BAD ROMANCE: Lovestruck residents pawns in money laundering
LOVE is at the core of malicious criminal activity costing Warwick residents tens-of-thousands of dollars and unknowingly putting them at risk of lengthy prison sentences.
Seduced by the affection of strangers on dating websites, an increasing number of Warwick residents are unwittingly being used as "money mules" in high-scale international money laundering operations.
In the past year more than 12 cases of cyber crime in Warwick have been investigated and detectives are "certain" there are more victims in the community.
Head of criminal investigations Darren Tamblyn said online scams were costing Warwick people thousands and draining police resources.
"Cyber crime is huge, it's bigger than ever and it is certainly taking up a portion of our investigative time as a small CIB unit," Detective Sergeant Tamblyn said.
Preying on rural residents
National Scamwatch data shows Australians have lost $15,537,929 to dating and romance scams in 2018.
Sgt Tamblyn said overseas scammers were taking advantage of people's isolation in rural areas.
"They obviously have their tentacles out and are moving into smaller towns where people might be more susceptible to online dating because there are less people to meet."
With fake online profiles and false names, scammers go to great lengths to establish romantic relationships with vulnerable citizens.
"Quite often these are lonely, older people who are sucked in through their loneliness or are extremely naive," Sgt Tamblyn said.
"They (scammers) will start by expressing their strong emotions to gain the trust of the victim using loving words and affection."
The international con artists then bring up things like family emergencies or urgent medical cases, asking the victim to send money or facilitate a bank transfer.
Warwick CIB is currently investigating a case where a Warwick resident has sent thousands of dollars to a money mule in Logan.
Others have transferred funds internationally to places like Nigeria, America and Europe through conventional banks or Western Union.
Once the money has left the country, it is virtually impossible to recover.
Lovers made criminals
As well as losing money, Sgt Tamblyn said scam victims were also being implicated in serious criminal offences.
"If you are receiving money into your bank account and transferring it on then you are acting as a party in a number of possible offences under the Queensland Criminal Code and the Commonwealth Criminal Code ," he said.
Maximum penalties for fraud are up to 10 years' imprisonment and 14 years' for money laundering.
Sgt Tamblyn said in the first instance, offenders would be issued a serious warning if they were unaware of their criminal activity, but charges would be laid for any further involvement in cyber crime.
Blinded by love
Convincing victims of a scam can be difficult.
"They are sucked in so much by kind words and promises of romance. It's hard to believe but I have had people where their family members still can't convince them they are being scammed," Sgt Tamblyn said.
Often, people did not realise their relationship was a scam until they had lost all their money and the relationship disintegrated.
"Romances of the heart can make people not think with their head."
Sgt Tamblyn said anyone who thought they could be the victim of a scam should report the case to the Australian Cybercrime Online Reporting Network.
"I have no doubt there are others out there, no doubt at all," he said.
"People should not be getting large sums of money into their account by people they have never seen and then transferring it to other bank accounts.
"If the lightbulb flies off it is best to report it straight away before the police find out and come knocking on your door."
Report cyber crime at https://report.acorn.gov.au/