I fell for a Scammer: Vulnerable women speak of Ordeal in the hands of Online dating Fraudsters

There’s a secret that Linda Hull has vowed to take to her grave. No one — not her daughter, her best friends or confidantes — will ever know exactly how much money she was duped into handing over to a ruthless conman who’d wooed and romanced her online.

The closest she will go is ‘well over £30,000’. She winces as she reveals the sum, her shame palpable.

It was her life’s savings, much of it left to her by her mother. It represented a bit of comfort. Maybe a small nest egg, she could pass on to her own daughter.

date-scams

But it’s gone, never to be retrieved, in the hands of a professional criminal — or perhaps even a gang — fuelling one of the UK’s fastest growing, yet largely unreported, crimes, known as Romance Fraud.

If the gang had broken into Linda’s house, or cleaned out her bank account in a card scam, she would not have hesitated to rail about the injustice.

As it is, she can hardly speak of it. ‘I still feel utterly foolish,’ she says.

And it is this shame, according to Action Fraud, the UK’s national fraud and cyber crime reporting centre, that is fuelling the crimewave. There were 3,543 reports of romance fraud made to the organisation last year, totalling losses of £33 million, an increase of £4 million compared with 2013.

I feel ridiculous now, but at the time it was as though he had hypnotised me

But they’re just the ones reported. According to deputy head Steve Proffitt, there are probably countless victims who never speak out.

‘They are embarrassed and don’t want their families to know because the amount of money lost is always significant,’ he says.

‘These criminals are heartless and deliberately target the vulnerable. Widows and divorcees — mostly women, but some men — who are on their own, possibly new to the dating scene.

‘They fish for victims and groom them. Their objective may be different to paedophiles targeting young children, but their tactics are disturbingly similar.

Indeed, there’s evidence they seek out the most vulnerable lonely hearts by making deliberate spelling mistakes in their emails or concocting implausible lies — research from Microsoft shows that those who overlook these lies and mistakes are more likely to be less cynical and more desperate.

‘Like with those who groom youngsters, they rely on the fact that many won’t tell for fear of being “shamed” or getting in trouble.

‘All they want is money and they couldn’t care less who gets hurt in the process.’

More tragically still, some may take their lives rather than face the ignominy of admitting they were scammed in their quest for love. In 2010, lonely divorcee Philip Hunt committed suicide, by lying in front of a train, after he was conned out of £82,000 by a so-called romance fraudster online.

Beatrice Upton who was conned by Jason Roy
Beatrice Upton who was conned by Jason Roy

This feeling of shame is something Linda, 62, an attractive dance teacher from Cornwall, can relate to.

She admits she was at a low ebb when she joined a dating website in spring 2013. She’d been divorced for a decade, had recently ended a long-term relationship and longed to find love again.

So, when a man calling himself Jeffrey Chase purporting to be an engineer for an oil company began to woo her online, she was soon in thrall to him.

‘He told me he was 49 and that his partner had gone off with his best friend,’ recalls Linda. ‘He was good looking with short, dark, slightly greying hair. Very quickly he suggested we speak on the phone. He texted and called a lot.’

Barely a month later, Chase made his first request for money, supposedly to invest in oil.

‘He asked if I thought it would be a good investment, which made me feel that my opinion was important to him. So, foolishly, just six weeks after we first met online I transferred £10,000 to him.
Linda was at a low ebb when she joined a dating website in spring 2013

‘About a month later I sent him another £7,000. Six weeks after that he asked for £5,000 and £3,000 in quick succession — which I duly sent — supposedly because there had been a leak during transportation, and a vessel needed to be repaired.’

Over the next few months Chase repeatedly suggested meeting, only to cancel with a variety of excuses.

‘He’d tell me he couldn’t come to see me until a job was completed, so stupidly I’d send money to him, believing we may finally meet,’ she admits.

‘I feel ridiculous now, but at the time it was as though he had hypnotised me.’

Linda admits her behaviour now seems ludicrously gullible, but she was blind to the warning signs.

When one close friend warned Linda to be careful, unaware she had already given money to Chase, she decided not to discuss the situation with anyone, not even her daughter.

Despite communicating with him for a year, she never did meet Chase. Alarm bells finally chimed when he asked her to take a loan out against her home for a ‘five-figure sum’ in spring 2014.

Horrified at his brazenness, Linda refused. He severed all contact and she went to the police. They told her Chase was known to them by several names but was a ‘tricky customer’ to pin down. He has never been brought to justice.

‘The irony is that I am usually so cautious with money, and all along I had a niggling sense that things weren’t right, yet lived in hope that I was wrong,’ Linda confides.

‘I’m sharing my story in the hope that it will serve as a cautionary tale to other women. These fraudsters exist, and they are very, very good at what they do.’

They are good. Frank Stajano, a security and privacy researcher at the University of Cambridge, has compared their tactics to those used by professional card hustlers.

‘I can’t imagine individual scammers working it all out by themselves, so I wonder what kind of word-of-mouth network they use to learn the tricks of their trade?’ he says.

Indeed, apocryphal stories abound of ‘training camps’, similar to those used by telephone sales canvassers, where recruits are versed in the best way to a lonely person’s heart.

The online dating industry is worth a reported £165 million in Britain, with ten million people using around 1,400 sites. A third of all new relationships are formed over the internet. It’s no wonder the vultures are circling.

Steve Proffitt of Action Fraud says there are standard ploys used by romance scammers. ‘The first red flag is that fraudsters try to get you off the websites and suggest communicating via the likes of email, Facetime and Skype,’ he explains

Be aware that they can tell you whatever they want you to believe — who they are, where they are, what they do. They use stolen photos and identities.

‘They will also ask you lots of questions about where you live and your interests. If you say you like cycling, for example, a quick look on the internet and they can respond with, “I really like cycling, did you follow the Tour de France earlier this summer?”

‘Many romance scammers claim to work on oil rigs or that they are ex military rebuilding war-torn countries such as Afghanistan.’

It’s advice Ann Mather, 59, from Oxfordshire, wishes she had known sooner.

Widowed in April 2013 when her husband of 30 years, Bob, died aged 62 from pancreatic cancer, and without children, a friend persuaded her to sign up to an online penpal website.

After Bob died, the loneliness I felt was hell,’ says Ann, who was formerly head of HR at the National Museum Of Science And Industry. ‘I didn’t want to date anyone, I just wanted companionship.’

She signed up to the penpal site in March 2014 and started chatting to about ten people, including a chap called Mackenzie Dalton, 54, an oil and gas engineer from Texas.

‘He said he understood how lonely I must be after losing Bob, as his own wife had been killed in a car accident.

‘Within a few months he asked if I’d thought about the possibility of finding love again. Suddenly, the thought of having someone to go out with, the cuddles, the kisses, was so compelling.’
I still feel utterly foolish

They spoke on the phone most days. ‘Although the person I was missing was my husband, I desperately wanted the loneliness to go away.’ Dalton’s first pleas for cash coincided with an eight-week work trip he said he was taking, during which he promised to visit Ann. In total, she parted with around £18,000.

‘Each time, he stressed it would bring us together sooner,’ she says. That was until August 2014 when she wised up to his scam. ‘He asked for money for a flight to visit me and suddenly the penny dropped. I burst into tears and accused him of being a scammer.

‘He denied it but called me back a few hours later and admitted it was true. He was not Mackenzie Dalton, he was an African man who’d stolen someone else’s identity and photos. I was furious and so ashamed.’

Ann searched online for someone to report the crime to and found what she thought was a legitimate website she could use. When she was subsequently contacted by someone purporting to be from the FBI, yet making threats against her, she realised she had probably happened upon a connected scam to frighten victims away from making complaints.

‘I was then too scared to take it any further,’ she admits. ‘I immediately deleted all of my online profiles. Although I felt incredibly foolish and ashamed. I’m braver now — and angry. And I want to speak out in the hope that it will save other vulnerable women from falling victim.’

After Bob died, the loneliness I felt was hell,’ says Ann, who was formerly head of HR at the National Museum Of Science And Industry. ‘I didn’t want to date anyone, I just wanted companionship.’

She signed up to the penpal site in March 2014 and started chatting to about ten people, including a chap called Mackenzie Dalton, 54, an oil and gas engineer from Texas.

‘He said he understood how lonely I must be after losing Bob, as his own wife had been killed in a car accident.

‘Within a few months he asked if I’d thought about the possibility of finding love again. Suddenly, the thought of having someone to go out with, the cuddles, the kisses, was so compelling.’
I still feel utterly foolish/

They spoke on the phone most days. ‘Although the person I was missing was my husband, I desperately wanted the loneliness to go away.’ Dalton’s first pleas for cash coincided with an eight-week work trip he said he was taking, during which he promised to visit Ann. In total, she parted with around £18,000.

‘Each time, he stressed it would bring us together sooner,’ she says. That was until August 2014 when she wised up to his scam. ‘He asked for money for a flight to visit me and suddenly the penny dropped. I burst into tears and accused him of being a scammer.

‘He denied it but called me back a few hours later and admitted it was true. He was not Mackenzie Dalton, he was an African man who’d stolen someone else’s identity and photos. I was furious and so ashamed.’

Ann searched online for someone to report the crime to and found what she thought was a legitimate website she could use. When she was subsequently contacted by someone purporting to be from the FBI, yet making threats against her, she realised she had probably happened upon a connected scam to frighten victims away from making complaints.

‘I was then too scared to take it any further,’ she admits. ‘I immediately deleted all of my online profiles. Although I felt incredibly foolish and ashamed. I’m braver now — and angry. And I want to speak out in the hope that it will save other vulnerable women from falling victim.’

In 2013, the Online Dating Association was launched in response to pressure from some of the major online dating sites.

‘An awful lot of work is being done to improve safety for users and also to identify and remove scammers,’ says chairman Duncan Cunningham. ‘As an industry, we don’t always like to publicise exact details, but through a combination of staff and software, suspicious member profiles are removed all the time.

‘In a recent court case a judge said internet sites should be doing more to check the identity of members, but the problem is we’re not allowed to.

‘There are very few official tools for us to do background checks on people in the way that other industries, such as teaching, can.’
Beatrice Jenkins, 46, a retail administrator
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Beatrice Jenkins, 46, a retail administrator

Unlike Ann and Linda, Beatrice Jenkins, 46, a retail administrator, not only met her online suitor, Thomas Carpenter, she bought a house with him at his behest, a move which left her with debts of £90,000 when he was exposed 18 months later.

Beatrice met him on a dating website in September 2006, a year after she’d separated from her son’s father after 11 years.

‘He said he earned £60,000 a year in IT in London, had recently split from his wife with whom he had a young son,’ says Beatrice, who lives in Bedfordshire with her three teenage sons.

‘We met up in October 2006 after which he showered me with compliments and gifts, including a long weekend in New York. I had no reason to doubt him.’

Five months later, in March 2007, Carpenter told Beatrice he wanted to move in with her, then suggested they should each stump up £50,000 as a deposit to buy a home together.

Her father, a retired engineer, implored her not to sell her property — but to rent it out. In August 2007, she and Carpenter paid £365,000 for a four-bed detached house in Winchester but, unbeknown to Beatrice — who had let him do the paperwork — he had put just £18,000 into the deposit.

Then came the requests for money. Beatrice began to check his mobile phone and discovered he was extracting money from three other women he’d met online.

She confronted him, and Carpenter promptly disappeared to Switzerland in January 2009.
Beatrice not only met her online suitor, Thomas Carpenter, she bought a house with him at his behest, a move which left her with debts of £90,000 when he was exposed 18 months later
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Beatrice not only met her online suitor, Thomas Carpenter, she bought a house with him at his behest, a move which left her with debts of £90,000 when he was exposed 18 months later

Unable to keep up the monthly mortgage payments on her own, the house was repossessed and Beatrice and her sons moved back to their old home, losing the £50,000 deposit she’d paid. Her credit rating plummeted and she even had a job offer from a bank retracted as a result.

Seven years on, she rues the day she met him. ‘I just want him brought to justice,’ says Beatrice, who has had counselling for the shame she feels.

‘I hate myself for being so naïve as to believe his lies. Worst of all, I brought him into my children’s world and I will never forgive myself for that.’

culled from www.dailymail.com

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