Romance fraud victim: “It’s so hurtful because you put your trust in someone”
Main article content
A woman who has twice fallen victim to romance fraudsters has revealed the tactics they used to manipulate her, and how our support group is helping her rebuild.
Clare, 49, is a businesswoman from the west of Essex with two grown-up children. She said losing more than £13,000 to two men she met on dating apps left her feeling “stupid and ashamed”.
Clare was married to the father of her children for more than twenty years but began dating online following their divorce.
In 2015, she was contacted by a man called Michael who claimed to be based in Sudan with the US Army. He said he was widowed with a young son.
Clare said: “At first, it was only a friendship but then he started telling me how lovely I was, then he started declaring his undying love.”
Michael first asked for Clare to send over some toiletries and after the request for an iPhone was refused, he asked for cash.
“It was small amounts at first as he said he’d left bank card in the US,” said Clare, “but then he was asking for more and more.”
A proposed trip to see Clare ended with Michael apparently calling her from a Paris prison to say he’d been detained for bringing in gold from Sudan and needed to pay a fine.
Clare refused but was then called by someone who claimed to be from the airport. He said Michael was her responsibility and that he would be in prison for years if she didn’t pay up. He became verbally abusive when Clare again refused to transfer money.
She was also contacted by a senior US Army officer to tell her Michael was suicidal.
Michael returned home but Clare was contacted again by a boy claiming to be Michael’s son. He said his dad had been in a car accident, was in hospital and they needed money to pay his medical bills.
“He was sending me pictures of this person being taken away by an ambulance, but it didn’t even look like him,” Clare said.
The son became “really aggressive and abusive”, so Clare blocked him and everyone else associated with Michael.
In more than a year, she had sent him £6,000.
Clare said: “They’re so good at finding things about you and one time I did say, ‘This is a scam,’ but he sent me a picture of him with my name and the date. Looking back, you can tell it’s Photoshopped.
“You’re frightened of not paying because if you don’t, you’re worried you won’t get any of your money back.”
Clare wrote the money off but didn’t think she'd fall into the same trap again.
However, in February 2020, after a breaking up with a boyfriend, Clare began looking for friendship online again.
She was messaged by an American man called George Adams. He claimed to live in Germantown, Baltimore, and own a construction business. The pictures he sent Clare showed a big house and several expensive cars.
He also claimed to be widowed with a young son.
Clare said: “We were chatting and he seemed really pleasant. He said he’d won a big construction contact just outside of Cape Town – a shopping mall with apartments.
“He would phone me every day and we’d be on the phone for hours talking about our days and families, but of course he was finding out information about me.
“It was quite a while before he asked me for anything. He was grooming me. This went on for nine or ten months. He must have written down every single detail I told him.”
George gave Clare access to a Swiss bank account he said he was having issues with. Clare was asked to do some bank transfers on George’s behalf.
Clare said: “He had a lot of money in this bank account, at least half a million dollars, it all looked legitimate. But one time it didn’t work and he wanted to transfer the account into my name, which he then did without telling me.”
George told Clare the bank wouldn’t let her do any transfers until a tax bill was paid.
“He made me feel so guilty, like it was all my fault. He asked for another thousand, and then there were more and more excuses. He was always constantly on at me for more and more. In the end it was £7,000.”
George then tried to deposit £30,000 into Clare’s account. This was blocked by Clare’s bank and the police became involved. Clare’s personal and business accounts were temporarily frozen, leaving her unable to pay her staff.
“I was in a terrible state, but the fraud squad and the police have been absolutely brilliant. They told me about how to search my name to see if anyone had tried to open any accounts in my name, which they had.”
Clare is now a member of the Romance Fraud Peer Support Group that is led by Protect Prevent Fraud Officer David Gillies with help from Essex Victim Support Services. She said the group had been great source of comfort.
“The group has been really good. It’s nice to know you’re not the only one. By talking to other people, you do help each other. We’ve all been conned and it’s so hurtful because you’ve put your trust in someone.
“I feel stupid and ashamed about the money I’ve lost. It’s made me very wary of people. You read these stories and people say, ‘I can’t believe they’ve been so stupid to fall for it,’ but you don’t realise how easily it happens until you’ve been through it.”
If you believe you’ve been a victim of romance fraud, call us on 101. For other forms of fraud, you can contact Action Fraud – the national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre – by clicking on the link or calling 0300 123 2040.