Online 'romance' a tale of deceit

GEOFFREY Keith Turner's downfall began with online dating and ended in criminal charges.

In between is a tale of deceit, desperation, a West African romance scam and tens of thousands in fake currency that ended up in Launceston.

It was 2011 and Mr Turner's 38-year marriage was on the rocks.

In his late 50s, the Newnham resident also found himself out of work and depressed. 

So he turned to BeNaughty.com, a website promising to ``help thousands of singles find their true love''.

Instead he found ``Raven''. He would go on to send her   $320,000.

He plundered his superannuation and borrowed against his home.

His wife even discovered the online romance but, after talking with the femme fatale, started sending her money.

In October 2012 Mr Turner told Australian Federal Police officers that they had to step in his shoes to understand how he could be so ``bloody stupid''.

Raven purported to be a half-Filipino US citizen stuck in West Africa and wanting to get out.

She claimed to have been jailed by rebels and then bashed and hospitalised.

She even sent him photos of herself in the infirmary.

They never met face to face but talked over the phone.

The money continued to flow.

She wanted to come to Australia and trade ``artefacts'' in a business managed by Mr Turner.

Of course more money would be required.  

``I know it sounds stupid . . . but I've been sucked in big time,'' he told the AFP. 

 ``I feel (like an) absolute bastard.''

The money eventually ran out. 

But the scammers still had some use for him.

Raven and her supposed lawyer claimed Mr Turner could retrieve all his lost money if  she  was able to access her $720,000 inheritance from the ``Royal House of Treasury''.

All he apparently had to do was convert US banknotes into Australian currency and send the money back.

Sometime before July 2012 they sent him $US13,000.  

He deposited it with ANZ in Launceston before withdrawing it and wiring it back. 

About six weeks later the bank called to tell him the money was fake, he was the victim of a scam and he should end his association with the fraudsters. 

He was shocked that the money was counterfeit, he told the AFP. But that wasn't the end of it, Commonwealth prosecutor Ian Arendt told the Launceston Magistrates Court yesterday. 

Mr Turner was again contacted by Raven, who spun a story that they'd been swindled.

The next batch of US currency wouldn't be counterfeit, they assured him.  

Mr Turner told the AFP he ``ummed and ahhed'' but finally agreed, desperate to recover some of his money. 

Another $US16,100 arrived via courier and registered post. 

He travelled to Melbourne Airport where he attempted to change nine $100 notes at Travelex. 

But the cashier felt the money and, believing it was fake, called in the AFP.

The court heard the fake currency was listed on a US Secret Service database as belonging to a wider batch of counterfeit money.

Mr Turner was subsequently charged with possessing $16,100 in counterfeit currency and trying to exchange a portion of it. He has pleaded not guilty.

Mr Arendt said Mr Turner didn't just suspect the second batch of notes were fake ``he positively knew they were''.

But lawyer Evan Hughes said his client was embroiled in a sophisticated ``web of lies'' and he did not possess the necessary mental element of guilt.  

The matter was adjourned to August. 

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