WA farmer loses life savings to ‘catfish’ scam

Charlotte EltonThe West Australian
VideoA Melbourne woman is facing more jail time for catfishing luring an unsuspecting victim by pretending to be someone else.

A WA man has been left both heartbroken and broke after his fake online partner scammed him out of his life’s savings.

60-year-old widower David Freeman met “Belinda” on a web dating service seven months ago — a cruel catfish who ultimately scammed him out of more than $220,000.

“My wife died two years ago. I was really lonely. I live up in York on a farm in the middle of nowhere, so there was no one to talk to,” Mr Freeman said.

“I met Belinda on Zoosk [a web dating platform]... she had a kind face, so I thought I’d give it a go.”

“Belinda” claimed to be a businesswoman who lived in Fremantle. Her backstory was elaborate, detailed down to the name of her dog, her Norwegian heritage, and her cheating Scottish ex-husband.

“We hit it off perfectly,” Mr Freeman recalled.

“We’d call on Skype for four or five hours every single day. But only voice calls, not video calls — Belinda said her laptop camera was broken.”

Soon enough, Belinda started asking Mr Freeman to transfer her money.

The first messages between "Belinda" and Dave Freeman on the Skype messenger app
Camera IconThe first messages between "Belinda" and Dave Freeman on the Skype messenger app

She told Mr Freeman that she was going on a business trip to Malaysia. Then, she rang him with urgent news — she’d been stopped by police at the airport for not paying exit tax on $2 million worth of jewellery.

He agreed to lend her money to pay for a lawyer.

“It started small — a few thousand. I transferred it,” Mr Freeman said.

“She was so upset, she couldn’t eat, and sleep, it was very very believable. I was really worried about her.”

The story became increasingly outlandish. Belinda claimed that she was prevented from leaving the country twice more, and faced mounting legal fees. Mr Freeman kept paying — until one day, he realised he had nothing left.

“It had just trickled away. Little bit, little bit, little bit,” he remembered.

“The penny finally dropped.”

A reverse image search revealed that images of “Belinda” were actually pictures of an American lifestyle blogger. When Mr Freeman asked her for photos proving the address, she ghosted him for two days, then sent him a crudely photoshopped image. The Fremantle address she claimed to live at was actually just a shuttered pub.

“Belinda” didn’t exist.

Dave Freeman, who was scammed out of $220,000 by ‘Belinda’
Camera IconDave Freeman, who was scammed out of $220,000 by ‘Belinda’ Credit: Dave Freeman/Facebook

The vicious scam has robbed Mr Freeman of his life’s savings. The farm that he lives on is in his stepson’s name, and since he retired as a farm manager some years ago, he has no income.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I’m going to sell my car and then wait until the money runs out, I guess,” he said.

Mr Freeman raises orphaned kangaroo Joeys — an expense of $150 a week. He is worried that he won’t be able to care for them anymore.

But he’s lost more than money.

“I miss talking to her. I’ve got no one to talk to,” he said.

“I’ve not just lost the money — I’ve lost a potential partner, and a best friend.”

“How am I going to make the pain stop?”

According to Consumer Protection WA, 72 West Australians lost $2.17 million to romance and dating scams in 2020.

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