Somerset widow loses £120,000 in sick romance fraud | #DatingScams | #LoveScams | #RomanceScans

Mary (not her real name), 58, was looking for companionship after the agony of losing her husband to cancer in 2021.

But her relationship with online lover ‘David’ turned out was a sophisticated scam that snatched away all of the money left to her by her spouse.

Mary said: “David told me he was in the American Special Services working in Syria. We’d speak on Whatsapp every day.

“It was only ever messaging. He said he couldn’t talk on the phone because of where he was.

“He told me he loved me and wanted to meet me.

“I was only looking for companionship at first but it developed into love.

“It was my first winter on my own since my husband had died.”

David claimed he wanted to fly to the UK to see Mary but his bank account was frozen so asked her to cover the cost.

She said: “I was sending money into an account set up by the army, or so I thought.

“I had to get a marriage certificate so I was paying a solicitor to sort all this out, and there were other fees, too.”

The con left Mary struggling to afford basic living costs.

She said: “I had to cut down on food and heating. When my children and grandchildren visited I made sure I had cakes and biscuits in to make it seem like everything was alright.

“I used to look after my granddaughter once a week but I couldn’t afford to get there. That’s one thing I’ll never forgive the scammers for – they took that time with my granddaughter away from me.”

Mary’s grown-up children knew about the relationship and told her to end it as they suspected it was a scam.

She added: “It’s difficult once you’re under their spell. You don’t want to listen to anyone else. My family were right all along but I never listened.

“He started sending threats. He had my address, he knew I was on my own and he said he would send someone round.

“He managed to convince me that he was trustworthy. He kept saying he was a ‘gentleman of honour’.”

The conman requested a further £120,000. When Mary told him she had no cash left to give, she was blocked.

She said: “I felt sad and rejected, but also relieved because he wouldn’t be able to manipulate me anymore.”

Mary later contacted CEL Solicitors, who managed to recoup her losses.

Paul Hampson, managing director of CEL Solicitors, said: “It’s not just the money that makes romance fraud so distressing, it’s the feeling of betrayal and the emotional cost, too.

“Criminals target victims who are vulnerable, gain their trust and exploit them. Working away in the army is a common story we see from scammers as they’re often deployed to far away locations, unable to meet their online lovers.

“In this circumstance we were able to reclaim the client’s money via her bank, and she also received compensation.

“There are safeguards in place to prevent fraud and in this particular case we felt her bank had let her down.

“The current system is broken which allows banks, crypto currency exchanges and websites to be used by scammers.

“The Financial Conduct Authority’s new Consumer Duty, which comes into force in July, instructs all financial organisations to have systems in place to prevent consumers becoming victims of fraud.

“Hopefully this will ensure organisations put more robust measures in place to prevent fraud.

“But other victims will be targeted by romance scams, so we’d advise anyone to stop and think before they send money to someone they haven’t met.

“Dating websites and social media platforms should be doing more to protect victims from fake accounts, but for now online daters need to be vigilant.”

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National Cyber Security