New website tackles online dating scams

  • 16/01/2016
New website tackles online dating scams

By Alice Wilkins

Sharon Armstrong knows only too well the implications of falling prey to a drug smuggling scam.

Arrested in Buenos Aires in 2011, she was sentenced to almost five years in prison for possession of five kilograms of cocaine in her suitcase.

But Armstrong thought she was picking up a paper contract on her way to London, to meet an internet boyfriend.

"I consider myself to be a relatively intelligent, professional woman; however, they were successful in leading me to believe in something that I just realised subsequently wasn't real," she says.

Armstrong served two and a half years of her jail sentence before she was granted an early release.

Others caught for that crime haven't always been as lucky; many serve life terms or even face the death penalty.

The internet has opened up a whole new way the cartels or scammers are able to groom potential victims.

Armstrong has always claimed she was deceived by a person posing as her lover online. Now she's back in New Zealand she's taken on an advisory role for a new website. It's called MULE and has been set up by international human rights lawyer Craig Tuck.

A team of lawyers, psychologists and surveillance experts offer their services online to prevent people being sucked in.

"We decided to pool our resources, see what was going on, do some research and rather than just being the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff, which is often the job I do when people are detained or arrested, look at what sort of resources and education and immediate help that we could provide people," says Mr Tuck.

Mr Tuck represented New Zealander Antony de Malmanche, who was arrested in Bali in 2014 for carrying 1.75kg of crystal meth in his backpack. He too believed he was meeting an online partner.

"There is a problem that needs to be addressed and hopefully this sort of initiative will help."

Mr Tuck says as smart as you think you are, everyone should be aware that con artists are constantly coming up with new and more devious ways to abuse our trust.

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