A New Zealand woman spent two and a half years in prison after she fell for an online romance scam.On Wednesday, Sharon Armstrong, 59, recounted her story at a Queensland University of Technology symposium on the reality of romance fraud.Sally Kabak was sent photos she believed were of Michael Aiden Paige, who promised her marriage.In fact the photos were of Melvin Staaf, a Canadian business owner, who says the photos were lifted from his own online profiles. He was just so, so convincing, and so genuine in his feelings, I thought," she said, although she now knows there were warning signs."Some things didn't sound right [but] my heart was ruling my head [telling me] 'this is fine, don't be silly'."About two years after her husband, Norm, died, Kabak began internet dating. They began having lengthy phone conversations and sharing intimate emails.Last year in the UK, online dating scammers conned their dates out of £33 million.Anna Moore investigates the crooks who target smart, successful women Using a fake profile on the popular dating site (they operated as ‘Christian Anderson’, a divorced engineer), the pair managed to persuade a newly divorced mother of two to sign over a staggering £1.6 million, some of it her own, the rest borrowed from family and friends.It all started several years ago when Armstrong signed up for an online dating site, met a guy, and "fell hard and fast" in her words.As Armstrong told "He talked about our future together. When my computer was later analyzed they found more than 7000 emails. There was always an excuse for why he couldn’t Skype.
She has now complained to police, in a bid to recover at least some of the money, and is speaking out in the hope she can help others.Armstrong researched the company and determined it was legitimate.Additionally, while other dating scammers have asked for money from their victims, this particular fraudster agreed to pay for Armstrong's airfare both ways.Using age-old marketing techniques, Christian created a picture of their life together so real that the victim actually went house-hunting for the two of them.The life he described would all be theirs, if they could just get those few final obstacles out of the way…Dating fraud is becoming more sophisticated, more successful – and more devastating to its victims.Victims—predominantly older widowed or divorced women targeted by criminal groups usually from Nigeria—are, for the most part, computer literate and educated. And con artists know exactly how to exploit that vulnerability because potential victims freely post details about their lives and personalities on dating and social media sites.Trolling for victims online “is like throwing a fishing line,” said Special Agent Christine Beining, a veteran financial fraud investigator in the FBI’s Houston Division who has seen a substantial increase in the number of romance scam cases.'I love you, I want to marry you.' He just knew all the things to say.He totally had me hooked into his scheme." Kabak who has long been an internet user, was drawn into an internet romance scam.On the basis of just these scant facts, it seems incredible that a well-educated, successful and responsible woman would even consider handing over her life-savings to an apparent stranger – and yet chilling details from the trial hint at the sophisticated brainwashing involved.Based on the secret techniques of pick-up artists, the book contains step-by-step instructions on how to ensnare a victim, such as ‘Select a Target’, ‘Isolate the Target’, ‘Create an Emotional Connection’ and ‘Blast Last-Minute Resistance’.He says he’s single, honest and looking for love – just like you, in fact.All he needs is a little money to get him through a tricky situation…“The Internet makes this type of crime easy because you can pretend to be anybody you want to be.