A doctor was tricked into believing she was speaking to a hunky soldier – and lost £8,000 after falling for a catfish con.
This is according to James Elliott, 33, whose photos were exploited in the sinister scam.
The former serviceman turned psychotherapist has had hundreds of messages in the past three years from distraught women who believed they were speaking to him online.
He is now convinced that the problem is so common that government-funded adverts need to be on the TV warning people not to send money over the internet to strangers.
And he said more education is needed on romance scams – rather than judgement.
He told the Daily Star: “The message I had from the doctor proved these women are not stupid – they are just lonely and vulnerable.
“And being lonely is a serious issue.
“Not seeing something as an issue because it’s never affected you personally is the definition of privilege. Those people usually have family around them or financial security and it is so easy to forget about the people who are lonely or alienated.
“These people who are targeted are still human beings who crave intimacy, friendship and romance.
“We advertise romance and shove it in people’s faces and ram it down their throats that love is always there and is around the corner.
“So looking down at a victim and saying ‘how could you be so stupid’ is such a wonderful position to be in because you have never suffered like they have.”
James went into detail about some of the heartbreaking messages he has received from elderly women who have sacrificed their cash for fake love.
He said: “I’ve had women who have saved up, worked minimum wage jobs the majority of their lives to get to an age where there are no grandkids knocking on the door and they’ve spent 15 years in almost total isolation.
“They don’t see family members often and they are so lonely and living off a state pension and a small amount of savings and they’ve given it all to someone they think is me.
“They believe they are in love with me and think I’m going to be kind and look after them and help raise them out of this absolute cycle of misery because they are lonely and it never happens.
“I’ve been approached by women who are extremely distressed and they say they need money to live.
“It is easy, lazy and shows a total lack of empathy to call them idiots.”
James has 22,000 followers on Instagram and has even had pictures of his daughter stolen by professional scammers.
He said the most distressing case was when one elderly woman sent him a video describing how she was at the airport waiting for him.
She had spent £3,000 on flights but was stranded, alone and confused.
And James, who lives in Redditch, Worcs, described the issue as modern day stranger danger.
He explained: “Ultimately it is education that will stop this.
“Vulnerable women are being told they are beautiful and loved and they end up sending thousands and thousands of pounds, shocking amounts of money.
“You wouldn’t let someone walk into your home without ID verification and you wouldn’t wander off on the street with someone because as millennials that was drilled into us about the risks.
“Now we need to educate people on this because scammers are not knocking on your door any more, they are approaching you on the internet.”
Last month the Daily Star reported how Nadine Nitz had lost out on £5,000 after believing she had fallen in love with James online.
She was left unable to pay for food and struggled to pay her rent after the scammer threatened to release nude photos of her.
Afterwards she said: “My first thought was I wanted to die.
“I had told this person everything about me. It’s not about the money, it was the feelings and the disappointment.
“I had isolated myself for months away from my family and friends.
“The man not only took over £5,000 from me, he broke me.”