Jenny: "I thought I was in the right emotional space to dip my toe in the water and see if I could find a companion."
After being alone for more than year and at the end of a divorce settlement, I thought I was in the right emotional space to dip my toe in the water and see if I could find a companion. Being busy and without a large circle of friends, I tried online dating.
I'd had some positive contact with a few men, when one day I received a message and a photo showing a handsome, well-dressed man in his mid-50s. The profile was of a professional, a widower with no children, born elsewhere but living in Perth.
Exchanges began online a few days later. He soon requested we take the conversation offline, and gave me his email address.
I was aware of the advice from the dating website not to take communication offline, but surely it wouldn't be a problem with this handsome, smiling man? All went quiet for a few days, during which time I sent a couple of "are you still interested?" emails. In retrospect, I was playing into his hands by appearing keen.
Finally a response came detailing his lonely life as a widower. I now know that scammers use these tactics to engender sympathy. The story was that he was working in Perth to take advantage of the mining boom. He wanted to make it his permanent home, but had to finish an overseas contract to ensure his financial security.
Pressure came for me to set up a Yahoo Messenger account for chatting, which I've since realised enables a team of scammers based overseas to communicate without speaking over the phone. During our chats he would ask questions rather than give information about himself. If I got too chatty and inquisitive, the conversation would be diverted with "I miss you" or "I love you".
I noticed his poor spelling and grammar, but just assumed that his technical background meant these were not his strong suits. Of course, the emails were always signed with love, and I would get attachments, such as photos of him (stolen from a real person's social media account), JPEG images of flowers, or a romantic song. By week three, I was building quite a playlist.
While he apparently lived close, he was always too busy working to meet face to face. After multiple requests, I was given a phone number and thought at the time that the digits looked odd. The reception was poor in our first conversation, but he explained it was just the bad signal in his house.
His accent was not at all what I expected given his apparent nationality, and I asked why it sounded as it did. There was a good explanation for that too – he had picked up pieces from various accents while working all around the world. I completely fell for it.
A couple of day's later news came that his overseas contract was nearing completion and he had to travel overseas for two weeks to finish it. Once that was done, he would be financially secure and we could meet. I received an email that he had arrived safely overseas and he included an international mobile telephone number.
It wasn't long before the requests for money began. He said his last financial input to complete the contract was to be delayed, and he had no funds for day to day expenses let alone to meet the salaries of his employees. I offered to put some funds on his credit card or to pay his hotel directly.
Strangely, he had no credit card and no bank account of his own that he could use where he was, and asked if I could the send money through a friend's account, as well as a slightly larger sum to a business associate's account. Over a period of three weeks, I sent three payments for various requirements to complete his contract.
I knew it didn't feel right, but I did it anyway. It was like an out of body experience – a type of hypnosis where you actually do what you know is wrong, until one day something happens to snap you out of the trance.
I have since learned that timing of communications may contribute to this control. They will often be late at night or early in the morning. You're tired and your judgment becomes impaired by lack of sleep. But the communications are always what you want or need to hear. If you let them know you are feeling down, they will be there for you, if you are happy they will be happy with you.
It all came to a head when they began to groom me to become a money mule – to receive money for them in Australia. This did not seem legitimate, and I contacted a trusted friend. I was told I had been scammed, and my friend was essentially a character of fiction.
After six weeks of confusion, and sometimes real happiness and hope, I was devastated. I cried for the next two weeks. As well as losing six figures in money, there was grief over the loss of an anticipated relationship, overwhelming embarrassment about so easily becoming the victim of such a scheme, and dread at the thought of people judging me.
During that period I behaved contrary to everything I have ever done. The scammers were fortunate to find me at a time where there was a perfect storm of emotions in my life, enabling them to tap into my vulnerabilities and manipulate me to do their bidding.
The saddest thing for me now is that I am still single, and it was a high financial and emotional price to pay for hoping to still be found attractive. But as they say, what does not kill us makes us stronger, so I definitely must be stronger.
Jenny is a guest on tonight's episode of Insight at 8.30pm on SBS ONE, which speaks to the victims of romance scams. Women and men reveal how they were duped and the fallout, and police discuss catching fraudsters. The show also asks if dating sites are doing enough to protect clients. #InsightSBS