19 March 2024

Former police detective takes to dating apps to bust romance scams

| Kellie O'Brien
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woman sitting on stairs

Two Face Investigations owner Kylee Dennis is looking to stop romance scams. Photo: Supplied.

Illawarra woman Kylee Dennis has taken to spending hours on dating apps – and her husband is OK with it.

A former detective with the NSW Police Force, the now digital forensic investigator started Two Face Investigations a year ago when she discovered a friend’s mother was the target of a romance scam using dating apps.

Kylee said she was committed to safeguarding individuals from scammers by validating the authenticity of online dating profiles, with Scamwatch and other sources revealing that $210 million was lost every year to intelligent Australians who had fallen victim to romance scammers.

“I was a police officer of 14 years and was trained as a hostage negotiator, undercover operative, child protection specialist, intelligence officer, and a detective,” she said.

“So when someone says there’s a problem, I like to dig a bit deeper.

“A girlfriend of mine reached out because she was a bit concerned about her mum.”

She said Anne (not her real name) was 78, had been divorced for 20 years, and lived happily in a retirement home enjoying the world of online dating.

“I rang Anne, quite excited, and I said to her, ‘Oh, I believe you have a gentleman friend. Look, being a bit nosy as I am, send me some photos. I’d like to see who you’re talking to’,” Kylee said.

“I did a bit of digging and I found out that the photos actually belonged to a real estate agent in the US.

“It was at that stage that it was a red flag.”

Anne had been told the stolen identity was a 69-year-old Aussie business owner in Turkey doing his last $25 million contract job before returning home, but who was having problems with the internet so couldn’t video call.

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“She’s 78, so she’s believing because it is the art of language, the art of grooming, the art of manipulation,” Kylee said.

“This woman was in finance, a very smart lady.”

Anne was devastated, with Kylee relating that the conversation to tell someone they had been catfished was akin to being a police officer knocking on the door to tell somebody their loved one had died.

“As a result of that interaction, and the embarrassment, the shame and the wave of emotion she went through, I then went, ‘OK, what’s out there for other victims?’,” she said.

She started the business with the core goal to “educate and to eradicate”, along with eliminating the shame and stopping people dating in secret.

“That’s the biggest red flag, if you are currently sitting at home dating in secret,” she said.

“You being online with somebody is fabulous; you keeping it a secret is danger.

“I’m online dating now – my husband knows about it,” she said, laughing.

“I’m happily married with two adult children.

“I’m online to look at their strategies – what are the scammers doing to persuade an individual to: one, go off the dating platform and move into a Gmail account; and two, what is the language they are using for manipulation and grooming.”

Her own research as a 62-year-old woman and a 65-year-old male, “Robert”, and using intelligence frameworks to analyse and dive deep into the web to confirm identities, has revealed one in 10 profiles was a scammer on the dating apps she had used.

“‘Robert’ right now has 10 fraudulent ones and the concern I have is that there are people actually speaking to them – and that frightens me,” she said.

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Kylee said there were some key red flags, including them being overseas as a medical professional, in the military, a pilot, an oil rig worker, or a business owner working on a contract and them using “the art of storytelling”.

“They create this story that allows them to be overseas and they will continually ensure they do not come back to Australia,” she said.

“I say to people, if you have not met somebody within 10 days, walk away.

“What they do is they have a playbook, so everything is scripted.

“They’re able to use what I call the ‘love letter template’, so it’ll all be the same style of language.”

Kylee said they usually prepped with a sad story before asking for money, or would offer to make an investment but it had to be done in secret.

“I helped a gentleman out who was sending money overseas to a legitimate lady,” she said.

“I was able to show that he was one of quite a few people that were servicing a lifestyle for her.

“She was not going to move to Australia to live with him.”

With NSW number one in all scamming ages in Australia, and with over 65s losing the most, her message was to reach out, have a chat and not be ashamed as “it’s OK to talk about being scammed”.

“We’ve got to stop this victim-shaming. We’ve got to stop saying things like, ‘How stupid could you be?’,” she said.

“We all do stupid things. This is not stupid. They are manipulative, they are crime syndicates, and you are a victim of a crime.”

As part of Two Face Investigations, Kylee wants to visit retirement villages and social clubs to educate people on what to look for.

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