Producer: David Alrich
Most of us have figured out by now that transferring our life savings into a Nigerian bank account is a mug's game.
We know there's no royal fortune. No multi-million dollar return. In fact, no hope of ever seeing our money again.
Maybe that's why the men behind those dodgy emails have moved on to scams that are more sophisticated, and far more callous.
Now they don't just bankrupt their victims, they break their hearts as well.
So we decided to take them on at their own game.
We set up a sting of our own and it wasn’t long before the sharks took the bait.
Read Liam's blog on this story and have your say
1300 884 596
Queensland Fraud Squad
(07) 3364 6622
LIAM BARTLETT: In a luxury hotel room, we carefully set our trap – with the help of experienced fraud investigators. Our targets lurk in the street below – Nigerian conmen awaiting the call from another victim. But this time the call will come from us and undercover police are ready to pounce.
DAMIEN: No more mucking around – you want your money, come up. I’ll give it to you, you can go. These greedy scammers are slicker than ever. To better hide their tracks they’ve spread from Nigeria to become a global pandemic.
BRIAN: They’re intelligent, they’re resourceful, they’ve got global networks and let’s face it – at this point in time, they’re winning the battle.
LIAM BARTLETT: Here in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, our chance to strike back.
DAMIEN: That’s when you and the police come in.
LIAM BARTLETT: On behalf of the 10,000 Australians who, despite all the publicity, still hand over a total of $10 million to these shysters every single month.
DAMIEN: You count…
LIAM: Good afternoon, we’re from ‘60 Minutes Australia’ and you seem to be in a lot of trouble.
JULIA: Well. They’re the lowest of the low. They’re absolute scumbags and they are a poor excuse for a conman.
LIAM BARTLETT: When we first exposed Nigerian scammers in Lagos six years ago, they ran a simple but lucrative operation – sending dodgy emails around the world requesting money, with the lure of a handsome return.
POLICE: Sit down! Sit down!
LIAM BARTLETT: But the swindlers have a new schtick. They’ve moved onto dating sites and the cruel hook they use is the promise of love.
ROSALIE: I suppose he absolutely had me by my heart. This guy was just telling me everything that I wanted to know.
LIAM BARTLETT: He was saying everything he knew you wanted to hear.
ROSALIE: Everything I wanted to hear, yep. He was making me feel as if I was worth a person.
LIAM BARTLETT: Rosalie is 53 – divorced and terribly lonely. For romance scammers, the perfect mark. Looking for love online, she met Benjamin Walthol – a handsome, American businessman, working in Malaysia. Ben wooed her for hours at a time – he even sent flowers. Rosalie believed she’d finally found true love. And when the man of her dreams asked for loans to help his business, she happily handed over thousands.
ROSALIE: $90,000 plus what I still owe in phone calls and I have a debt of fifteen thousand dollars.
LIAM BARTLETT: You’ve given away your entire life savings and you’re in debt?
LIAM BARTLETT: But even now, Rosalie clings to the dream that Ben will repay the loans and they’ll begin a new life together as he promised. Her brother Neville knows better.
NEVILLE: The whole family has been banging their heads against a brick wall. It’s very difficult.
LIAM BARTLETT: At the risk of breaking his sister’s heart, Neville has sought professional intervention to expose the truth.
JULIA: Look, Neville brought us here because we have some serious concerns about the man you’ve met online and that he’s not the person who he claims to be.
LIAM BARTLETT: Julia Robson is a new breed of investigator. She runs DateScreen, conducting background checks for people who’ve met on dating sites – and business is booming
JULIA: The golden rule is if you’ve met them online and they ask for money, it is a scam.
LIAM BARTLETT: Julia has followed Rosalie’s money trail to Malaysia and noticed references to a man called Bidemi Bakare.
JULIA: Bidemi, his name came up on documents that Rosalie was sending via Western Union. His name was written on the documents as collecting it, so straight away we had a suspect in mind
LIAM BARTLETT: And sure enough Rosalie’s white, middle-aged Lothario, Benjamin Walthol, is a fake. This is the man who’s really been romancing her – Bidemi Bakare. His Facebook page reveals a champagne-lifestyle in Kuala Lumpur, funded by the money he’s swindled from Rosalie and countless other women.
JULIA: We’ll find him. We’ll track him down and we’ll prove to you that this person you thought was Benjamin Walthol is really Bidemi.
BIDEMI: I miss you, I’ve been thinking about you long.
JULIA: Oh I know, I can hardly sleep
LIAM BARTLETT: And so in Kuala Lumpur, we set out to take on this swindler at his own game. Julia poses on a dating site as Amber – and befriends Benjamin.
BIDEMI: I’m thinking baby, I’m thinking if you can send some round figure of say $20,000 so I can have some pocket money on me, you know.
LIAM BARTLETT: You did exactly what he does. Created another identity and targeted him
JULIA: That’s exactly it.
LIAM BARTLETT: And sure enough, Bidemi comes sniffing for the easy cash – $23,000 that Amber has promised will be delivered by a business associate. Former Victorian undercover cop, Damien Marratt, is playing our middleman.
DAMIAN: We bought in the ruse that she had a friend, Jack – myself – who often travels through Singapore and Asia on business and basically I could deliver the money personally.
LIAM BARTLETT: We’ve wired the room with microphones and hidden cameras. It’s one thing to get Bidemi to the room but for a conviction, we need the money shot – the moment he accepts the cash.
DAMIAN: We’ll have a quick chat to him, show him the money, get everything we need on tape just to show he’s involved in the scam and yeah, that’s when you and the police come in.
LIAM BARTLETT: In an adjacent room, we wait with surveillance gear, Julia, and a posse of Malaysia’s finest detectives. Out on the street, undercover police surround the hotel.
DAMIAN: Sorry mate, $23,000. I don’t know about money here, but $23,000 is a lot of money.
LIAM BARTLETT: But after repeated phone calls, we fear Bidemi is getting cold feet. Then finally, a knock on the door...
DAMIAN: I’m Jack – So who have I been talking to? Sit down ..
LIAM BARTLETT: … but it’s not our man. The crafty conman Bidemi has sent a local teenager to collect the cash.
DAMIAN: That is three …you count to make sure.
LIAM BARTLETT: Hi, good afternoon – we’re from ‘60 Minutes Australia’ and you seem to be in a lot of trouble. It’s a bust, but not our target. We want Bidemi
DAMIAN: Ben if you want your money no more mucking around. If you want your money come up. I’ll give it to you, you can go...
LIAM BARTLETT: So, we take a gamble. We let the courier go, knowing he may run. But our hope is he’ll lead us right to our main man. And yes – in the streets around the hotel, the undercover police swoop. Bidemi and five accomplices – nabbed. Do you know Rosalie?
BIDEMI: I don’t, sir.
LIAM BARTLETT: You don’t know, Rosalie. What have you done with the $53,000 she gave you?
JULIA: You are the lowest form of a conman that I have ever met. The woman that I’ve spoken to – the pain and the destruction of their family you have caused from this stupid little trick. All of you, look at you – you’re absolutely disgusting. The stories I’ve heard – I have no sympathy for these people. None whatsoever.
BIDEMI: She says she thinks I’m Benjamin.
LIAM: Yes, because you called yourself ‘Benjamin’.
BIDEMI: Yeah, I know.
JULIA: Now the moment of truth – proving Bidemi is Rosalie’s online lover, Benjamin. And guess who’s number we find on his phone.
LIAM BARTLETT: Oh, what a surprise! Hello is that Rosalie? We’re standing in a hotel in Kuala Lumpur at the moment and I’ve got a fellow standing next to me wearing a set of hand cuffs. He just wants to say a few words, see if you can recognise this voice. Can you just talk to him for a moment?
LIAM BARTLETT: Don’t be shy, tell them what name you’re using now.
BIDEMI: Benjamin. Benjamin Walthol.
LIAM BARTLETT: Unbelievably, we found the numbers of another 81 Australian women on Bidemi’s mobile. That list is being investigated by Australian authorities. So you’re halfway through that list and so far it’s almost 100% strike rate?
LIAM BARTLETT: On the victims.
LIAM BARTLETT: He was a busy boy, wasn’t he?
BRIAN: Well he was very successful until you people came along.
LIAM BARTLETT: Brian Hay’s job, as head of the Queensland Fraud Squad, is to catch the scammers. But he spends more time counselling their targets.
BRIAN: You’re not victims, you’re survivors. You’ve gone through it, you’ve come out the other end and you’re not letting the bastards get it from you anymore.
LIAM BARTLETT: In Brisbane police headquarters, a support group for women – and men – who’ve been stung by Nigerians.
WOMAN #1: I willingly parted with $300,000.
MAN: You get sucked in and you find out when it’s too late and it’s cost you money.
WOMAN #2: He talked to me for quite a while, madly in love with me, never seen me before but madly in love with me. And wanted to make my life good.
BRIAN: For these people, it is love. They believe it, they live it, they breathe it, they yearn for it and to them it’s very real, very tangible.
POLICEMAN: They’re sending the money to Nigeria.
LIAM BARTLETT: Meanwhile, back at Bidemi’s place, we’re following the paper trail. Most of those ill-gotten gains are sent straight back to Nigeria into the hands of crime gangs and even terrorist groups. But men like Bidemi cream enough of the profit to keep themselves in the best of bling.
LIAM BARTLETT: Where does a student get $800 for a pair of designer label sneakers?
BIDEMI: My mum, she sent pocket money.
LIAM: Your mum sent you pocket money?
LIAM BARTLETT: From Nigeria?
LIAM BARTLETT: You got the most generous mother in the world have you? Gee. $800 for sneakers. There’ll be no Louis Vuitton where Bidemi and his fellow conmen are headed – Malaysian prison and then deportation back to Nigeria.
ROSALIE: I don’t hate him I just feel sorry for him. I don’t know how that a person could do that to someone who’s just trying to help and that’s all I wanted was to help him to get out of Malaysia and he promised me absolutely a new life.
JULIA: These people are in a place in their life where they are lonely, they are looking for love, something...
LIAM BARTLETT: Does that make them silly?
JULIA: No, it doesn’t make them silly. There’s nothing wrong with having friendships and falling in love with someone online. That’s not the issue.
LIAM BARTLETT: The danger arises when that love is blind – Rosalie’s desperate heart made her ignore all the warnings. Even after all we’d told her, Rosalie had been back at the computer being wooed by a new man calling himself ‘Richard’. Rosalie, while we’ve been having this interview, we’ve checked out Richard Williams’ email and guess what? It’s on a blacklist. He’s a scammer too. He’s not who he says he is and he certainly doesn’t love you as he’s professing.
ROSALIE: Really? You’ve actually checked out that email address as...
LIAM BARTLETT: While we’ve been talking. Rosalie, please turn the computer off, Rosalie. Just please turn the computer off. If you can’t see the whites of their eyes and they’re not buying you a drink. Don’t talk to them.
ROSALIE: No one buys me a drink. That’s the whole problem.