A 50-year-old woman has told how she lost almost £113,000 to a scam-artist she met on a dating site.
Rachel Elwell says that she is now facing bankruptcy after being taken in by the man’s lies.
He had claimed that he lived her her home in the West Midlands, but had gone abroad for an engineering contract in Ukraine.
He convinced her with documents and pictures he needed money for issues that had cropped up and stated he had been taken captive by loan sharks.
Ms Elwell said after he had contacted her on January 1 claiming to live in Cannock, his “picture looked nice”, he “seemed to like the same things as me” and “seemed quite an open and genuine guy”.
The man told her they would have to wait weeks to meet as he would need to stay in Ukraine, but later phoned claiming laws in that country had changed due to Covid and he now had to pay tax before any of the engineering work began, Ms Elwell said.
Romance scams have increased as people have searched online for love during the coronavirus lockdowns, figures suggest.
Trade association UK Finance recorded a 20% increase in bank transfer fraud linked to romance scams between January and November 2020, compared with a year earlier.
Telling the story to BBC Radio WM, Ms Elwell said she had been told work had stopped on site and matters “appeared very legitimate”, but later she had “reluctantly” sent him money.
She stated at one point a supposed tax office had sent a letter to him, which she had a copy of, and added: “They said… ‘you need to pay 160 thousand’. So he cashed his pension in, sold his car, borrowed money and I helped him.
“I mean at this point I think it was about £45k I’d sent him to help him with the tax bill.”
Continuing the story, Ms Elwell said the man had claimed two “heavies” had turned up and he had been locked in a cellar. He sent her pictures purporting to show him there.
She added he claimed to have been released after money had been sent, but he had told her he would not have his passport, which had been taken from him, until interest had been paid.
On the day the man told Ms Elwell he was due to fly back, March 16, she went to Heathrow airport and got an email from supposed airport officials saying he had been arrested.
She said she had then approached Border Force officials who said, “look, it’s a scam”.
She went to his supposed house in Coventry to meet his daughter and housekeeper/nanny, but “no such people lived at that house”.
Ms Elwell said: “It was in that moment that I knew it was all a lie.”
Asked why she had given money to a man she had never met, the export manager, Ms Elwell, said: “When he said to me his life was in danger and I didn’t hear from him, I thought he’d been murdered.
“Can you imagine feeling you’re responsible for whether someone lives or dies?”
But a spokesman for West Midlands Police said: “Rachel’s case is a prime example of romance fraud, her case highlights how much these scammers affect people’s lives.”
The Online Dating Association (ODA) estimates more than 2.3 million people across Britain used dating apps during the initial coronavirus lockdown, with 64% of people surveyed seeing dating apps as a lifeline for those living alone.
UK Finance is encouraging dating app users to speak to their friends and family for advice, and follow the advice of the Take Five to Stop Fraud campaign to stay safe from scams.
Online daters should not send any money, allow the other person to access their bank account, transfer money or take out a loan on the other person’s behalf, hand over copies of personal documents such as their passport or driving licence, or invest money on the other person’s advice, those behind the awareness drive said.
Here are some general tips from Take Five to Stop Fraud
- Stop: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe
- Challenge: Could it be fake? It is OK to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you
- Protect: Contact your bank immediately if you think you have fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud.