Romance fraud victim: “They were beautiful women and I was suckered in”
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A man who was conned out of £25,000 by two women he met on a dating website is urging people not to send money to anyone they meet online.
Tony, 50, is separated from his wife and has two teenage children. When the country went into lockdown in March 2020, he joined online dating site Plenty of Fish.
He soon started chatting to two women, Jess and Sabina, and quickly struck up a bond with them both.
The conversations left the regulated confines of the dating site and Tony began video calling the women via Skype, with the chats becoming “full on”.
Jess told him she was living with her grandfather in Cumbria after splitting from her partner and was in the process of selling her house, leaving her short of money.
Initially, Jess asked for small amounts of cash, usually £50 or £60 a time. Tony said he “didn’t think anything of it”.
Wisely, he insisted that he would only send money to an account registered at a UK bank.
Tony said: “When you are intimate with someone online, it seems real, like a normal relationship. She was promising to pay me back with interest, and it seemed like I would get my money back.
“I’d arranged to see her but she didn’t show up a couple of times after I’d paid her train fare. I was suckered in.
“It was dribs and drabs of money. She told me she’d had people at her door, that she owed rent. The biggest payment was for £300.”
However, relations with Jess soured when Tony accidently sent her a picture of Sabina – the other woman he’d been talking to.
Sabina told Tony she’d moved to the UK from Ghana and had also been pressuring him to deposit cash into her account.
Over the course of six months, Tony transferred £25,000 to the two women, with the majority going to Jess.
Jess told Tony she’d uncovered Sabina’s contact details and threatened to expose Sabina to her family.
When the threats started, Tony blocked both of them from contacting him and called the police.
Armed with a crime reference number, he informed his bank and, to his surprise, they refunded all the money. The account Sabina had been using was also closed.
Tony said: “I looked at the situation and thought I’d been a fool. I was going to write the money off but I thought I’d get the police and bank involved and they were brilliant.
“They were beautiful women and I was suckered in. It’s just natural to be drawn in. I think a lot of men would have done exactly the same.
“I thought I was in love with them both. I wasn’t thinking straight.”
Tony hopes that by sharing his experience, he can encourage other men in a similar situation to contact the police.
He said: “Fraudsters can make a lot of money, so men definitely aren’t sharp to it. The fraudsters are trained to take people in. It’s a terrible thing to happen to you and I’m glad it’s all over.”
Tony has simple advice for anyone who is asked for money by someone they meet online:
“Do not pay a penny to anyone before meeting them in real life. No matter how sincere the story seems, don’t give them anything."
Chloe Rudd established the victim support group Tony attends during her time as the Prevent and Protect Fraud Officer for Essex.
Chloe said it is estimated that only 20% of frauds are reported and that people need to arm themselves with the knowledge that may prevent them from becoming victims.
She said: “People don’t report fraud because they’re embarrassed and blame themselves, but fraud criminals are doing this all day, every day and become very good at it.
“Criminals spend time researching their targets to build a profile so the victim will feel they have lots in common. They then use this to manipulate them. It’s more targeted and organised than people realise. It’s big business.
“Dating sites can be a great way to meet new people, but people can make sure they are protecting themselves by following some straightforward fraud prevention advice.
“If you’re talking on a dating site, don’t leave the chat platform. If people start asking for money, the site can get involved.
“Do a reverse image search of the person you’re talking to and if you’re having a video chat, get them to hold up a piece of paper with a word you’ve chosen on it.
“A lot of fraud works by pressuring someone to make a decision they wouldn’t normally make by either making a time-limited offer or panicking people into having to do something now.
“Do your research, take time to think about what it is you’re being asked to do and what information you’re being asked to provide. Just take however long it takes you to make an informed decision.”
Chloe also said that the perception that romance fraud is a crime where the victims are predominantly middle-aged women is no longer true, and that victims are now being asked to do more than just send money.
“It’s becoming closer to a 50-50 split between men and women and the gap is narrowing. We’re seeing a lot of younger people falling victim and we’re seeing different types of crime like blackmail and money laundering.
“We had a lady come to the group who’s been defrauded using cryptocurrency and foreign exchange trading. These all have links to organised crime and we want people understand how serious the consequences can be.”
If you believe you’ve been a victim of romance fraud, call us on 101. For other forms of fraud, you can also contact Action Fraud – the national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre – by clicking on the link or calling 0300 123 2040.