Family’s worry as elderly man pours life savings into romance scam
Two siblings have spoken about the heartache of watching an elderly loved one stubbornly pour up to $100,000 into a Nigeria-based romance scam despite their protests.
The pair did not wish to be named, believing the toll the story would take on relationships within the family would be too great, but told the Herald about how their father, who is in his 80s, faithfully sends large sums of money to a woman in Nigeria every month.
And there was nothing they could do to stop it.
The octogenarian had been making transactions for more than two years.
The siblings told the Herald they felt utterly powerless to intervene.
“It’s heartbreaking all around for all his kids,” his son said.
They felt their late mother had worked hard for the money and “didn’t get to enjoy it really”.
Their father had shut himself off from the whole family so he can carry out this addiction, he said.
“It’s incredibly frustrating – we have sort of lost a father and a grandfather.
But he still believed the relationship was legitimate, he said.
“He will say things like ‘she can tell how I am feeling just by the sound of my voice’.
“Of course she can – that’s her job.”
Emotionally he had been wrapped around her little finger, he said.
“She’s just bleeding him dry.
“My father send her gifts all the time to her address in Nigeria.”
One of the rooms in his house was locked to conceal the presents he planned to send her.
“It’s things like a lot of jewellery – because we can see by his bank records that he has been going to Michael Hill.”
Perfumes, chocolates, food, handbags and shoes – “you name it, he sends it”.
“She is a real person because she skypes with him all the time.”
The age gap between the pensioner and his Nigerian pen pal was just over 40 years.
“He believes she’s in love, but she won’t come to New Zealand or anything like that.”
The family questioned why she would never visit, but the pensioner would turn his back on them rather than respond.
“Deep down I believe he knows he is being scammed.”
He had sold some of his valuables to send her more money, he said.
“It’s his money, he can pretty much do what he wants with it.”
Unless he was in a coma, the family could not control his finances, he said.
But they did worry about how he would get by on a pension in the years to come.
“It’s pretty hard to get by just on that.
“Eventually, he is not going to be able to support himself.”
His daughter also told the Herald it was difficult to watch unfold and that it was sad there was absolutely nothing the family could do to help.
“Extremely frustrating, but you either drive yourself crazy over it or… it is what it is unfortunately.
“There is nothing you can do.”
They had no way of knowing where the money was going, whether it was all going to this woman or to something more sinister, she said.
“He’s now in a situation where she demands money.”
He did not feel like he can say no, she said.
“Not that it’s threatening or anything – I can’t explain it.”
Netsafe CEO Martin Cocker said that if there was concern someone has fallen for a scam it was important to speak to them about it.
“Talk to them about the huge number of scams that exist and explain that many scams are quite sophisticated,” he said.
“As part of the discussion you could show them news articles or information on the Netsafe website about the scam.”
It was a good idea to encourage the person to contact Netsafe for advice, he said.
“It’s not always easy for a person who has sunk a lot of money into something to be convinced that it is a scam.
“If you need help explaining to someone that they may be caught in a scam you can get them to contact Netsafe for help and advice.”
Who to call if you have been scammed
• Netsafe on 0508 638723
• CERT NZ on 0800 2378 69
• Victim Support on 0800 842 846
• The Financial Markets Authority on 0800 434 566