Wellington, widow Sally Kabak revealed how she was scammed by her online lover.

Even after being conned out of $100,000, and although she knows he does not exist, Sally Kabak admits she still misses “Michael”. Sally Kabak says she found “Michael” utterly convincing, and was willing to send him money in a desperate attempt to help him get back to New Zealand.

Kabak, who has long been an internet user, was drawn into an internet romance scam. Although she did not want to add up the piles of money orders because she “does not want to know” the documents show she made 20 payments ranging between $800 and almost $14,000 between August 2015 and February 2016. She has complained to police in a bid to recover at least some of the money, and she is speaking out in the hope she can help others. Sally Kabak was sent photos she believed were of Michael AidenPaige, who promised her marriage. In fact the photos were of Melvin Staaf, a Canadian business owner, who says the photos were lifted from his own online profiles.

“I do not think I am an idiot. He was just so convincing and so genuine in his feelings, I thought, “she said, although she knows there were warning signals. “Some things did not sound right, but my heart was ruling my head, telling me this is fine, do not be silly.”

About two years after her husband, Norm died, kabak began internet dating. Soon she was contacted by “Michael AidenPaige.” They began having lengthy phone conversations and sharing intimate emails. Michael’s claimed to be a Frenchman, who lived in Auckland (he had an Auckland phone number) who had to travel to South Africa for work. He never consented to a video chat or meeting, but sent photos of a clean-cut, middle-aged man, in one pictured on a Harley Davidson motorcycle, in another padding a canoe. Just as he was meant to be leaving an enormous bunch of roses, with a hand-written card, arrived at Kabak’s home. “My world makes a lot of sense to me only because of you, sorry I would be away but know I am coming back and our future has already began,” the note read.

cassaAn email urged her to consider the relationship formal. “I just want to look into those eyes and ask you where you have been all these years.” He wrote on June 1, after asking Kabak if would “make this official, lets (sic) go out”. Michael even spoke at length to Kabak’s grand-daughter, who she is raising, urging the youngster to “look after grandma”.

Weeks later, he promised her marriage “and to buy a house with a swimming pool”. But eventually Michael’s story turned dark. He was not able to bank his pay; he had to pawn his watch; he had malaria; he needed money to break his work contract or he would be away for a year. He claimed to be sending Kabak money. She was convinced to send him money, not through her bank, but through MoneyGram, a payment service, which cannot be easily traced. Only the last, and largest payment, was through FirstRand Bank, for an account based in Pretoria. Kabak now hopes she can prevent others from falling into the trap, or even to help convince people that they can be scammed.

She is not the only one who has fallen victim. In 2015, NetSafe was contacted by 57 people who had collectively being scammed out of almost $1.3millons. This was actually down on 2014, when 67 people reported they had been scammed out of $1.57m. It is believed most of the scams originate in Nigeria and South Africa. NetSafe’s Chris Hails said that international research suggested the real extent of the problem could be much higher, with many victims unwilling to admit what had happened.

“Romance scams are particularly nasty, because of the emotional impact on people”


While some of Kabak’s friends and family were pleased that she appeared to have found love, others were concerned that it was a scam. A close relation, who asked not to be named, said they tried to warn her. Eventually, in a bid to placate concerns, “Michael”, Kabak’s supposed beau, said he was willing to speak to the relation. “I had a whole list of questions I wanted to ask him. In the end I only asked him a couple,” the relation said. When Michael was asked about the address of a property he claimed to own in Auckland, he said he would tell Sally, who would pass the information on. “That was a massive red flag! He did not even know the address of his own place.” The family member of Kabak said she simply wanted to find love. “She is quite lonely, having lost her husband, and she iss pretty desperate to find a mate, and I think that clouded her judgement.”


Photos Kabak showed, supposedly of Michael, quickly led to a business owner in Canada. In one of the photos, the man posed in front of a red SUV, with the name of a company, Quills Tees, just visible on the window. A quick internet search of the company showed that Melvin Staaf, the president of Quills Tees, which is based on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, was the same man as in the photos. Contacted on Friday, Staaf said the photos were up to 15 years old, taken mostly from his own online dating photos. Incredibly, he was contacted around six months ago by the children of another Kiwi woman who was sending money to her supposed boyfriend. “They wanted to convince her that she was the victim of a scam and to stop sending money,” Staaf said. He told them to video his Skype conversations with them, to show to their mother, explaining that the photos she had been given were not of the man she was contacting. Staaf said he had met a number of people online, as had a number of his friends, but it was clear that online dating was rife with scammers. One website he had used offered free membership to those who identified scammers, and he had personally reported more than 300. “Digital relationships are not a bad thing, they can be really meaningful to so many people,” Staaf said. “Unfortunately some people are just so gullible.” While it was unpleasant to think that people were being victims of romance scams, he knew what had happened to him could easily happen to anyone with an online profile. “I am saddened by the fact that people are losing money to these scammers, but there are literally tens of thousands of these scams going on at any time.”


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