Arrest over $2m 'romance fraud'
An Australian woman is being accused of swindling millions of dollars from older men she met through singles message boards, in what police say is the first arrest for "romance fraud" in NSW and possibly Australia.
The 39-year-old single mother-of-four from Sydney allegedly tricked four men into giving her more than A$2 million (NZ$2.19m), which she spent on plastic surgery, cars, designer handbags and holidays.
Police alleged she started relationships with the men, two aged in their 60s and two in their 70s, after meeting them through the dating services Lavalife and Meeting Point.
The relationships were formed between August 2008 and February 2014 and during that time she only met one of the men in person, police say.
The woman, who was receiving fortnightly welfare benefits of A$1500, allegedly conned them into depositing money in her account by claiming she needed to pay for medical care for a sick relative or funeral arrangements for a deceased one.
In one instance, police say she claimed she needed the money to pay bank fees so she could access funds given to her by an overseas family member.
One of the men allegedly paid the woman A$1.9 million over the course of their relationship while the other three men allegedly paid her A$190,000, A$58,000 and A$12,000 respectively.
Police alleged the woman, whose children were aged between two and 16, bought and sold cars to launder some of the money.
She was arrested on Thursday morning after police raided two properties and seized a number of items including a Mazda CX7, a Toyota Prado and a Toyota Corolla.
Detectives also froze more than A$1 million worth of cash and assets associated with the woman.
The woman was charged with four counts of fraud and one count of money laundering.
Police said they were unsure if other men had been duped into giving her money.
"If you suspect you have been deceived and someone has defrauded you, please contact police immediately," commander of the Fraud and Cybercrime Squad, Detective Superintendent Arthur Katsogiannis said.
"Some people feel too embarrassed to report fraud matters to police, or they think there's no need to alert us because their financial institution will reimburse them for their losses.
"In fact, it's very important that we are made aware of all fraud cases. That way, we can make the necessary inquiries and reduce the chances of the perpetrator defrauding others."
Detectives believed the woman was one of the first Australians to be charged over romance fraud, with schemes of a similar nature more commonly associated with Nigerian conmen.
Sydney Morning Herald