Queensland police are warning of a rapidly growing type of fraud that uses Russian brides and dating Web sites to con victims into becoming money launderers and drug mules.
In an evolution of the infamous Nigerian scam, criminals are preying on people registered on dating sites, according to Brian Hay, operations commander of the fraud and corporate crimes group at the Queensland Police.
"We see a great deal of energy being placed into victimising online dating processes. Not only could [victims] lose their savings, assets and possessions, they lose their self-esteem, get a broken heart and sometimes require medication.
"In addition to that, we know that romance scam victims have been set up to become mules to transport heroin into Australia," said Hay during a special presentation at the AusCERT 2008 security conference today.
Graham Ingram, general manager of AusCERT, explained that victims have been fooled into laundering money because they believe they are doing a favour for someone they think is a prospective partner, who they met on a dating Web site.
"We have seen cases where the Russian bride has a friend in Melbourne or WA and her friend wants the bride to come over to visit, and is willing to pay for the bride's ticket — but her friend can't transfer the money directly to Russia," said Ingram.
Ingram said that the Russian bride would then ask if the victim would mind if her Australian friend transferred a sizable amount of money into the victim's account. The victim would then transfer the cash to the Russian bride's account so she could buy her ticket to visit.
"People say, 'it can't be a fraud because they are not asking for my money', where in actual fact they are moving money from banking scams," added Ingram.
Hay said that to combat this type of fraud — and to continue the battle against the Nigerian 419 scam — AusCERT and the Queensland police will be hosting a forum tomorrow that will include representatives from "dating sites, online commerce, banking and government departments, to share information and develop strategies so we can further protect the communities of Australia".
Hay said that despite revelations last year that Queenslanders were being defrauded out of vast quantities of cash each month by Nigerian scammers, they are still losing up to AU$500,000 a month.
When asked how the rest of Australia fared, Hay said the news was grim: "It is a very sad state of affairs if you look across the nation. Typically [Queensland] represents approximately one-fifth [of total losses]. Massive losses have been felt in other states," he added.