My children signed me up to Facebook and gave me some basic lessons on how to use it.
‘They told me everyone was using it and that it would help us keep in touch and see photos of them when they goto college.
One day I received a friend request from a serviceman on peacekeeping duties in Afghanistan. I decided to accept the request and allowed 'Jim' to be my Facebook friend. It didn’t start as a romance but he said he was lonely and looking for friends to keep him company while he was stuck on duty in the middle of nowhere. Soon after befriending me, Jim told me he had lost his wife to cancer and his story of looking after her was similar to my own experience when my husband had died of cancer.
‘He then said he was being posted to Ghana but his time in the U.S military was nearly finished. He sent me pictures which I now know were stolen from someone on the internet. He kept saying he couldn’t wait for us to be together. We became very close and he emailed me every day saying it was easier for him than using Facebook.’
Jim, who was a scammer, told me he liked gemstones and wanted to set up a jewellery store when he retired. He said this was the best part of being in Ghana because it was close to where the precious stones were being mined and he could buy them very cheaply.
He told me he was coming to see me but had some trouble with his bank card not working in Ghana and couldn’t get funds to pay for an export tax on his gemstones. I transferred some money to him to cover the tax which he explained was only two per cent of the value of the gemstones but still amounted to $15 000. It was a lot of money to send but I figured he was a good and honest serviceman and if things worked out we would spend the rest of our lives together.
‘All was going well until his stopover in Turkey. Customs officials seized the gemstones and demanded payment to have them released. This time they were asking $20 000. I told him it would take some time to get the money and I had to borrow against the family home.’
I sent the money to Turkish officials but was told Jim was now in jail for smuggling and that I needed to contact his lawyer.
‘The lawyer said he needed to get an Anti-terrorism and Money Laundering certificate and this would be another $10 000. He said he also needed to pay for Jim’s court costs plus his own fees and this would be another $5000.’
I sent the money but then Jim said there was another government official demanding payment to extend his visa while he waited for the court to process all the documents.
‘Almost every day I was contacted with a new demand for money. They sent me certificates signed by officials, forms to fill out and bills for everything. If you wanted to get anything done quickly you had to pay another fee. It seemed to me that the whole Turkish government was corrupt. I don’t know exactly how much money I sent but it was well over $100 000. I didn’t care about the money. I just wanted to help Jim and I honestly thought he would pay me back.’
Even when I ran out of money the demands didn’t stop. Unsure of what to do, I finally talked to the police. They explained that my experience included the common features of a dating and romance scam and it would be very unlikely I would get my money back. I can’t help feeling in my heart that I let Jim down but I know in my head it was all a scam.