In an online romance fraud, an Australian woman lost 300,000 dollars after she fell in love with a fake interior designer on Facebook calling himself Allan McCarty.
Acting Consumer Protection Commissioner Gary Newcombe said Nigerian criminals used Facebook profiles along with a business website to create Mr McCarty, an interior designer originally from Scotland but now living in Australia.
The man posing as Mr McCarty convinced the Perth-based woman that he needed the money for his business.
Consumer Protection and police teams after the investigations found that there were several other victims in New South Wales, including one woman who lost 50,000 dollars While some money went to the US or Dubai, where 'Allan McCarty' was supposedly working, funds appeared to have been funnelled through 'mule' accounts to West Africa.
"The business websites in this fraud were registered using a computer and email address in Nigeria," Mr Newcombe said. "It is believed that the Nigerian Internet user or users previously posed as another fake identity called 'Brian Scott' using the 'Allan McCarty' photos."
Mr Newcombe said the real man in the photographs had been identified but attempts to contact him had been fruitless. "We know that the man in the photographs lives in California," he said.
"He has low security and privacy settings on his Facebook profile, making it easy for scammers to steal his pictures. In real life this man appears to have been battling cancer and we suspect the fraudsters have picked him for that reason - they can potentially use as an excuse not to meet the victims in person and to seek financial assistance."
Online romance scams are now the most common type of 'advanced fee fraud' emanating from West Africa, according to Griffith University School of Criminology and Criminal Justice lecturer Jacqueline Drew, who says research shows victims, often females aged 50-59, are not simply "gullible" people.