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LISTEN: It's not love, actually - it's fraud

It’s bad enough being conned out of money by a stranger, but when it’s someone you know and believe yourself to be in love with, the betrayal is personal and savage.

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Listen to Wendy's on-air segment or read the full story below the podcast.


It’s possible for authentic relationships to develop online; for a couple to fall in love without having met, but what many women have discovered is that con artists have perfected the art of faking a relationship for months in order to gain their victim’s trust, and love, and then scam them.

 

What they do is befriend women on a dating site or on Facebook, and then spend several months wooing them with sweet words. When the women believes herself to be in a genuine relationship with the con artist, he claims to have sent them a parcel from the UK, containing a laptop, a handbag, cellphone or even a whole lot of hard cash - in pounds.

 

And he sends her a Whatsapp photo of what’s supposedly in the parcel.

ALSO READ: How to avoid pension fraud


Then she gets a call from “customs authorities” in South Africa, demanding payment in order for the parcel to be released.

 

Worryingly, quite a few women appear to be falling for the scam.  Shepstone & Wylie attorneys in Umhlanga heard from three victims just last week, which suggests to me that there’s been a spike.


The sad thing is, the women didn’t know they’d been scammed when they contacted the law firm. They were seeking advice from the firm’s customs specialists about how to get their “parcels” from customs officials - parcels which were as non-existent as their boyfriend’s affections.


Shepstone & Wylie customs consultant Taryn Hunkin has had the unenviable task of telling them that the problem isn’t the customs department - the problem is they’ve been scammed.


“Some of them don’t believe me at first; they’re adamant that there’s no way that their man would do that to them.”

ALSO READ: Credit card fraud in SA still a major problem


In one case, a woman parted with a total of R100 000 in order to get “two metal trunks” from customs, before Taryn told her truth.

 

“First she paid “Customs” to get the release of the parcel, then she was told that she needed to pay a penalty, then she was told that they had found the foreign currency in the parcel, and that she needed to pay another sum to get it released…” Taryn said. “They kept coming up with more and more excuses as to why she needed to pay more money and why she hadn’t yet received the parcel.”

 

It’s a wicked con because of the psychology at play - the women keep paying because they don’t want their previous payments to have been for nothing, and they don’t to let their boyfriends down.


Last year I got an email from a Cape woman who asked for my help in getting a gift from her “fiancé" in the UK from “customs” - by then she’d paid a total of R90 000 - money she’d borrowed from an aunt.


She’d been targeted on a dating website, but all the victims Taryn has dealt with have accepted Facebook friend requests from their fraudsters.


They literally let them into their lives.


“It usually begins with the man sending the lady a friend request on Facebook which she then accepts, he will then liaise with her, view her profile, like or comment on her posts and  then they exchange numbers and start communicating via Whatsapp.”

 

None of the victims wanted to give me a recorded interview because they're deeply ashamed of what’s happened, and are afraid their voices will be recognised.


One borrowed the money from her church.


These men invest time and many syrupy words in order to seduce their victims - usually between two and four months, Taryn says. The modus operandi doesn't vary much.


"They usually claim to be UK-based engineer or in some form of construction job,” she says.

ALSO READ: ATM fraud on the rise in SA


If you’re wondering how these women could be so gullible, remember that they weren’t tricked cold - the fraudsters spent a long time gaining their trust and their affection.

 

Obviously the main advice is to be extremely careful about the friend requests you accept on Facebook. You are essentially giving them access to your photos, your posts and all your personal information.That is gold in the hands of a fraudster.

 

If you are ever told a parcel is headed your way request a copy of the courier waybill.  Verify the courier company details on the waybill on the courier company's official website. 

And SARS will never ask anyone to pay money into a personal bank account and their demands are always on official SARS letterheads explaining what the demand is for.

Also, SARS officials do not use gmail email addresses.

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