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‘My life was broken in every sense’ – Woman shares her story of romance fraud to help others

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“I thought I had found love. We would speak for hours, and his messages were warm, kind and open and he very quickly gained my trust.

“The money requests came and had a sense of urgency about them as they were needed to support his business ventures.

“He was so appreciative of my support, calm and reassuring, making me believe everything was going to be okay and that I would get the money back within a couple of months. When I came to the realisation that I had been a victim of fraud, I was left feeling humiliated, disappointed in myself, and full of shame.

“My life was broken in every sense. I smiled at work and with my family, but inside I was ripped to shreds and completely broken.

These are the words of Jenny (not her real name) – a woman in her 50s from West Somerset – who works in a senior role in the NHS, and sadly became a victim of romance fraud. She wants to tell her story to encourage others in online relationships to consider whether they could also be caught up in a romance fraud and to encourage people to seek help as early as possible.

Jenny’s story

Jenny describes herself as vulnerable at the time, having lost her dad in Spring 2021 and going through a divorce from a 30-year relationship. Upon moving into a new property in the Autumn/Winter 2021, she was taking responsibility for everything alone for the first time. Her friend suggested giving dating ago. Jenny was unsure at first but took a leap of faith and joined a dating site in April 2022. At the end of May, she struck up conversation with John.

John claimed he was a widower with his own business and lived in London. He came across as charming, intelligent, caring and showed a compassionate side talking about how his father had died too, and how close he was with his mother.

Jenny said: “He rarely called me by my name, always sweetheart and babe. This felt so lovely at the time.”

By mid-June, they had arranged to meet in London. Jenny booked a train ticket, but the day before, he said that he got called away to a big contract meeting in Ireland, so they would have to rearrange in a few weeks when he was back.

Jenny said: “It seemed plausible, and he even sent a load of documents, as proof, about it which all looked legitimate. There were no red flags for me at this point.”

He even sent her three dozen red roses on her birthday, and she said: “I was love-bombed, and it soon became a relationship, even though I’d not met him. I was looking for happiness and love and that’s what he gave me.

“It somehow didn’t matter that this was just over the phone. He constantly messaged and called me.”

She did also have a couple of video calls with him, which she had to beg and wait a long time for. She is now aware fraudsters can use clever deepfake technology to produce fake video calls.

In July, John said he and his business partner, James, had won a contract to recommission an oil rig. This is where the money requests started, with John asking for money for equipment and materials for the contract. Because the business was apparently commercially sensitive, Jenny was told she couldn’t discuss it with anyone. He insisted she would get all the money back, even asking her to log into an online banking platform which showed him to have millions in the bank that he just couldn’t access at the moment, to put her at ease. Unfortunately the online platform was fake and designed purely to convince Jenny that John had the assets to pay her back.

The money requests kept coming until Jenny had no more to send. The money was for various things, such as legal fees, but it was all linked to the business and coming to see her. This is when she took out loans to make the payments.

Jenny said, “Even when I had nothing left, he asked me to borrow some money from my mother.”

In August 2022, they arranged to meet in Bristol.

Jenny said: “I booked the hotel for us, went up on the train and waited; but he never arrived.”

Jenny then received a message from James, stating that John was involved in a car accident.

More failed meet-ups occurred in the following months. Jenny would book the flights for him, but he would never show, providing various excuses.

She said: “I had lost count of the amount of flights I had booked him at this point. I was tempted to just fly out to Ireland, but I was already financially paralysed by this point.

“By November 2022, the loan re-payments were coming in and I felt suicidal. I was selling jewellery and anything I could, even my precious grandfather’s wedding ring, as I couldn’t afford Christmas presents for my children and family.”

She was very open with her children about the relationship throughout, and it was around this time that they told her that he was a scammer and that she was being defrauded.

However, Jenny said: “I just didn’t see it, or want to admit it. I wasn’t there yet at all. He was stopping me from seeing any sense.”

The realisation

The realisation started to set in around Spring 2023, but unfortunately, this was not the end.

Jenny said: “It felt like he had such control over me, isolating me from everyone. Everything was all about him and the pressure he was under.

“He had filled my head and I didn’t have the capacity to take the control back.

“I was stuck in a heart-over-head dilemma. I thought he really loved me.

“But there was so much denial and shame at this point. How would I face up to it? What would the consequences be? I’d already sent so much money. I was in too deep.”

Jenny continued to send what little money she had with more and more empty promises and lies from John, out of desperate hope her fears were wrong, and John was who he said he was and would return the money.

Jenny began to challenge John, asking if he called her ‘babe’ because he has other victims and can’t remember everyone’s name, which made him angry, but is likely to be correct.  

She said: “Eventually, in September 2023, I just couldn’t deny it anymore and decided to get my head out of the sand and face up to the reality of the grave situation.

“One of the last messages I sent him was that I was scared, because of the financial and mental state this had left me in, and he assured me I had nothing to be afraid of and we would be together soon.”

By this time, Jenny had sent £156,000 including loans. Due to interest, the overall financial cost to her was even greater, but her bank have helped her by reimbursing her of some of the money she lost.

She said: “He knew all about my divorce too, and it’s now clear he was hanging on for more money from that. At the time when he was asking about the divorce, I just thought he cared for me and was being emotionally supportive.”

Reporting fraud

In September 2023 she confided in her boss, informed her bank and reported it to Action Fraud, who informed Avon and Somerset Police.

Jenny was contacted by our Vulnerable Victims of Fraud Coordinator within Avon and Somerset Police, who talked through what had happened with Jenny, offering advice and ensuring she had support in place. She felt supported and reassured.

As part of this advice, we advised Jenny of various checks she could make in the future to ensure someone she is talking to online is genuine.

One of these ways is a reverse image search, which can be easily carried out and show where a dating profile image may have been used before. Jenny was shocked to discover the man whose picture she had been sent was in fact a blameless tour guide from Madrid.

She said: “I found the photo on the profile that John sent me as evidence of his car accident, of his broken arm, and it had actually been uploaded in 2019.”

When Jenny confronted John with her findings, he still denied it, claiming the other man must just look like him.

Ongoing support

Jenny said: “I have always seen myself as a strong, kind, honest, caring person who is a good judge of character, which makes this feel even harder to come to terms with.  

“At work and in my personal life I often put other’s needs before myself – It’s just how I am, and he exploited this.

“I was left feeling humiliated, disappointed in myself, and full of shame.

“I felt I had desperately let my two children down, as my life was broken in every sense. I smiled at work and with my family, but inside I was ripped to shreds and completely broken.

“At that moment in time, I was not sure how strong I could continue to be and whether my life would have any future.”

‘Shame’ is a common emotion expressed by victims of fraud, but it should not be. Fraudsters prey on those who they think their good nature will make them want to help someone in need. No victim of crime is ever to blame, only the perpetrator.

Jenny said speaking to a member of police staff helped make sense of everything.  She said her employer and her children were extremely supportive and helped her during such a difficult time, plus the unconditional love of her dog also helped. She also joined a gym following the fraud to improve her well-being and personal resilience.

Jenny said: “The physical and emotional impact this had on me during and after is significant and has undoubtedly changed me forever. I couldn’t sleep for many months due to all the stress of it and the constant demands, and I still struggle with sleep now, even months on.”

We referred Jenny to a peer support group for victims of romance fraud, which she still attends.

She said: “It was reassuring, and sad, to find I wasn’t alone and to see the similarities in everyone’s stories. It feels like you are the only person in the world who has succumbed to it at the time.”

Despite the support she received after the fraud occurred, Jenny has been left feeling let down and frustrated that the John profile was allowed to exist on the dating site she used. She hopes that dating and social media sites are doing more to combat fake profiles and putting stricter verification processes in place to prevent this happening to others. She was also disappointed that her bank didn’t alert her to any concerns they had when they were processing such large sums of money through a normally very average personal bank account.

Advice for others

Jenny said: “I wasn’t aware of romance fraud before it happened to me, other types of fraud, yes, but not this. So, I hope my story will help others caught up in a romance fraud to break free.”

She advises people to:

  • Do your homework – analyse their profile and perform reverse image searches. Although it feels untrustworthy, you need to protect yourself.
  • Do not accept any friend requests or respond to any messages from anyone you don’t know on social media.
  • Change your whole approach to dating and insist on an in-person meeting, sooner rather than later – this really shouldn’t be too much to ask.
  • Tell family and friends about them – an outsider will likely pick up on any red flags you have missed.
  • NEVER give any amount of money to anyone you have met online.
  • Take back control and break the contact if you realise you are in a romance fraud, no matter what they say to you – they won’t give you up easily so you need to be strong.
  • Move on – it can be difficult to cut the contact and resist further contact from the fraudster, but no good will come of it. You may chase closure, wanting to find out who you were talking to, but life is too short, and they have already taken enough from you.

Moving on

Jenny said: “This has unfortunately changed me forever and I am still picking up the pieces, however, I am doing okay.”

John has tried reaching her via email and attempted to make Jenny feel guilty, but she is in a good place and is ignoring the messages – we’d advise any victim to block email address and phone numbers to help stop the fraudster continuing to target them.

A friend advised she join a new dating site, which Jenny was understandably reluctant to do. She finally decided to take the plunge, but with her “eyes wide open this time”.

She said, I’ve since found someone new in my life and the relationship is going really well.”

We encourage anyone who is a victim of fraud to report it to Action Fraud, either by completing the online fraud reporting tool or call 0300 123 2040.

If you have lost any money, it is important you also immediately report it to your bank by calling the number on the back of your bank card.