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WA romance fraud victim avoids dangerous trip

Issue Date:  -  Saturday, 22 June 2013

A 70-year-old West Australian man, caught up in a romance fraud, has been prevented from travelling to West Africa to meet organised criminals who could have kidnapped or killed him.Benierpha photo 5

The intervention by WA Police Major Fraud Squad and Consumer Protection was part of the joint initiative ‘Project Sunbird’.

The victim, who wishes to be known as ‘John’ and does not want to disclose where he lives, was due to fly to Accra yesterday (Friday 21 June). He believed he had formed a relationship with a woman called Benierpha from Ghana.

“It all started with an out-of-the blue Skype message from a young lady called ‘Dora’ in Ghana who wanted a father figure because her parents had been killed. She didn’t want any money so I didn’t think it was a scam and I thought I was doing a good thing.

“After a few months ‘Dora’ introduced me to ‘Benierpha’ who wanted me to be her boyfriend. Benierpha spoke to me on the phone and Yahoo messenger all the time and sent me lots of photos. She didn’t work and wanted me to support her financially but it was only about $50-70 a fortnight so I could afford it.

“When I transferred money, which has come to about $4,000 in total, I had to send it to the brother of ‘Benierpha’ – his name was Godfred Adjei. I now know this man is a ringleader of a criminal gang called the Sakawa boys, who scam people on the internet.

“It was Godfred and ‘Dora’ who I was due to meet in Ghana to surprise ‘Benierpha’. I realise now that I was heading into a dangerous situation and I’m so grateful to the police for coming to visit me.”


You can listen to John's story:


Head of the WA Police Major Fraud Squad Detective Senior Sergeant Dom Blackshaw says this scenario highlights a worrying trend.

“It’s extremely concerning that fraud victims are booking flights to places like Ghana in the hope of either meeting love interests or the promoters of investment opportunities. We believe that they are placing themselves at extreme risk of being extorted, kidnapped or at worse, murdered. I would urge anyone in a position like this not to travel.”

DSS Blackshaw added that Western Australians should be very careful when sending money by wire or bank transfer to a person they have never met.

“Unwitting people here are essentially funding organised crime overseas. This is a big issue because we’re seeing about $500,000 a month being sent from Western Australia to fraudsters in West Africa; this figure does not take into account money going to scammers in countries such as Malaysia, the US, Canada and the UK.

“Often what also happens is that these criminals create reasons that convince victims to allow funds to be deposited into their bank accounts. They then ask these victims to transfer the funds on to someone else. They are using members of our community as mules to launder their dirty money.”

Commissioner for Consumer Protection Anne Driscoll said anyone who was suspicious about the true identity of an overseas-based online friend who requests money, should do a bit of internet research or call [ Article KFVHNRWQSQZRLEF5P63HLDFVNMUO1S not found.] for help.

“Our investigator did a Google Image search using the photos of ‘Benierpha’, to reveal a Facebook profile which is clearly dodgy. We suspect it is run to facilitate romance scams and we are taking steps to try to shut it down.

“Typing the name Godfred Adjei into your search engine brings up articles about him being on the run and being arrested in connection with romance frauds started online.

“We are thankful we got the opportunity to show this information to ‘John’ to prevent him from travelling. I am also pleased to report that we managed to obtain him a $1,900 refund on his flight booking.”

There is more information about Project Sunbird, including tips to avoid fraud and help for victims.

Anyone who suspects they or someone they know is caught up in a scam/fraud can seek help by calling 1300 30 40 54 or emailing wascamnet@commerce.wa.gov.au.

Images of scammer Benierpha
Benierpha photo 1_thumbBenierpha photo 2_thumbBenierpha photo 3_thumbBenierpha photo 4_thumb