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Cassandra Pybus.

Cassandra Pybus.

CHARLES was clearly keen to impress upon me that he was the real deal, and not some flaky pervert; he even provided his personal email address so that we could communicate directly, rather than pay eHarmony for the privilege. It was all very reassuring but nagging at me was the bit about his son: wasn't a 60-year-old widower a bit too old to have a child in school, and why would he send him to school in Malaysia?

Google can usually solve all such conundrums, but my cunning interrogation of the web was unable to find the consultant drilling engineer called Charles Carroll. It was only when his name was matched with a phrase from his message that Google found him, or rather located a copy of an email message from him that was almost identical to the one I had received. This email was sent to a woman living in America through a different internet dating site and was now posted on a website called romancescams.com.

A few hours of compulsive web searching revealed that the photograph was stolen from a male model named John Daniel, and that this image, paired with many different aliases, had been posted hundreds of times on internet dating sites.

In reality, the promising widower from Artarmon was a room of electronically savvy youth in Lagos, Nigeria, who could just as readily be a woman named Emma, as circumstances required. The common scenario was that Charles, or Emma, worked for an international construction company, or an aid agency, and in the course of developing an intense online romance would be deployed in Africa, where a life-threatening drama would require a big injection of money.

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