Research Brief 10
For the past several weeks, radio listeners who tune in to the drive-time programme of comedians Dave Hughes and Kate Langbroek have been enthralled by the unfolding saga of Barb and Niko. Barb is Langbroek’s online alter-ego, whose dating profile – depicting her as a rich middle-aged widow – was designed to attract internet scammers.
‘Niko’ was quickly drawn to Barb, going so far as to call her his future wife within a few days of making contact with her. Niko claimed to be a Greek-born American currently working in India. The timing of his emails and phone calls suggested it was more likely he was based in Nigeria.
Predictably, Niko soon asked Barb for nine thousand dollars to help him complete his business project in India, one that would supposedly secure him several hundred thousand dollars with which to start his new life with Barb. His tales became more elaborate as Barb delayed in paying the money. Finally, Langbroek, as Barb, brought the romance to an end by informing Niko she was actually a poor pensioner who had been trying to use the internet to find a wealthy husband.
According to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, hundreds of thousands of dollars are sent out of Australia every year as a result of online dating and romance scams. The internet has clearly increased the opportunities for criminals to use emotional manipulation to convince victims to willingly part with their money; however, fraudsters who prey on the affections of men and women are certainly not a new phenomenon.
A story similar to that of Barb and Niko was laid out before the Melbourne Supreme Court in June 1901. The previous year handsome young Englishman George Henry Frostick had met recently widowed Sarah Payne in Kent, England. After she accepted his marriage proposal, he suggested that they and Payne’s three children should immigrate to Sydney where they could start a new business. In preparation for this venture, Sarah handed over to Frostick the sum of £1,820. He told her he had forwarded this money to Sydney along with his own.
Frostick, Payne and her three children travelled to Australia by steamer, arriving in Melbourne on 27 December 1900. Frostick here went ashore, ostensibly to visit the markets. He then sent Mrs Payne a note saying he had gone to Sydney ahead of her by rail to make things ready for her. Upon arrival in Sydney, Payne discovered that Frostick had actually travelled from Melbourne to South Africa, taking all her money and jewellery with him.
Like modern scammers, Frostick imposed upon Payne by holding out the promise of both love and future financial security: he had assured her that he had two thousand pounds of his own with which they could begin business in the prosperous Australian colonies. As with the Barb and Niko saga, Frostick’s deceptions were also assisted by growing geographic mobility. In inducing Payne to travel to a new country where she would be friendless and penniless, Frostick probably hoped to impede any efforts on her part to thereafter pursue him. While the increased ease of international travel and communications benefitted him, Payne’s ignorance of such matters disadvantaged her. Frostick had been able to perpetuate his ruse by showing her phony drafts and receipts of money he had supposedly forwarded to Australia, in much the same way as internet fraudsters prepare seemingly legitimate-sounding requests for banking information.
Fraud was in fact a particular concern in Australia during the colonial era precisely because of the ease with which individuals were able to reinvent their identities upon arrival in the colonies. In addition to perpetrating bogus financial schemes, this mobility allowed individuals to escape from romantic and marital relationships with greater ease than they could in more settled communities.
Bigamy was a significant issue, and was probably much more common than indicated by its prosecution rate. B.L. Farjeon, in his 1870 story ‘In Australian Wilds’, described such behaviour as endemic within the anonymity of the goldfields, writing ‘A good many men were glad to run away and commence a new life and take a new name, and perhaps a new wife. I had a mate once who was married five times’. At trial, it emerged that Frostick himself was actually already married.
Frostick was extradited from Natal in April 1901. He plead not guilty to the charge of larceny as a bailee, claiming he had never touched Payne’s money, but had left her because she was a drunkard. The jury found him guilty. After receiving the verdict, Justice A’Beckett stated that he ordinarily took time to reflect upon the proper sentence required in the cases before him. However, he considered that Frostick’s behaviour so clearly called for severe punishment that it was unnecessary to defer passing judgement.
A’Beckett declared that Frostick had not only done wrong by robbing in a most unfeeling way a woman who trusted him, and whom he professed to love, but by refusing to admit his guilt. Instead, he had instructed his counsel to insult her by accusing her of intemperate habits and making this his reason for abandonment, whereas the truth was his motive was a ‘cold-blooded project to ruin her’. Frostick was sentenced to four and a half years’ hard labour. The £470 found on him at the time of his arrest was to be restored to Sarah Payne (The Argus, 25 June 1901).
While this was only a fraction of the money Payne had lost, many contemporary victims never receive any form of justice, or financial recompense for their monetary losses. Moreover, despite the empathy of judges like A’Beckett, the loss of trust and sense of betrayal suffered by victims as a result of such depredations probably goes beyond the ability of any court, historic or modern, to address.
Author: Dr Alana Piper, Postdoctoral Research Fellow
To cite this research brief: Alana Piper, ‘Love and deceit’, The Prosecution Project, Research Brief 10, https://prosecutionproject.griffith.edu.au/love-and-deceit (20 April 2015, viewed 19 July 2016).