By Kaitlyn Offer, Herald Sun
The body of Jette Jacobs, 67, of Wagin, was found in her rented Johannesburg villa by police on February 9.
Ms Jacobs had travelled from Wagin, about 200km south-east of Perth, on November 22 last year to visit a Nigerian man she was having a relationship with on the internet.
Her death is being investigated by local police.
According to WA Police, it is the first such WA death as a consequence of an online scam.
Ms Jacobs, a widow with six grandchildren, lost her husband in 2002 and her subsequent partner in 2009.
She then met a man purporting to be “Jesse Orowo Omokoh” from Nigeria on a dating website and they had regular contact over a four year period.
Ms Jacobs had sent at least $80,000 to Nigeria during this time and met the man known as Jesse during a visit to Johannesburg in 2010 without incident.
During her last visit, Ms Jacobs was to meet Jesse for a second time but he said he could not get a visa to join her immediately.
A letter from Project Sunbird was sent to Ms Jacobs warning that she may be a victim of fraud, but it arrived shortly after she had left Australia.
Project Sunbird is a joint operation between WA Police and Consumer Protection that tracks large amounts of money being sent from WA to West African countries and attempts to warn the senders that they could be victims of relationship fraud.
WA Police and Ms Jacobs’ son believe she may have died in suspicious circumstances, with her money, credit cards, jewellery, laptop computer and other personal items missing from the villa.
Detective Senior Constable Robert Martin from the Major Fraud Squad today said such scams had now revealed “tragic consequences”.
“We were hoping with our operation we would be able to prevent this from occurring,” he said.
“Unfortunately with Ms Jacobs, she did receive a letter from our Operation Sunbird team, informing her of the dangers, however she had departed for South Africa prior to receiving the letter. Her friend had the letter sitting in the room when I went to visit, it was sitting on the table.”
Const Martin said detectives had found an extensive paper trail showing the relationship stemmed back four years, with a number of emails between the two, including one where Ms Jacobs tells Jesse she is raising money for him – the money was meant to go to sick children.
“I am try as you know to raise the money and by the way you are the only one who know this ok,” she wrote.
“I will never tell anybody what I am doing here foe (sic) you ok. That is betwin (sic) you and me ok.”
“Thank you my sweet woman. Yes I know,” Jesse replied.
Const Martin said the task force was now creating a database of scammers to see if Jesse had more WA victims.
Ms Jacobs’ son, who did not want to be named, said her friends and family had tried to talk her out of going to South Africa, but she could not be swayed.
“Mum went over for a couple of months and did not return,” he said.
“So as you can see, one consequence of the internet scammers has taken her life.”
He urged others who find love on the internet to be cautious.
“Don’t go, because at the end of the day, they are running a business or a scam or what they want to believe it is, to lure people to go to Africa, and no saying it’s a one way ticket, but there’s a possibility it’s a one way ticket and no return,” he said.
“If you do meet someone who is truly in love with you, money doesn’t buy it.”
WA ScamNet’s top tips to avoid relationship fraud:
* Do not respond to out-of-the-blue social media messages from strangers requesting romance, such as a friend request on Facebook.
* Be on your guard if someone you meet on an online dating site asks you to take the conversation over to email or instant messaging.
* Be wary of overseas-based singles especially if they confess their love for you after a short amount of time or want to know about your financial status.
* Remember that just because someone shares personal photos does not mean the pictures are of them – scammers often steal other people’s photos.
* Don’t be fooled into thinking that talking to somebody on the phone means you know them and that they are who they say there are.
* Be concerned if a person refuses to chat real-time via a webcam and be mindful that even Skype is not scammer proof – watch out for pre-recorded videos.
* Alarm bells should ring if someone you do not know personally (have met face-to-face) requests money, particularly by a wire transfer service such as Western Union or even direct bank transfers, which could be going to an account set up with a stolen identity.