12:03 PM July 5, 2021
A woman from Hainault says she was conned out of £160,000 in an alleged romance scam which lasted more than three years.
Leslie Poole, 65, a disabled ex-registrar, believed that she was developing a relationship with a 60-year-old Italian man called ‘Frank’.
She told the Recorder that six weeks ago she discovered that her beau, to whom she had been sending money for years, was a scammer.
Leslie said: “I’m so angry with myself for being so stupid. I can’t believe I did it.”
‘Frank’ reached out to Leslie more than three years ago via Facebook, she said, but did not ask for anything from her initially.
She recalled: “He didn’t ask for anything for four months and then suddenly he was saying he was going to work on a rig, same old, same old stories, needed money for this, money for that.
“My friends now say ‘we tried to tell you’, [but] pride comes before a fall and I was so convinced that this man was a good man and I wanted to prove that to my friends.”
Leslie sent ‘Frank’ large sums of money, taking out equity relief against her property, which she had previously owned outright.
Then, around six weeks ago, the man stopped messaging her for two days – having previously been in contact almost daily – and the penny dropped on Leslie.
She said: “I thought, yeah, he’s going to take my money and he’s going to drop me.
“I just fell in.”
Trade association UK Finance said bank transfer fraud linked to romance scams, in which a scammer cons their victim by pretending to want a relationship, saw a 20 per cent increase between 2019 and 2020.
Sometimes referred to by the broader term ‘catfishing’, such scams totalled £68m in 2020 according to the UK’s Action Fraud.
Leslie has reported her case to Action Fraud and, after friends paid a visit to an address to which she had previously sent money, alleges that the culprit is a Nigerian-based scammer.
She said that she had passed these details onto Nigerian police and hopes she gets her money back.
Leslie has joined some self-help groups online for women who have gone through similar experiences.
She said the emotional and psychological scars were significant.
“I’ve even got a wedding dress upstairs hanging in the wardrobe, that’s how convincing this guy was.
“I thought, that’s my future all planned out.
“They’ve got the silver tongue and they know what buttons to press. It’s just horrible, it’s a horrible world we live in these days.
“I fell for it hook, line, and sinker.”
Leslie said that she intends to write a book about her experiences and wants to raise awareness of romance scams.
For those who find themselves in a similar position she advised: “The minute they start asking for money, just block them.”
Despite all that she has been through, Leslie still maintains a soft spot for the Italian man in the Facebook profile pictures.
She said: “I’ve been trying to trace him because I am desperately in love with him, he’s the only man in the world for me now.”
Action Fraud advise that no matter how long you have been speaking to someone online and how much you think you trust them, if you have not met them in person, you should not send them money or make investments on their behalf.
It also suggests researching online profile photos and performing reverse image searches to check their authenticity and that they have not been taken from somewhere else.
If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, you should contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk.