Thieves use photo?s to con ?lonely-hearts?

Laura Stace

Minutes before checking in to fly back to Los Angeles after my Christmas vacation in Australia, my handbag was stolen right under my nose. I took my eyes off of it for a split second to bid my parents farewell and thieves took advantage of a prime opportunity. My tropical vacation in paradise soon turned into the vacation from hell, as I learned that I had been the target of Internet con men.

It has only been a week, but I’m not the latest victim of criminals who have been targeting travelers’ identities at an Australian airport a trend that’s growing according to authorities.

Yesterday the Queensland Police reported another tourist’s handbag had been stolen from the Cairns International Airport.

While it appears to be your everyday theft, leave your handbag unattended for a split second and in a flash it is gone, Queensland Police Detective Murray Ferguson says that the thieves have a specific target in mind.

It’s not money, traveler’s checks or credit cards they are after, but photo’s.

‘Drivers licenses, passports and holiday photos is what they want,’ Ferguson said. ‘They can scan in these pictures and use them to create other types of documents and forms of identification. However the biggest problem right now is the lonely-hearts scam.’

The scammers join legitimate dating Web sites and use the stolen pictures to attract members of the opposite or same sex. Once they have contact with another dating Web site member they insist on Emailing them privately so as to avoid the constant security checks by Web site coordinators.

‘Then comes the hard luck story by around the fifth email. My mother is sick, my sister is sick,’ Ferguson said. ‘At first the scammer refuses any offers of money made by the victim but quickly they give in and it is usually with the promise of a long term relationship.’

The Queensland Police said last year it worked with the Nigerian Economic Financial Crimes Commission to arrest a man in Nigeria who had scammed $20,000 from an Australian dating Web site member. The victim believed he was sending money to help the woman of his dreams, but was actually being conned by a 23-year-old man.

According to Police Minister Judy Spence while the Queensland Police are world leaders in the investigation of Internet-based crime, the estimates of financial loses to Queenslanders for Internet fraud are estimated at half a million Australian dollars a month.

Ferguson said the actual figure would be much higher if all Internet crime was reported.

‘Many people do not report that they have been the victim of Internet fraud as they are embarrassed,’ he said.

While it’s not exactly known as to why two weeks ago a Swedish backpacker, yesterday a Canadian tourist and last week myself were victims of Internet fraudsters, Ferguson said identity thieves generally target young female tourists.

As Queensland Police vigorously patrol airports for theft and trawl the Internet for scams, criminals continue to use stolen photos to procure victims into their Web of deceit. In the meantime I will be waiting by the mailbox in the scorching summer heat for my new passport and work visa to arrive from the U.S Consulate, so I can make it back to CSUN in time to finish my journalism degree.