Police arrest Canberra woman accused of catfishing scam

Police arrest Canberra woman accused of catfishing scam

A Canberra childcare centre worker allegedly defrauded a man she met on a dating app of more than $61,000, a court has heard.

Crystal Lee Lancaster, 26, was arrested on Monday after police searched her property.

She was hauled before court charged with 24 counts of dishonestly obtaining property by deception against the alleged victim.

Police suspect there could be more than 23 more alleged victims who have deposited a combined total of $300,000 in the woman's account since 2010.

Police allege the Dunlop woman stole the identity of another person on Instagram and told the man she met on the dating app that she needed chemotherapy, and school fees for her son.

The alleged victim made 24 separate deposits into the woman's account, one of $15,000, over the course of three years, the court heard.


During Ms Lancaster's bid for bail in the ACT Magistrates Court, prosecutors said police suspected there could be more than 23 possible victims of the alleged scam.

The prosecutor said the woman had not yet been charged with those offences, but she still opposed Ms Lancaster's release on bail, citing fears she would reoffend and interfere with witnesses while police continued their investigations.

A Legal Aid duty lawyer told the court Ms Lancaster shared caring duties for her unwell mother with her father, and was employed full time at a Canberra childcare centre.

She said Ms Lancaster would agree to comply with any bail conditions no matter how onerous, and police had already seized the woman's phone and laptop.

She asked the court to put little weight on the police allegations with which Ms Lancaster had not been charged.

Throughout the bail hearing, Ms Lancaster was physically ill. She told the court she had been sick with gastro and called for a garbage bin so she could be sick.

The sound of her retching punctuated the prosecutor's arguments against her release on bail.

The prosecutor said it was a strong prosecution case and Ms Lancaster was likely to face time in prison if she were found guilty of the alleged offences.

There was possibly up to $300,000 fraudulently obtained, and $106,000 deposited by 15 people.

The prosecutor said the alleged offences spanned other states, and that at least one other suspected victim was in Queensland.

She said it was "hard to believe" Ms Lancaster's statements to police that she did not know about the money deposited in her account.

Special Magistrate Ken Cush refused bail.

He said it would be difficult to put in place bail conditions that would address the risk of Ms Lancaster contacting the alleged victims.

He said police should be allowed some time to complete their investigations without interference.

The case is next due in court on March 6.

Alexandra Back

Alexandra Back is a reporter with The Canberra Times

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