‘I was scammed for £37,000 by an online dating fraudster’ | #ukscams | #datingscams | #european

Bower was not easily fooled. She did not fall for this first scam. In fact, she says, ‘As soon as I started engaging properly with the site, I identified loads of scammers, and I batted them all off. Their stories were ridiculous.’ Three months later, a new message popped up, with a photo that caught her eye.

‘He was very dishy, casually-smartly dressed: nice jeans, proper shoes. Just the sort of man I liked.’ Still, Bower remained sceptical. Derrick Lanar was 54, she was 61. Bower quizzed him over the age gap, but he brushed it off: ‘And after all, my husband had been 20 years older than me.’ Lanar told Bower that he was working on an offshore fracking site in Elgin, Scotland, with five of his own staff. The internet connection was ropey, so could they move their conversation off the dating site and on to their phones? Bower undertook a little detective work on Google, and his story seemed perfectly plausible.

And so a whirlwind romance commenced. Later, Bower would draw up a forensic account of the next 10 weeks, listing dates, telephone numbers, and the content of conversations. Reading it is exhausting. Living through it must have been overwhelming.

The pair trade details about their work (he is frustrated with his current job but the unstable internet connection is slowing the project’s completion) and their private lives (he has a sister, with whom he shares a flat in Wanstead, east London, but who leans too heavily on him for money). They do not only trade text messages: the pair talk endlessly. At one point, Bower tells him his South African accent ‘sounds black’, while the handful of photos he has sent show him to be white. The observation makes him irritable.

His talk soon turns racy. Bower tells him she would never be so foolish as to send naked photos to a stranger, and suggests they pause their conversation until there’s a real chance of them meeting in person. Lanar cools off, but soon returns with startling intensity. He accuses her of negativity and paranoia, instigates phone sex and finally tells her he loves her.

‘I began imagining a future with him,’ Bower reflects. ‘He was sending me emojis of red roses. He wanted to come and be with me. He had the skills and contacts to start a new career doing up houses. He asked me to look at ones near me that needed renovation and could be bought quite cheaply, so that when he visited, he could look at them.’

There was just one stumbling block. Lanar was stuck out at sea, and to wind the job up, needed some equipment. So the day after professing his love, he asked for help. Not in the form of money, though, just her stable internet connection. He sent Bower working links to the website of a Chinese company selling the necessary machinery and asked her to make a price enquiry. When an invoice duly arrived in her inbox, Lanar sent his own bank details and asked her to pay the required £373,500 from his account.

‘He was reluctant to ask, but I didn’t see a problem,’ she says. ‘I got on to his account online and there were his finances, as promised, all laid out. As I bought the goods, it showed as a debit from his account. I saw it, right in front of my eyes.’

Next, Lanar wanted to put a little money in Bower’s own account. But when she tried to make this second payment, she was blocked. The bank, Lanar ‘discovered’ had stopped his payments, suspicious of their previous, sizeable transaction. Overriding this required his card reader, miles away in his London flat. This was just a minor frustration, until Bower received a second email from China, confirming purchase and requesting £37,000 ‘for shipping and insurance’. 

Lanar blamed himself for the oversight. He hated to ask her, but could she possibly help? Bower had seen Lanar’s bank statements and the inside of his account. Still, she refused. ‘And that’s when the arguments started. It was a cycle: making up, arguments, making up… It’s designed to wear you down. I distinctly remember one day, sitting on a chair in my lounge and whispering into the phone: “Actually, I have got the money.” And that was my fatal mistake.’

Unable to access the full amount, she began transferring a few thousand at a time. Every time she voiced reluctance, wild disorientating rows resulted, till Bower was persuaded to withdraw thousands in cash and hand it over to a colleague of Lanar’s in the lobby of the Hilton hotel in Paddington, London. The stranger with a pockmarked face and brown suit called himself Douglas.

The third time Lanar asked her to do this, Bower broke. ‘I said, “I won’t bring this last sum unless I know you are definitely coming to see me.” So he sent me the booking reference for an EasyJet flight. I entered it into the “Manage your booking” page online and there it was: his name and confirmation of his seat on the flight.’ She would meet him at Stansted and, at last, they would spend a weekend together.

Bower put £11,000 in a black handbag, boarded a train at Maidstone and handed the money to Douglas in their usual meeting place. The next day, she found that Lanar’s booking reference was no longer recognised online. He apologised, sent another, then suddenly requested another £4,000, spinning an implausible story about paying a taxi driver and people on the gate at the fracking site. ‘And that’s when I finally accepted that he was a scammer,’ says Bower. ‘I told him no.’

For 24 hours, the scammer bombarded her with calls and messages. Bower ignored them all: ‘I was an absolute wreck. I must have got through the Saturday somehow, but I can’t think how. As a parish clerk, I’d become friendly with the local PCSO. So on Sunday I sent a WhatsApp to her and to my sister. I couldn’t even read it back, I just typed out: “I’ve been scammed for £37,000. I’ve been a fool.”’ She is sharing her story now to help others.

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