If someone told me ten years ago that I would become the victim of a romance scam, I would have laughed so hard. I’d never make nasty comments, but if I’d heard about another person losing £100,000 ($110,000) to a fraudster, I would have thought it was bizarre. All I had ever read about was people sending money to strangers they had never met in person and I was always dubious about transferring cash.
I began speaking to a man who called himself John on a dating app in March 2015. I hadn’t been single for very long and went online to try and take my mind off some stressful things going on in my life. My dad had just passed away and I’d left a long-term relationship where my partner was not very nice to me. I didn’t want a relationship at first but, you never know, do you?
Within days, John and I were chatting for hours and hours about our lives. He claimed to like all the same things as me. I volunteered for a local hospice and apparently he did the same. He just seemed so kind, nice and caring, something stuck out about him. As we continued speaking, I opened up about anything and everything, there would be no awkward silences. I thought there was something there, but it was a process of manipulation.
Falling in love online
After a few weeks of chatting, John and I met in person. He looked just like he did his profile picture and we got on really well. It felt like the beginning of a normal relationship, I wouldn’t have carried on if it didn’t. I even went to his mother’s house to meet her. I’d heard the warnings about online relationship scams, but this was a real person I was seeing with my own eyes.
I remember texting my friend and saying: “Wow, I’ve met this guy. Can you fall in love with someone this quickly?” I had never had feelings like that before and I still have not to this day, he was so professional with what he was doing.
Shortly after we met, John, left the United Kingdom. He claimed to be traveling abroad for work, the nature of which he said was a secret. As our relationship developed, there may have been things that seemed odd, but by then I was hooked. He could have said the sky was purple and I would have nodded my head in agreement. I think the only people who understand it fully are people who have been in similar situations.
Seven months into our relationship, John told me his father had died. He asked me to come to Dubai and help sort out his estate, offering to reimburse me for my flights, which he later did. After arriving he asked me to look after a piece of paperwork. He told me it was an anti-money laundering certificate, which was necessary to release the inheritance left by his dad.
I kept the paperwork inside my passport, in my bag, but a few days later, when he asked for the certificate, I had no idea where it had gone. I searched everywhere and thought I had lost it. John told me the document was really important and that without it he would need £10,000 ($11,000). I felt so guilty.
Offering to pay over $10,000
I offered to give him the money, under the promise he paid me back after receiving his inheritance. Initially, John refused but one of his business acquaintances, supposedly named Philip, started contacting me telling me that I had messed up and caused a lot of trouble.
My own financial situation wasn’t amazing, so I loaned the money off a friend. The scam was so advanced that Philip actually spoke to her over the phone and explained the situation, so she felt comfortable lending it to me. The bank didn’t even pull me up over the transaction.
After returning to the U.K. I just wanted everything to be sorted. But problems kept arising which required me to pay more, for example they told me they needed to exchange the cash from dollars to pounds and needed another certificate. Everything seemingly went wrong, I can’t remember half of the things he said to me to con me out of money, but I just wanted to get back to normal life again. It was so bad that at one time, I was on the verge of ending my life. In total, over the two year period, I lost around £100,000 ($110,000) in cash and loan interest.
During this time, I was introduced to a man who called himself Doug. I had been told that Philip was the person dealing with John’s financial issues, but at some point during the process, he was fired because of all the problems that had arisen. Instead, I would now be dealing with Doug, who lived in London and could contact me more easily. John said he was a gentleman and would take care of me.
I would meet up with Doug once a week in London and we soon developed a friendship. He would open up to me about his problems, but quickly began manipulating me by claiming he was going to take his own life. When I told John what was going on, he said he didn’t care. At this point, I was shocked at his lack of concern. I thought: “You’re not the person I thought you were.” I stopped speaking to John but continued my relationship with Doug. I realize now this was obviously a plan between them.
My family had been saying something was wrong from the beginning, but in June 2017, my son got in touch with the police. They came round and said: “We think you’re being scammed.” The next day I was supposed to be taking another £10,000 ($11,000) to Doug for the fictional charges which had mounted up. But I still insisted it wasn’t a scam, because I had met all of these people in person.
The officers asked me to message Doug and say the police were worried about fraud, hoping the threat of legal action would deter the scammers and mean I never heard from them again. However he messaged back and said he understood, the police were just doing their job. I told the officers they were wrong, but the next day, I started to feel slightly uneasy.
That day, John called me from the U.K. after claiming he was in Israel and I knew something wasn’t right. I wasn’t fully convinced I was being scammed yet, so I decided to keep speaking with him, but not to send any more money.
After that, my mindset shifted. I realized I was the victim of a sophisticated criminal con. My son had been showing me all these red flags for so long, now I was thinking: “How did I miss that.” I believe for a long time I may have known deep down but was making excuses.
Helping police catch the scammer
Eventually, I went back to the police and said: “I’m being scammed.” The process took around two months and they eventually set a date to try and arrest Doug. By this point, I was very angry.
I had carried on speaking to Doug for three months so police could gather evidence and plan their arrest. At this time, the fees they wanted had racked up to another £20,000 (£22,086). I had to convince Doug to come to London, so I said my mother had passed away and that I wanted to sell her home really quickly before moving to Greece. I told him that I could write him a check, knowing that he would prefer cash because he was using a fake name, unless he came to visit me in the city on a certain date.
On September 21, 2017, I traveled to London. The police had booked my train and told me six officers would be inside the carriage with me, though I would not know who they were for my own safety. They told me to go to London’s Euston station, put down my bag next to me in the station and start brushing my hair. Then, an undercover police officer would come inside and put a location tracker inside my bag, in case they lost me or I encountered Doug before the planned location. I then took the underground train and traveled to a hotel where I had arranged to meet Doug.
At the hotel, there were around six officers waiting for me. There were twelve overall involved in the entire operation. I was told to phone Doug and when he arrived at the meeting location, to place my bag handbag on the table. That was the sign so they knew they could arrest him.
I waited for around three hours until Doug arrived. It was 6.13 p.m. when he got arrested. I was sad, relieved, thinking that I was an idiot. He looked at me in a sad way. It’s likely he did not realize at that point that I had set him up, he was scamming quite a lot of people. He was charged with fraud and later jailed for three years and nine months. To my knowledge, John and Philip were never found by the police.
After the trial, I felt really proud of myself. For a few weeks throughout the process I had been receiving death threats, messages like: “We know where you live,” or “Watch out for your kids.” Police said to ignore them, installed security alarms on my property and gave me a safety tracker for a year, which meant I just had to press a button and they would immediately come to help.
I’m glad I was able to turn the situation around on this guy. I think I would have found everything far more difficult if I had not. Since sharing my story, I have had so much hate and nastiness, I have been called a gold digger and desperate, but I don’t really care what people think, because If I can save one person this will be worth it. I am a strong person, but I belong to support groups for this type of crime and know people who have taken their own lives because of these scams. It’s heartbreaking.
These gangs are so professional in their manipulation. There was so much love bombing and I think he knew I had come out of a bad relationship. We talked for hours and hours. He must have known everything about my life within a week. At the time, it just seemed he had such a caring way about him. I can’t explain it, I have never experienced such kindness from a person. I didn’t think it was possible. It’s the little things that draw you in.
People need to realize the effect these criminals have, how they get into your head. I was manipulated and controlled in the highest way. I’m out of that control now and I have forgiven myself, but the victim shaming needs to stop. I believe that if I can get scammed, anyone can.
Lynn Hawes lives in Essex and features in the new documentary series Love Rats on Paramount+ from 14th October.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.
As told to Monica Greep.
CORRECTION: 06:17 ET 12/10/2022. This article has been updated to reflect that it was John, not Doug, who messaged Lynn from the U.K. after claiming to be in Israel.