A Withernsea woman has described how she turned the tables on romance scammers who targeted her after her husband died.
The woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, quickly realised something was not right with the man who emailed her and began leading him on a merry dance.
She even ended up working as a volunteer for www.romancescams.org, a website which provides information and support for victims of romance scams.
She has come forward after hearing about Hornsea widow Anne Larkin who bravely spoke out after scammers conned her out of nearly £500,000. Read more.
Her husband died last year and when lockdown came in she turned to social media and dating sites to combat her loneliness.
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The scammers claimed to want a relationship, but then asked for more and more money in a situation which spiralled.
But the woman says alarm bells rang for her when she recognised the photo the person sent her was that of an Italian actor.
She said: “In July 2009 my husband passed away with cancer and I was unable to sleep.
“I would go onto a global cancer/bereavement website and my first scammer came through via that one.
“The second one came via my cousin, who was on a dating site, and had been asked for money and was too embarrassed to speak to her parents. She sought me out at a family function because she knew my background in finance and accounting.
“My first one sent me a photograph and I happened to realise who he was, the person in the picture was an Italian actor.
“But the scammer’s story was that he was an American citizen caught up in Iran with his daughter and his daughter had an accident. He needed money for her emergency treatment. He promised me that he would pay me back.”
Rather than just back off, the woman decided to carry on to see where it led.
She said: “My first question was ‘where is your travel and health insurance policy?’
“Anyway, I played him by asking him for the details to send the money, which he said was via Western Union, so I told him I would.
“Next I googled a Western Union branch to find out a reference number and gave him the details which I had found on the internet.
“Well you can imagine his horror when he found out that there was no money for him when he went to the Western Union Office.
“Every time he asked me for money, I kept giving him fake information, so when he went to the Western Union Office, they would tell him that no money had come through for him.”
Watch: What to do if you have fallen victim to fraud or cyber crime
The woman explained that this continued for a number of months.
She said: “After three months of this he claimed he was coming to see me. It was hilarious to read.
“He said he wanted to marry me, he was in love with me, and wanted to spend the rest of his days with me. He said he was going to make it all up to me when he came to the UK.
“Even when they received no money, they would go silent and no messages would come through for hours.
“Then I would send a message saying sorry and then they would tell you how much they cared about you, they dreamed about you, and the whole thing would start again, until you were laughing at their messages.
“I dragged it out for so long, especially when they refer to it as ‘their money”’ Then I would following the narrative of ‘their money’ and that’s when I would call them a scammer.”
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But even at this point, the scammers would not give up easily, despite being called out.
The woman said: “They had another trick. You would forget about them and move one with your life.
“But then a few weeks later, you would get a text messages or email, asking how you are and they would try and talk to you and re-establish a conversation with you and try the scam all over again.
“Sometimes they would take it to another level, saying that the country’s military or intelligence services were holding them for non-payment of medical fees, or that they were trying to get out of the country via a non-legal route.
“This became very scary at first, because you didn’t know if it was true or not. These amounts were not small, they were looking at the £50,000 mark and the pressure was full on.”
Eventually, the woman’s exploits landed her a volunteering role with the romance scams website to help other victims, which saw her work with FBI agents.
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She said: “The site helped you through the process of dealing with the scam artists and directed you to other people who needed help.
“You would pass on details of these scammers. I worked with an FBI agent based in Zurich because there was no agency in the UK at the time.”
The woman learnt a lot during her time volunteering with the website.
She said: “There was one particular lady who was always there and she became my point of contact. She would help and guide me.
“You logged everything on this site, including email conversation and even the text messages, so that the other volunteers could see who you were speaking too and what pictures they had sent you.
“You had to have a separate email and mobile phone number away from your own personal ones just to protect you.
“It was after months of being on the site the woman told me she was an FBI agent helping and advising us volunteers and all this information was being reported back to America.”
The woman says there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure people like Anna Larkin do not lose out.
She said: “Today they are coming through Facebook, Twitter and random emails as well as honest dating sites.
“Something more needs to be done to protect people like Ms Larkin and myself.
“If she was making international payments then why wasn’t the bank asking her questions about the money she was sending abroad?
“Sadly, when one of these organised gangs are taken down, another group are set to take their place. In places like Nigeria and the Gambia it can be a typical income.
“When I finally blew my scammer out of the water, it transpired he was caught up in the web by a group and was trying to put himself through law college in Nigeria. But then again, how true that was, I don’t know. I still take his story with a pinch of salt.”