NZ woman left $41,000 out of pocket after online scam
A NEW ZEALAND Woman who fell for an online scam and sent her inheritance overseas says welfare bosses have docked her benefit because of the payments to the stranger she met on the internet.
It has left Aileen Wood, 53, with a $41,000 gulf in her finances and a reduced amount of money each week on which to live.
The 18-month online relationship has left Mrs Wood emotionally and financially devastated.
It has emerged the Ministry of Social Development cut $100 a week from Mrs Wood's entitlement because it considered the money sent offshore to be a loan. An increasing financial pinch meant the reduced amount was impossible to live on, she said.
She chose to speak out only when cuts to her benefit made it difficult to manage through the week - and as a warning to others lured by promises of online love.
"I've been scammed," she told the New Zealand Herald. "It really has stuffed my life for me. I was grieving. I got caught at the wrong time. If I could catch up with him, I'd kill him."
Mrs Wood, who is married, said contact with the man began in 2013 at a time which she was grieving the loss of her mother, who had left an inheritance of about $50,000.
The invitation came through Facebook and once established transferred to email and instant messaging services. The original Facebook page appeared to have been removed about the time she suggested other ways of staying in touch.
The man, who called himself Nathan Salvatore, said he was an American living in England but making contact from Malaysia, where he had been injured and was in need of hospital treatment.
Mrs Wood said she sent the man $33,000, mainly from the money left by her mother. When he pushed for more money, she sent another $8000 borrowed from credit cards.
In one exchange, he told her she needed to find new ways of getting him money because without it he would die and "if I die you are gonna be lonely for ever".
He sent her images which he claimed were of him with his children, and other images in which he was pictured against nondescript backgrounds. At one stage, he even had his "daughter" email Mrs Wood.
The scammer's gall included having Mrs Wood use her credit card to pay for an online service which would disguise his location when he was online.
He avoided using Skype and other forms of video chat but would engage in phone conversations. No one was answering the mobile numbers when the Herald tried to make contact.
Extensive reading of the chat logs between the scammer and Mrs Wood shows her questions would be met with threats to discontinue contact. When she eventually confronted the man in March, she said he disconnected the call after telling her: "I don't want your bloody help." She has been unable to reach him since.
A ministry spokesman said the estimate of "assets" owned by Mrs Wood and her husband meant they were not entitled to receive some payments. However, the spokesman said the calculation of "total assets" included money which had been sent offshore.
"Until today, the information we had from Mrs Wood was that this money had been loaned."
The spokesman said a new meeting today would work out any additional support to which the couple were entitled.
Malaysia has become a new centre of online scams.
Media in Malaysia reported last year almost 500 people from Africa had been questioned in connection with online scams.
The chat logs:
December 26 2013
Nathan Salvatore: feeling terrible? my chest hurts so bad, i dont know why but it started suddenly this evening
Aileen Wood: Can you get the Hotel Doctor to check you out? If you are having chest pains surely they wouldn't turn you away from the hospital?
Nathan Salvatore: I did but he said I need real medical attention from the hospital and that's why the doctors over there told me to return urgently. I just have to be patient till the money gets here.
Aileen Wood: Even if you told them it could be your heart? I am just trying to work out how I can ring the lady at the bank?
May 31, 2014
aylenew2000: I tried to get another loan but got turned down?
aylenew2000: I have been so lonely
Nathan Salvatore: you need to look for a way to come up with something
Nathan Salvatore: am dying here and if i die you are gonna be lonely forever
aylenew2000: Will you let me do a video call please? Is there no one we can contact to help you in the UK or the US?
Nathan Salvatore: Dont tell me about video calls Aileen, very soon the video you will be seeing is the one of my dead body
January 5 2015
Aileen Wood: What embassy (did) you contact?
Nathan Salvatore: the British embassy here in Malaysia. why do you ask?
Aileen Wood: I was wondering if you could contact them again. I am thinking that I could write to them and see what I can do from here?
Nathan Salvatore: I have done all that... they said they get thousands of complaint everyday and what do i think will happen if they helped everybody with money? I dont enjoy asking for your help because I hate putting you through stress but I have no other option that's why I had to beg you to help me.
Aileen Wood: I have told you I will help all I can. I can cope with the stress. Do you have a lawyer that can help?
Nathan Salvatore: I have tried all I can. You asking me all these questions makes me feel more handicapped than I already feel right now and it's not really good for me in this condition that I am.