Australians lose millions every year to online dating and romance scams. Lured in by the prospect of finding true love, victims hand over their hearts and money to scammers who create fake online profiles targeting dating websites, apps and social media.
In an unusual case prosecuted by the CDPP in Western Australia, an Australian woman was jailed for playing a key role in tricking a German man into transferring more than $12,700 as part of an online romance and dating scam.
Deborah Maree Taylor (54) was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment on 14 June 2019 for her part in a complicated scam that involved a third-party. In an unusual twist, the third party was a Nigerian man who had initially been trying to scam Ms Taylor.
When Ms Taylor confronted the Nigerian, he said he was currently trying to scam a German man by pretending to be a female, and convinced Ms Taylor to take part in the deception.
Between 19 June 2017 and 22 June 2017, the German national talked to a person he believed was a female Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps called Victoria Marissa Lees, who was desperate to leave the armed forces and join him in Germany. He just needed to transfer money to pay out her ‘forever leave’ to the ‘leave processing officer’ so she would be able to join him.
Ms Taylor’s role in the scam was to pretend she was the leave processing officer. She gave her bank account details to the Nigerian scammer. In his role as Sergeant Lees, he passed the bank details on to the German man. What the German man didn’t know was that Ms Taylor was a grandmother, living and working as a traffic controller in Bunbury Western Australia.
On 22 June 2017, the German man made an initial transfer of $6,404.78 to Ms Taylor’s account. He then contacted her to ensure she had received the money. Pretending to be the leave processing officer, Ms Taylor told him she would approve the leave once the money came through. Claiming the transaction was taking too long to clear, she asked him to make a second transfer to her via Western Union.
On 27 June 2017, the man made a second transfer of $6,304.54.
Ms Taylor then told the would-be lover that he had been scammed by two Nigerians. She even forwarded him images of the ‘scammers’, along with their purported names and addresses. She said she was intending to repay the money. However, when the German confronted her about her own conduct, she denied any wrongdoing. In August 2017, he contacted WA ScamNet and reported Ms Taylor.
As a part of the scam, Ms Taylor had initially agreed to transfer the money she had received to the Nigerian. Instead of doing this, she used the money for her own purposes.
In sentencing, Judge Stavrianou described Ms Taylor’s behaviour as “serious offending” and said the need for both general and specific deterrence warranted imprisonment. A reparation order to the value of $12,709.32 was also made to the victim.
Scamwatch reports that between January and August 2019, more than 2,600 people have reported losing more than $17.2 million as a result of dating and romance scams. Scamwatch is run by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and provides information to consumers and small businesses about how to recognise, avoid and report scams.
Charge and sentence
On 14 June 2019, Deborah Maree Taylor was sentenced to 12 months’ imprisonment to be released after six months, after entering into a recognisance of $5,000 and to be of good behaviour for six months, in relation to:
• One count of dealing in the proceeds of crime worth $10,000 or more contrary to s400.6(1) of the Criminal Code (Cth).