Woman scammed out of nearly £40,000 in romance fraud
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Julia (not her real name) was looking for love when she joined a dating website like thousands of other people up and down the country.
The 43-year-old from Leicestershire, who retired from work on health grounds, was looking for love and after a short period of time believed she had found just that.
Contacted by a man calling himself Mike some 18 months ago, he told her he was just a year younger than her and from Leicester originally. However, he was now in the army and based in Nigeria.
The pair began exchanging messages and over a period of weeks, which ran into months, she believed they were developing a close relationship.
Here Julia takes up the story…
“He made the first move and of course I was flattered. We spoke via messenger or WhatsApp mainly and it felt like we had something. He told me he wanted to be with me and he dropped in familiar place names so I felt like he was telling the truth and we had things in common. He complimented me all the time and made me feel good about myself.
“We would message a normal amount – sometimes three or four messages a day. He didn’t bombard me. He told me he was waiting for some kind of inheritance but that he was struggling for money and in debt until he received it. Eventually he told me he wanted to marry me.
“That’s when he asked if I could send him money. At first it was only a small amount - £40 – and I was more than happy to help him. I sent it via bank transfer to someone he told me was an army agent. I believed him because I didn’t know how easy it was to access money when you’re in the army and abroad.
“Then the amounts grew bigger but by then I was so in love with him, I would do anything to keep him happy and he always told me he would pay me back. It was just a case of waiting for his inheritance.”
In fact, throughout their period of contact, Julia ended up sending him nearly £40,000. She took out three bank loans that she secured online and gave him all of her life savings, despite only speaking to him about six times over the telephone.
“He always said it was difficult because of his work but by then I had been completely sucked into his lies,” she said.
Julia also spoke to a woman purporting to be the fiancée of a friend of Mike’s from the army who had left some time earlier.
“There was always a plausible explanation for things,” Julia said.
“But I was getting frustrated and then I ran out of money and he still kept asking for more. Now I can see how I was duped into sending him money. He made me think he cared about me but really all he cared about was the cash.
"I feel like if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone. You usually think of romance fraud targeting someone much older, but clearly that wasn’t the case. This whole episode has knocked my confidence massively. I feel so angry that there are people out there who do this so I hope that my story can act as a warning to others not to believe everything someone is telling you and to look out for the warning signs and check out what they’re saying.”
Latest available figures show that between November 2020 and October 2021, there were 130 male and female victims of romance fraud in Leicestershire who were scammed out of around £916,000.
Dating, or romance fraud – as it is often referred – is described as, the act of someone creating a fake identity in order to enter into a relationship with a victim, with the intended outcome of stealing their money, personal information or both.
Warning signs include:
Travelling a lot, working abroad or saying they are posted overseas which provides an excuse not to meet in person.
Complimenting you frequently and declaring their love early on.
Little or no digital footprint with very attractive photos.
Making excuses when asked to video call or meet in person.
Asking for a small amount of money at first and perhaps using a tragic reason, such as a death, as to why they might need it.
Nicole McIntyre from Leicestershire Police’s Economic Crime Unit, said: “All too often we see situations like this where a persuasive and convincing criminal is involved. Julia finally reported her situation to Action Fraud and officers are now investigating.
“I hope that what happened to her will act as warning to others about the dangers of dating fraud. There are people out there who seek to prey on others and steal their money.
“Victims often feel guilty or ashamed, but it’s important to remember that these fraudsters are running an organised crime which they are very practiced in.
“If this sounds familiar to you or you know a friend or relative who might be in a similar situation, raise the alarm bell and get in touch with either Action Fraud or call 101.”