Oldham woman, 83, conned out of £20K by online ‘millionaire’ in romance scam – Quest Media Network | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans

A man from Oldham has shared his sister’s experience of falling victim to romance fraud to help prevent others from being manipulated into sending money to scammers online.

Over the course of 18 months, his 83-year-old sister Alice sent more than £20,000 to romance fraudsters.

Alice, who was 81 when this began, thought she had fallen in love with a man she met via an online scrabble game. The pair initially got on well and seemed to have a lot in common. He requested they move the chat to an external platform where the relationship got more intense and the requests for money began.

Her brother, David, told of how Alice had lost her husband a few years earlier and said that whilst she had family and a close circle of friends, she often felt lonely, especially during the winter months.

David said: “My sister sent over £20,000 to scammers over 18 months, and I think if my wife and I hadn’t been there to help her, eventually they would have cleaned her out.

“The scammers are very clever; they target things like online scrabble because they know this is a place where they’ll find older women with a bit of money.

“And it always goes the same way, where the scammer starts off by building a relationship and then claims they haven’t got access to their bank card and need a bit of money and will pay you back.

“My sister believed she was dating a 60-year-old millionaire in the United States who was promising to come over and look after her and give her a second chance at love. It was all a lie.”

Alice felt like she shared a connection with the fraudster – who described himself as a Christian, a widow like herself and a father. He seemed to understand her and was interested in her life and Alice thought she was in love.

David said: “We knew Alice’s behaviour had changed but we found out something was seriously wrong when she came to my wife and I for help. She said I’ve been a fool; I’ve just been to the bank and I’ve been sending money to someone abroad.

“There have been many different scams in total that we know of targeting my sister – but I think it’s either all the same person or a group of scammers who are based somewhere in Nigeria.

“Some of the stories they tell really are just unbelievable, but they prey on the most trusting and vulnerable people.

“The first scam we became aware of was a man claiming to be an American millionaire who was working on an oil rig. There came a day when he supposedly didn’t have access to his card and he told Alice that his daughter needed an operation that afternoon. He put pressure on her, saying the surgeon needed payment then and there or his daughter was going to lose her leg. And Alice just sent the money to him because they’d been talking that long, and she believed he was who he said he was.

“It’s all a bit ludicrous but next time he was going on a business trip to Russia and claimed he’d been arrested coming back through Istanbul and needed money to pay his bail. Again, Alice just sent him the money. She even got a fake letter addressed from the United Nations saying he was a prisoner and needed this money to be set free.

“The stories are all the same: the scammers get themselves in a position where they supposedly can’t access their own money, because their account has been frozen, they’ve been in hospital, they’ve been in an accident or wrongfully arrested.

“Alice would ask to speak to him on the phone and there was always an excuse as to why he was unavailable – he’d say ‘babe, I’m travelling’, or ‘babe I’m doing this I’ll catch you later’. And he’d never use Alice’s name, it was always ‘babe’, ‘sweetie’, ‘queen’ or ‘hunny’ because they have so many on the go that they don’t want to risk using the wrong name.

“This man also claimed to only have a BlackBerry phone – a millionaire businessman who’s only operating off a BlackBerry phone! It’s clearly rubbish but my sister is elderly and not aware of scams and unfortunately, she fell for it.”

David eventually got Power of Attorney and now supports the bank in investigating suspicious transactions on Alice’s accounts. They still don’t know the identity of the scammer and disentangling Alice from his web of lies hasn’t been easy.

Alice informed the scammer that the bank was keeping a closer eye on her accounts, and when she expressed she was having doubts about his identity, the scammer began to plead with her not to believe her brother and used emotional blackmail to keep her talking to him.

He got Alice to buy Google Play cards or Amazon cards instead – a common scam where the victim scratches the card to reveal the number and sends a photo of this to the scammers. Once in possession of this, the scammer can sell it on and take an 80% cut.

He’d also ask Alice to send money to a proxy account which was based in the UK and the scammer claimed this account belonged to a secretary or an agent of his. The bank wouldn’t immediately flag transfers to a UK bank as unusual activity and allowed the scammers to keep draining her money.

David eventually transferred Alice’s money into a savings account that she couldn’t access to protect her and got the bank to put a limit on her cards. He also checks her account regularly.

Alice’s behaviour changed dramatically from the time when she began to fall victim to romance scams.

David said: “She’s been totally immersed in this. She used to be so alert and attentive but over the past two years she became distracted with everything. She forgot birthdays, she wasn’t engaging with people, and when you were sat in company, she stopped talking because she was too consumed with what was going on with this guy. Her phone was constantly buzzing – it was never on silent.”

The scammers continued to try and turn Alice against the people who care about her by insisting they were real and that her family didn’t understand her the way they did. But if the money didn’t flow, things could turn nasty and the scammers would resort to making threats, saying they had Alice’s address and would be coming to see her.

David has since reported the matter after officers from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) heard a talk he was giving about his sister’s experience. He was given the number for a helpline and advice on how to take the investigation further.

David hopes other victim’s will learn from his sister’s story, realise they are being scammed and will report to Action Fraud. Likewise, he hopes friends and families of victims will be able to spot the signs that something is wrong.

He said: “Everyone should be suspicious if someone they don’t know contacts them online. I dread to think what could have happened if my wife and I weren’t there for Alice – the scammers could have drained her account and left her with nothing.

“The photos and videos that my sister received seemed genuine, but I found out how to do a reverse image search and was able to show her they were all fake. It makes me really angry because they’ve deliberately targeted someone who is elderly and vulnerable, but I hope that by speaking out this will help protect other victims.”

Detective Sergeant Stacey Shannon of GMP Economic Crime Unit said: “My staff met David in December last year as he was giving a talk at a bank and directed him to report to Action Fraud.

“Unfortunately, his story is far from unique and there are many people who fall victim to such scams. I hope his experience will help other victims realise what is happening to them and encourage them to make a report.

“Everyone should be vigilant online, and I want to emphasise that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Stop and think before responding to strangers you’ve met online, especially if they start asking for money.

“Criminals are experts at impersonating other people, and they spend days, weeks, months and even years cultivating a relationship with you all to execute a scam and take your money. If you suspect you or someone you know is a victim of romance fraud, please seek help sooner rather than later and report it.”

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