The family of yet another woman swindled in a Tinder scam – this time losing $1 million – says her “irresponsible” bank should have twigged after her successive loan applications.
Stuff earlier revealed at least two New Zealand women, Joanne* and Donna*, were tricked into giving more than $500,000 each to a “prince charming” they met on Tinder in near-identical cons.
The elaborate scams, believed to be run by organised criminal groups overseas, involved fake news videos, a fake bank site and dozens of emails and daily phone calls.
A third Kiwi victim, who was conned out of more than $1m, has emerged. About half of the money was her own, $365,000 was in bank loans and the rest was from relatives. Two of the bank loans were just 12 days apart.
* Greens want inquiry into banks’ responses to scams following Tinder swindler cons
* ‘You’re kidding me’: Woman who lost $517k to Tinder swindler years ago ‘blown away’ to see another woman duped
* Presenter in Tinder swindler’s fake news video thought she was helping people learn English
* ‘Prince Charming’ Tinder swindler targeted Kiwi women for years
* How a ‘prince charming’ Tinder swindler conned a woman out of $540k
Samantha*, in her 60s and about to retire, met a ‘Fred Ritterman’ on Tinder in February 2019. Ritterman used the same photos, and similar emails, as those used to con Donna.
Ritterman sent a near-identical bio to the ones sent to Donna and Joanne detailing his background. He was an independent contractor working on rig constructions and renovations or over-water bridges around the world. He intended on retiring at the end of the year, leaving his men to “do the field ops”.
His dream was to spend the rest of his life “enjoying the fruit of my labour”.
“I want a woman who would be my best friend and partner in everything.”
In response to his bio she wrote: “Boy, what a fabulous life you’ve had. I can definitely go along with your dreams. You are someone after my own heart.”
Samantha told him she was “reasonably financially independent” and had a “simple outlook on life”.
“As the saying is money can’t buy happiness or love. Neither does living in a flash house make life better. I want someone that I can enjoy the simple priceless things in life… this is my dream.”
Ritterman responded he too was “financially stable”, and had provided for his son what most two-parent families could not.
“I always had a very keen interest in finances. Money does not buy happiness, nor does it impress me. Materialistic items or women that flaunt their status is a total turn-off for me and does NOT impress me.”
A couple of weeks in, Samantha told her daughter Amanda* about a “quite wealthy” man she had met online.
“I immediately was like ‘that doesn’t sound legit, mum, send me everything you’ve got on him, and we will have a look at it’. We found holes in everything.”
MARK TAYLOR / STUFF
Joanne* lost about $540,000 in a Tinder swindle.
Amanda and her siblings told Samantha the man was not real and to stop messaging him.
“I knew the way these guys work, she’s the perfect candidate to fall for something like this. She lives at home alone, she’s single, she’s been divorced for so many years.”
Two days after their conversation, Samantha sent him $500.
Eight months on Samantha was staying at her daughter’s home one night when her son-in-law heard her on the phone talking to a man. They then realised she was still talking to Ritterman and believed money was involved.
Amanda confronted her mum, who admitted she had sent some money, but did not know exactly how much.
She then called the bank and said she believed her mum had been scammed. It was not until her mum logged into her bank account that Amanda was able to calculate how much money had been sent to Ritterman. The total amount was just over $1m.
“At that stage you’re just like, f…ing hell, how did this happen?”
“The thought in my mind was yup, my mother has let all these payments leave her bank account and I understand that… my mum also maxed out her credit card twice, huge cash advances which [the bank] let her do… I was thinking… how didn’t they pick it up?”
As part of the con, Ritterman, using photos of Irish senator Mark Daly, sent a fake work visa, a photo of a $9.2m cheque and an image of a $50,000 overstay fine.
Aware it was a scam, Samantha spoke to Ritterman again on the phone and recorded their conversation. In the recording Ritterman apologised for not being “reachable” as he had not charged his phone for three days. However, he was “tired” of putting effort into the relationship, and he needed more money from her.
He promised he would pay her all the money he owed her. Samantha said the banks would not give her any more money, and neither would her siblings who wanted their money back.
Ritterman said his feelings for her were “gradually dying away”. It was one of their final conversations.
It did not take long for her to be targeted again, this time by a George Harris, who is believed to be part of the same Tinder swindler scam. No money was sent.
Amanda spoke to Harris on the phone. Like Ritterman, his accent did not sound American or Kiwi.
“He would at various times have like a fake accent on, and you could tell it. I actually wondered if there were different people at different times ringing. They sounded slightly different.
“I imagine they’re just in a room, and they have a little bio of my mum pinned on the board saying ring this lady at this time, this is what her favourite colour is, this is what she likes to listen to.”
She was then targeted by a third man, who used the same photos, as Dale Plumides. However, his name was John.
Amanda said police “did everything they could” to try and track down those responsible who they believed were in Dubai. However, the trail “went cold”.
Samantha sold their former family home, which was tenanted at the time, to pay off the debt to the bank. However, some relatives remain out of pocket.
More than three years on, Amanda was stunned when she saw the articles about the Tinder swindler scam.
“I was like ‘that’s him, that’s them, that’s the syndicate’… I knew that in order to stop these guys we need publicity, we need to stop other people from falling into the same trap,” she said, adding her mother’s loans “should never have been approved”.
Bank loans ‘irresponsible’
The family complained to the Banking Ombudsman and said the money transfers from Samantha’s account to the money remitter, along with the subsequent lending requests, should have alerted the bank to the fraud. They complained the lending was “irresponsible”.
The Ombudsman found the bank complied with its responsible lending obligations and was not responsible for the loss she suffered. Samantha had investment properties that were used as security and generated an income to help with repayments.
“We noted it was not unusual to lend to older customers with investment properties who may not be working or who may be stopping work before the end of the loan term,” the Ombudsman said.
“There was no obligation on the bank to monitor [Samantha’s] transfers to the money remittance service. Plus, she had given credible reasons for the first two loan applications, which would not have alerted the bank to the possibility she was the victim of a scam and was sending money overseas. “
However, the Ombudsman said that by the third loan it considered the bank “ought to have noticed something might be amiss”.
“(Samantha) said she needed this $165,000 loan for ‘business retainers’ for her partner. The bank officer asked outright: “Is this a scam?” (Samantha) replied no and the bank officer proceeded with the loan application. We found there were enough warning signs at this point that the bank should have asked more questions to satisfy itself it was not a fraud.”
The loan request came only 12 days after getting her last loan.
The Ombudsman believed Samantha would have given “credible answers” to any further questions from the bank that would have satisfied the bank.
“She had done her own research and was convinced about the legitimacy of the person to whom she was sending the money. Her other actions also indicated she was eager to proceed with the lending and would do what was required to get it.”
Samantha’s family are considering what further action can be taken.
Amanda said the last few years had been “devastating” and “very stressful”. She says those responsible need to be stopped.
“We must learn from the mistakes of others. This is not something any family should have to go through. We are, and need to be, smarter than the criminals.”
Amanda’s sister said those being scammed were not only losing money, but the person they thought they loved.
“The fact that whilst these men are out to make money and that has huge implications, it is the emotional distress for those involved that can’t be underestimated.”
Detective Senior Sergeant Greg Dalziel, from the police Cybercrime Unit, said investigations of romance scams would vary depending on the individual circumstances of the offending.
“Some of this offending can last years, and involve many transactions made to accounts and locations all over the world.
“While this can make it hard for authorities to track, it does not make it impossible – however, as a general rule, the longer it is before authorities are notified, the less likely any money can be recovered.”
Often the transactions were frequent, but smaller in amount, which meant they did not necessarily raise immediate suspicions with financial authorities, he said.
It was also important to ensure victims were “well-supported and informed” as to their options and what could be done.
“There is a lot of information in the public domain about how to prevent becoming the victim of a romance scam.
“With social media and technological advances, it can be very easy for these scammers to provide convincing-enough ‘proof’ they are legitimate, so it comes down to logic and reason. If someone really is in financial trouble, there are numerous other options available to them, and you are not obliged to help.”
The Green Party wants an inquiry into banks’ processes in dealing with scams. On Wednesday, Parliament’s Finance and Expenditure Committee unanimously agreed to open a briefing into the responsibility of banks in identifying the “hallmarks” of scams.
Amanda said such an inquiry was “so needed”.
Private investigator John Borland, who is looking into Joanne’s case, said an inquiry “absolutely has to happen”.
“Overall banks do a good job in certain areas of fraud, but we are looking at a dating scam pandemic stretching years and a review needs to be done to see whether banks are doing enough for their customers.”
Police are urging people to be wary of any online approaches where something might seem amiss.
People who always have excuses about why they can’t meet you in person or even video call.
Those who are often in a hard-to-reach place (eg working on oil rigs, in the military, working overseas)
People who always have a sob story (eg a child or family member is sick), and there’s always a degree of urgency.
Advice for those looking for love online includes:
Be careful what you post and make public on the internet. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name, or details have been used elsewhere.
Beware if the individual seems too perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
Note if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
Anyone who believes they are the victim of a scam can contact police and report the matter via 105, or visit consumerprotection.govt.nz/general-help/scamwatch for more information on how to protect themselves, family and friends from being scammed.
*Names have been changed to protect victims’ identities.