Info@NationalCyberSecurity
Info@NationalCyberSecurity

My wife is giving away our children’s £100,000 inheritance to romance scammers… and there’s nothing I can do to stop her | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans


For the first 51 years of marriage, Joe Wilkinson and his wife Emily shared everything. 

The couple, now 79 and 83, have worked hard as small business owners to afford a comfortable life in the Midlands for their family. 

And, over time, they have built a generous inheritance earmarked for their children and grandchildren.

But their carefully laid plans began to disintegrate in 2017. Joe discovered his wife had struck up a secret relationship with a man she met on Facebook — and was handing over large sums of money. 

Since then, he says Emily has been lured into a string of online relationships.

Growing problem: An estimated £4.3m has already been lost to romance scams this year, according to banking trade body UK Finance

Joe, who asked for his name to be changed, estimates his wife has now sent these ‘men’ £100,000 — by raiding their joint savings accounts, taking out loans and even selling their Mercedes and pawning her jewellery. Yet she has never met any of them in person.

And despite Joe and their children’s best efforts, he says nothing can convince Emily she is the victim of romance fraud — and she’s still giving away money. 

Heartbroken, but devoted, Joe refuses to give up and approached Money Mail in a desperate attempt to expose the scammers.

Romance scams are a growing scourge — reports have jumped by a fifth in the past year, according to Lloyds Bank. 

An estimated £4.3 million has already been lost to romance fraud this year, according to banking trade body UK Finance. 

Police and the National Crime Agency expect to see a spike in the number of romance scams reported following Valentine’s Day, when people are most susceptible.

Scammers typically set up fake profiles on social media to message their victims and entice them into a relationship. 

They begin messaging on Facebook, Instagram or on an online dating site, but will try to get them to start speaking on a more private platform such as WhatsApp or text.

Once trust has been established, the criminal will usually claim to be experiencing a problem, such as an issue with a visa, health problems or plane tickets and ask for money to help. They may also claim to be doing charity or overseas work.

In Emily’s case, Joe says the scammers have posed as American soldiers who have been posted abroad and are looking for love.

The trouble started when Emily received a tablet as a gift in 2017, so she could stay up to date with the news. Soon after, she created a Facebook account and then the romance scams started, says Joe.

Tactics: Scammers typically set up fake profiles on social media to message their victims and entice them into a relationship

Tactics: Scammers typically set up fake profiles on social media to message their victims and entice them into a relationship

‘She received messages from young Army men who were saying nice things to her. Ever since, she has taken the tablet everywhere and is messaging them on Facebook or WhatsApp,’ he says.

When Joe noticed that money was being transferred out of their joint accounts, he became suspicious. He and their children had the passcode for the tablet so were able to read the messages. 

This is how they discovered Emily was caught up in a string of romantic relationships with people who were clearly scammers, he says.

The most prominent used a military persona and claimed to be posted on a faraway base, according to Joe. 

The young men sent Emily pictures of themselves in uniform and, after days of talking, would claim to need money.

This is one of the most popular cover stories among romance scammers, who also often pose as overseas doctors, successful businessmen and famous people. 

They will then come up with a reason for asking for money — for example, they may claim their child needs urgent medical care that they can’t pay for, or that they need money to buy a flight to visit the UK.

‘She seems to think they are coming to take her away to a better life,’ says Joe. ‘It has been so difficult to watch and you wonder why she is doing this. She keeps it all secret, but you know it’s going on.’

On one occasion, Joe says he found out that Emily had arranged for a friend to give her a lift to the local airport, where she planned to meet one of her lovers. However, the scammer never showed up.

Joe says he has tried to confront her on several occasions, but has never been able to break the spell. 

‘We did absolutely everything to convince her that these were scams, telling her the people were not real, but all to no avail. She just doesn’t seem to see it, and she carries on in her own sweet way.’

Anna Rowe, founder of romance scam campaign group LoveSaid and educational website Catch The Catfish, says it’s important for friends and family to understand the intense manipulation that victims have been through.

‘There is a very clear pattern of manipulation that every victim goes through: there is a grooming process and then a period of what we call “love bombing” follows.’

Ms Rowe, who was herself the victim of a romance scam, says: ‘They begin by finding out about you and drawing out information they can use later on.

‘In my case, he offered up things that had happened in his past and what had gone wrong in relationships to make me feel comfortable doing the same. 

‘That enabled him to groom me further and secure his standing as he pretended to be everything I was looking for.’

Then comes the love bombing, which is where they make sure they are in your thoughts constantly and telling you how special you are, Ms Rowe says. 

‘It’s not unusual for them to be possessive, asking where you are and what you are doing to make you feel they care and want to be with you.’

Joe watched this pattern unfold in his wife’s social media inboxes, followed by relentless requests for cash. 

‘They started by asking her to make bank transfers and then moved on to getting her to send the money by depositing into a Bitcoin account. Now they ask for giftcards,’ he says.

At first, Joe says he was able to see when Emily planned to send money and warn her bank ahead of time so they could be blocked. However, her bank failed to do this and the money continued to go through to foreign bank accounts.

‘My children and I tried to stop it. We spoke to lawyers, doctors — to assess her mental soundness — we went to her bank, Facebook to report the fake profiles, the police, Action Fraud . . . you name it we tried. No one helped.

‘The bank always came back with: “If your wife is of sound mind, and it is her money, then she can do as she likes.” ’

In the meantime, Emily was selling off investments and taking out bank loans. ‘The bank even allowed my wife to take out loans at the age of 79, when Emily’s total income was just her monthly state pension of £800. How on earth has someone with little income been given £5,000 loans? I thought the banks had not protected her and decided to fight back.’

Joe contacted the Banking Ombudsman and, 18 months later, was told to write to his bank with evidence that Emily had made the payments to scammers, despite his warnings.

‘Bingo,’ he says. ‘They agreed that they had not dealt with my complaints properly and to refund some £40,000 dating back to 2017, which was a large part of the £60,000 we estimated to have changed hands at that point.’

However, the £40,000 was sent directly to Emily’s bank account and, despite a discussion with her about the risk of scammers, the 83-year-old has continued to send money to her fake online lovers.

Money Mail has seen screenshots of the messages between Emily and the scammers obtained by her husband, as well as his correspondence with the Financial Ombudsman Service and bank statements showing payments that Emily has made to foreign bank accounts. 

‘I doubt very much that she has any of it left. The scammers know she is a soft-touch, a vulnerable person,’ Joe says.

‘My wife has learnt nothing. She is still giving cash to scammers, which is now being done via gift cards from what I can gather.’

The businessman says he has taken legal advice and they have rewritten their wills, putting assets, such as property, into a trust to safeguard them from Emily.

‘I have a small business, we have a house and I have a pension of around £240,000, so there are quite a lot of funds to worry about.’

Last year, research by Santander found that almost one in three people have been targeted by a romance scammer. 

People aged 55 to 64 are the most likely to be tricked by fraudsters posing as love interests, but those aged 65 to 74 were scammed out of the most money of all age groups, data from Lloyds found.

Men are more likely to fall for a romance scam, but only marginally, at 52 pc of cases. However, women typically handed over more money — losing an average of £9,083 compared to men’s £5,145 average loss. 

Money Mail’s Stop The Social Media Scammers campaign has called on tech companies to protect users from fraudsters.

Ms Rowe says she speaks to 65 to 100 victims a week, and they range from a 16-year-old, who has been blackmailed over explicit photos after entering a fake relationship, to 80-year-old married women.

‘You should never tell a loved one or friend who is a victim that they are wrong, or call them stupid, naive or gullible.

‘It’s far more complex than that, and they will have been through a huge manipulation, a form of brainwashing.

‘It’s so delicate and people have to start understanding it themselves before anything can change. All you can do is plant the seeds of doubt and they may start to unpick the reality that has been built around them,’ she says.

As for Joe, he says: ‘It’s upsetting watching your money being given away by someone you love. I don’t see what we can do to stop it.’

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