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Wednesday, April 24, 2024
CrimeMan warns over online romance after 83-year-old sister scammed out of £20,000

Man warns over online romance after 83-year-old sister scammed out of £20,000

An Oldham man has warned those looking for love online not to fall foul of scammers, like his 83-year-old sister.

Over 18 months, *Alice* sent more than £20,000 to romance fraudsters.

She thought she had fallen in love with a man she met via an online scrabble game. The pair initially got on well and he soon asked her to change chat platform, where the relationship got more intense and he began to request cash.

Alice’s brother, *David*, said Alice had lost her husband a few years earlier and while she had family, often felt lonely.

David said: “My sister sent over £20,000 to scammers over 18 months, and I think if my wife and I hadn’t been there to help her, eventually they would have cleaned her out.

“Scammers are very clever; they target things like online scrabble because they know this is a place where they’ll find older women with a bit of money.

“And it always goes the same way – the scammer starts off by building a relationship and then claims they haven’t got access to their bank card and need a bit of money and will pay you back.

“My sister believed she was dating a 60-year-old millionaire in the United States who was promising to come over and look after her and give her a second chance at love. It was all a lie.”

A shared connection

Alice felt like she shared a connection with the fraudster – who described himself as a Christian, a widow like herself and a father. He seemed to understand her and was interested in her life and Alice thought she was in love.

David said: “We knew Alice’s behaviour had changed but we found out something was seriously wrong when she came to my wife and I for help. She said I’ve been a fool; I’ve just been to the bank and I’ve been sending money to someone abroad.

“The first scam we became aware of was a man claiming to be an American millionaire who was working on an oil rig. There came a day when he supposedly didn’t have access to his card and he told Alice that his daughter needed an operation that afternoon. He put pressure on her, saying the surgeon needed payment then and there or his daughter was going to lose her leg. And Alice just sent the money to him because they’d been talking that long, and she believed he was who he said he was.

“It’s all a bit ludicrous but next time he was going on a business trip to Russia and claimed he’d been arrested coming back through Istanbul and needed money to pay his bail. Again, Alice just sent him the money. She even got a fake letter addressed from the United Nations saying he was a prisoner and needed this money to be set free.”

“The stories are all the same: the scammers get themselves in a position where they supposedly can’t access their own money, because their account has been frozen, they’ve been in hospital, they’ve been in an accident or wrongfully arrested.”

Alice was asked by the scammer, to buy Google Play cards or Amazon cards – a common scam where the victim scratches the card to reveal the number and sends a photo of this to the scammers. Once in possession of this, the scammer can sell it on and take an 80% cut.

David now has Power of Attorney and supports the bank in investigating suspicious transactions on Alice’s accounts. They still don’t know the identity of the scammer.

Action Fraud

David hopes other victims will learn from his sister’s story, realise they are being scammed and will report to Action Fraud.

He said: “Everyone should be suspicious if someone they don’t know contacts them online. I dread to think what could have happened if my wife and I weren’t there for Alice – the scammers could have drained her account and left her with nothing.

“The photos and videos that my sister received seemed genuine, but I found out how to do a reverse image search and was able to show her they were all fake. It makes me really angry because they’ve deliberately targeted someone who is elderly and vulnerable, but I hope that by speaking out this will help protect other victims.”

Detective sergeant Stacey Shannon said: “Unfortunately, his story is far from unique and there are many people who fall victim to such scams. I hope his experience will help other victims realise what is happening to them and encourage them to make a report. Everyone should be vigilant online, and I want to emphasise that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

“Stop and think before responding to strangers you’ve met online, especially if they start asking for money. Criminals are experts at impersonating other people, and they spend days, weeks, months and even years cultivating a relationship with you all to execute a scam and take your money. If you suspect you or someone you know is a victim of romance fraud, please seek help sooner rather than later and report it.”

Paul Hampson, from 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. We’d advise anyone to stop and think before they send money to someone they haven’t met.

“Social media and other online platforms should be doing more to protect victims from fake accounts, but for now people need to be vigilant.”


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