IMAGINE you'd fallen deeply in love and, to expedite the first meeting with that perfect sounding partner after months of intense online courting, you'd sent them some money only to discover you'll never see them, or your money, again.
Jan Marshall doesn't have to imagine it.
By the 65 year-old's own admission she is a loving and generous person, which an online scammer recognised only too well six years ago and fleeced her of more than $250,000.
Jan had worked for 30 years in computers, IT and later in change management. She moved from Brisbane to Melbourne to finish off her working life and had put away a modest nest egg for retirement.
In 2012 she ventured online to seek someone special and encountered Eamon who, over the course of several months, developed what seemed a beautiful and totally absorbing relationship with her.
"Scammers take time to make friends; they build the relationship," Jan said.
"It starts with the written word, and its power cannot be underestimated.
"They are words you read time and time again.
"It had been many years since I'd had a partner and I was longing for connection.
"This is one thing that can make older people vulnerable - that longing doesn't disappear when you're older. Many senior people lose partners and feel alone.
"Where do they go? If they look online, many might not recognise security risks. I had worked in IT since 1984, but there's a naivety when we're online.
"Scammers deliberately target people going online for the first time, so it's not necessarily an age thing but more about being first-timers."
Jan's story has so many layers, and she tells it all in her book Romance Scam Survivor - the whole sordid story.
In a candid, bare-all account, Jan reveals how the scam unfolded, the complex emotions at play, the glorious hope and the overwhelming shame that hit when she realised it was all a very expensive hoax.
She then describes the aftermath: dealing with the financial, emotional and social fallout that drove her to the edge.
"Scammers are professional, skilled manipulators - what they do is abuse; it's absolutely abuse," she said.
"A positive for me is that I've been able to come through it. Most victims don't get past the shame.
"I made a mistake - that's human; but in 2015 I started speaking out and that really helped me come through. Prior to that I had all sorts of issues with depression and lack of self-respect."
Jan also started a website dedicated to providing information for people who have been victims of an internet romance or dating scam. She regularly posted blogs for a couple of years and still does when she has something to say.
She also speaks to social groups about online dating scams.
"Whenever I have the opportunity, I speak out about it," she said. "There is not a lot authorities can do, and there is very little support for victims."
The ACCC's Scamwatch website says that in 2017, Australian victims of dating and romance scams lost $20.53 million.
Just over half of the 3763 reports of scams received came from women. Scams target people of all ages, but older people can be particularly vulnerable.
Information about recognising and reporting romance and other scams at www.scamwatch.gov.au
- Read Jan's blogs and other information about romance scams, buy a copy of her book, visit www.romancescamsurvivor.org or find Jan on Facebook.