.
“Half of the survey respondents were contacted weekly or daily by fraudsters, a figure expected to rise given current cyber security concerns.”
Dating and romance scams account for the second highest category of losses reported to Scamwatch, after investment scams.
So far this year, Australians have lost more than $29 million to romance scams.
The most common way for scammers to contact new victims is through dating sites and social media.
Like Kate, Melbourne electrician David* found his attempts to find love on dating sites broke both his bank balance and his heart.
The 65-year-old joined the dating service Silver Singles before the pandemic hit and was quickly approached by a woman.
“She told me she was a widow and lived in a flat in Footscray,” he said.
The woman told David she was not a member of the dating service and gave him her email address so they could chat without her having to pay to join.
Speaking on email, David says the woman sent pictures of herself and her daughter.
She told him she was a gem dealer.
The pair made plans to meet a few months into their online relationship, but then the woman told David she had to take a quick trip abroad.
A deal for some gems had suddenly come up in Turkey that was too good to pass up, she told him.
Then came the plea for money, with the woman claiming that the publicans were demanding tax on the gems.
“I thought I wasn’t too stupid,” David said.
“I knew her address and had her pictures.
“She also sent me a photo of her passport that matched the photos she sent.”
In all, David said he transferred about $50,000 into a bank account for her.
The police later told him that the passport shown in the photo was forged.
But it wouldn’t be the last time David would fall victim to scammers.
A few months later, he said he met another woman on another dating service for older singles.
The other woman said she was a divorcee living in Melbourne.
She also told David she was a gem dealer, and he again fell victim to a similar scam, losing about $10,000.
“I feel silly and stupid for being so gullible,” he said.
“I have a good heart, I suppose, and a charitable nature, and I have just been ripped off.”
David said people should be aware of the warning signs if they use dating services with one, in particular, a big red flag.
“If someone asks you to communicate with them outside of dating apps, they are most likely a scammer,” he said.
*The names have been changed