Romance Scams. PHOTO: Cybercrime Magazine.

How Reality TV Star Mishel Karen Lost $160,000 In Double Whammy

Romance and investment scams overwhelmed Australian Married at First Sight contestant and OnlyFans content creator

David Braue

Melbourne, Australia – Oct. 9, 2023

She hoped they would help her find love at last, but Mishel Karen’s stints with fame had a much different effect as the reality-TV-star-turned-OnlyFans content creator was targeted by scammers who ultimately took around $160,000 ($A250,000) from her and her family.

Karen — who gained a national profile in her native Australia after appearing on top-rated reality show Married at First Sight (MAFS) but failing to find love with TV “husband” Steve Burley — began a new career on OnlyFans after her refusal to be vaccinated for COVID-19 left her unemployed, broke and homeless under Australia’s strict mandatory vaccination regime.

The OnlyFans endeavor proved profitable, earning tens of thousands of dollars for Karen — but it was the success of that project that she now believes caught the attention of scammers who would ultimately prey on her biggest weakness.

“You become a target,” she told Cybercrime Magazine, recounting how she had stumbled over some online ads for cryptocurrency investment schemes that sounded like a real opportunity to make some good investment returns.

Convinced by the ads’ use of purported testimony from a TV financial advisor who was well-known in Australia, Karen reached out to representatives of putative investment firm Everrise Brokers, asking a consultant to contact her with more information.

Cybercrime Radio: MAFS Star Mishel Karen

Victim of an elaborate romance scam

“From then it all just started,” she said, admitting now that in retrospect she was being “very naïve or gullible.”

At the time, however, the scheme seemed like a promising opportunity to reverse her fortunes: “I wanted to get into a little bit of crypto, and all of a sudden it was a legitimate finance guy in Australia recommending it,” she said.

“Every time I Googled them, there were legitimate stories about this firm,” she said — and the returns, at least at first, were very real.

“Initially, they only needed a bit of money,” Karen recalled, with early investments of $200 or $300 quickly realizing returns of three times as much — and the brokerage “really wanting to return it to me.”

“I got some returns, and they actually returned them back to my bank account,” she said. “I think [now] that it was a move to make you feel more secure.”

The early returns made Karen comfortable enough that she allowed Everrise representatives to remotely access her computer under the guise of helping them to help her.

“The fact that they do give that little gift back legitimizes it in your head,” she said, “and you can say to family and friends that ‘I’ve invested money and they’ve even given me money back.’ It’s very, very well played. They know what they’re doing.”

Once more, with feeling

She didn’t realize it at the time, but Karen’s dalliance with what she believed was a robust cryptocurrency investment scheme was only the beginning of her nightmare — and she is far from the only one.

Investment scams are by far and away the most successful scam in Australia, according to the Scamwatch service now run by Australia’s newly created National Anti-Scam Centre — which recorded $142 million ($A222m) in losses from nearly 6,000 reported scams in the first eight months of this year alone.

Phone, social networking, internet, email and mobile applications are all being exploited by scammers to great effect in Australia — a phenomenon that is being seen around the world, with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission also recently noting that it had been advised of $2.7 billion in scam losses originating through social media in the 30 months from January 2021 through June 2023.

If her desire to make a quick buck sucked her into Everrise Brokers’ malicious orbit, Karen’s high-profile social-media habits would similarly become her undoing.

Even as she marveled at her quick returns and even recommended friends and family join in, the fraudsters at Everrise Brokers had clearly taken notice of her long-running search for love, which was a common theme of her time on MAFS and her new career on OnlyFans.

After investing around $20,000 ($US12,900), she decided to step back from the scheme and withdraw some of her gains — and that’s when her account was transferred to the personal care of a broker named “Charles Adamson,” whose promise for personal service quickly got more than a little personal.

“When they couldn’t fool me anymore with the monetary side, they brought in this guy,” Karen recounted. “They got this romantic new guy who was single, and from the UK, and very exotic, and he started to manage my account when the other guy got sick.”

“He was the manager, and he would be looking after me personally, and we would be doing lots of growth — and that’s when the romantic side started.”

An increasing volume of personal contact led to “a barrage of texts, and phone calls, and flowers and chocolates,” Karen said, recalling how the attention not only made her feel flattered and enamored, but also helped keep her forking over money for Charles’s supposed investment schemes.

“It was like a full romance, and I think that my public persona actually helped to fuel this thing. I’m very open about wanting to find my ‘one,’ and I went on TV to try and find him.”

Charles, it turns out, was well aware of her identity.

“It was like this guy was speaking my language,” she said, recalling how the escalating romance led to an offer to fly her to the UK. “It was a whirlwind romance, and we spoke every day.”

Looking back, she said, the man’s courtship was a little too perfect — and she now realizes that her social media profile was likely providing the playbook for his advances.

“I think it played a large part that they could get into my social media and see what I was about,” Karen said. “Everything I had posted within the last two days, he would bring up. I had my ‘one’ listed on my social media.”

“He knew the type of content I was putting out there, and he had every characteristic, and was just so charming, and he was everything that I had ever wanted.”

“You don’t really think about it at the time, because you’re falling in love with this person that you don’t even know. Even after I realized it was a scam, I kind of mourned the loss of that romance.”

Denouement — and loss

Karen is far from the only person to fall for an appealing stranger online. Romance scams, according to both the FTC and Scamwatch report, are the second largest vector of fraud, behind investment scams.

As standalone scams, either type of fraud would have been problematic for Karen — but as a one-two punch that drew her in over and over again by preying on her weaknesses, the combination of investment and romance scams has proven devastating not only for her heart, but also for her bank balance.

All told, she said, she lost over $70,000 — and the family members who bought into her enthusiastic recommendations forked over “close to $200,000” on top.

Yet despite losing so much money to her supposed dream man, it was only when Karen fell onto hard times of her own — she needed to withdraw money to cover some medical expenses after a hospital admission — that Charles turned nasty almost overnight.

“I told him, ‘I’m really unwell and need to stay in hospital for over a week,’ and all of a sudden Charles is not answering,” Karen said, recalling being told that he was away and being investigated by his firm.

“I just thought ‘this is weird because Charles is the manager, and he could do anything, and now they’re telling me he is being investigated,’” Karen said. “I said, ‘I don’t care if Charles isn’t there, I just need $5,000 for my hospital’ and they were just palming me off.”

It was only when an Everrise “heavy” contacted her, and was “actually quite abrupt and rude,” that Karen thought, “This just does not sound right.”

“Everyone up until now was very professional, and this heavy was not. I just thought, ‘This is a scam.’”

It didn’t take long for Karen to discover just how right she was. Although reviews site Trustpilot initially stopped her from posting disparaging comments about Everrise Brokers — which was initially populated with positive reviews — the scammers pushed back through the reviews site and more recent comments reveal a conga line of other victims.

Everrise Brokers had, one reviewer noted in May, taken over $180,000 worth of retirement savings while another victim said the firm “stole all our funds that we invested + all our gain that we have accumulated over 6 months.”

It was only in August this year that the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority published a formal warning about Everrise, advising potential customers that the firm is not authorized, saying, “You should avoid dealing with this firm and beware of potential scams” – and that because of its warning, scam protection resources may not be available.

One review, posted in August, even mentions “Charles Adamson” by name — alongside co-scammers “David Barof” and “Alexander Green” — confirming that Karen wasn’t the only person on whom “Charles” was using his wiles.

Karen, however, is still smarting after being “humiliated” at the hands of the scammers — who have extracted the windfall that her OnlyFans account produced and left her struggling to recover any of her funds from a financial system that has been unable to help her.

“Everyone I’ve spoken to have all said they couldn’t do anything,” Karen said. “They tell you to put [a complaint] in with the cyber crime places throughout Australia, but they can’t do anything either. So I have a crime report number, but that’s it. There is absolutely nothing done about it.”

– David Braue is an award-winning technology writer based in Melbourne, Australia.

Go here to read all of David’s Cybercrime Magazine articles.