Relationships

How this Wellington author lost $140,000 in an online dating scam

''He ticked all the boxes of what I thought would be fantastic... I never thought for a nano-second it wasn't legit.''

By Cloe Willetts
Jordan Alexander had found the perfect love match. He was chatty and intelligent, a successful businessman with wholesome values, dark hair and piercing blue eyes.
Like her, James was a consultant who worked internationally and his tragic past as a widowed dad pulled on the mother-of-two's heartstrings.
Her dream man, who she met online and clicked with over daily conversations, sent flowers from London and said he was looking for a life partner. In Jordan's eyes, it was fate.
"He ticked all the boxes of what I thought would be fantastic," says the Wellington-based author of dating-safety book I Love You, Send Money. "I never thought for a nano-second it wasn't legit."
But half a year after introducing herself online, Canadian-born Jordan was alone in Hawaii, waiting to meet the man who never showed and had left her $140,000 in debt.
Jordan, 51, was the victim of an intricate internet-dating scam that robbed her of her money and confidence. She's now using her traumatic experience to prevent other Kiwis from falling prey.
Six years ago, friends convinced the busy mum to sign up to a dating website after her marriage to the father of her girls Sage, 18, and Ella, 16, had ended.
"I loved the concept that no-one knew what you looked like and could fall in love with you based on a true connection," explains Jordan.
"When I met James online, the fourth person I chatted to, he said everything I wanted to hear. I thought, 'It doesn't matter if he's all the way across the other side of the globe – it's fate.'"
In Hawaii, waiting for James to meet her.
When he asked to take the conversation off the dating site – which she now knows is a vital red flag – she was flattered.
"We talked a lot through MSN and email, and spoke over the phone once," she tells.
"He said he was from London but also had a house in New York. James claimed he sounded a bit Spanish and South African because he moved around as a kid and for work."
Jordan admits it sounds silly now. "But you've got the love goggles on," she explains. "Everyone does goofy stuff when they're in love and unfortunately, my goofy ended up quite tragic."
She helped the man she loved with business proposals and was given access to his bank accounts, where she could see he had plenty of money. But it was all part of an elaborate scam to build her trust, before asking her to borrow money.
"He said he was having trouble accessing his funds and needed to buy equipment for work from China because he was a railway consultant," she recalls. "I said I didn't have cash lying around, but there was a line of credit I could borrow off – I'd just really need it back."
First he asked for $15,000 and then another $40,000 as more requests followed. At times, he paid the money back before coming up with reasons for needing to borrow more.
When Jordan emailed a supplier in China on his behalf once, the exchanged messages included Cantonese characters. She believes the intricate efforts put into the scam meant there was a group of people behind the character James, with multiple victims on the go.
"I wasn't nervous until I was in Hawaii, a neutral first meeting spot," admits Jordan. "James said he was in Sri Lanka and was going to be a couple of days late. Then it was a couple more days."
On the fifth day, Jordan realised he wasn't coming. "It was a shock when I realised I'd been scammed. I immediately felt betrayal, followed with, 'Oh, gosh, what are you going to do about the money?'"
Then the shame hit. "I thought I was a reasonably smart person. I didn't tell anyone because of the self-deprecation and by the time I had enough strength to report my scam two years later, it was way too late."
Jordan ended up losing her home because of the debt. She knew the only way to get past the ordeal was to somehow use her lesson to warn others.
When she wrote I Love You, Send Money, a book that includes email snippets between her and James, she talked about the personal shame, red flags and need to be relationship-ready before going online. Jordan mentioned how romance scams cost the world a shocking $60 billion a year. She also set up Love Assist Associates, which offers internet-dating education seminars.
"My experience really knocked me for six and it took me four years to start dating again," tells Jordan, who surprisingly still believes in love on the net.
"I actually met the partner I'm with now on Tinder! The genuine love you can find is bloody marvellous."
But Jordan's quick to remind people that if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. "Listen to your instincts," she warns. "It's taken a long time and I'm not the same person I was six years ago – but you do learn to trust again."