A woman who was conned out of £113,000 by a Facebook fraudster says she’s facing bankruptcy after claiming her banks would not reimburse her lost money.
Rachel Elwell, 50, from Brownhills, West Midlands, was the victim of an elaborate romance scam after being contacted by an ‘attractive’ and ‘intelligent’ man on Facebook at the start of 2021.
After speaking for months and convincing her that he was being held captive in Eastern Europe and in desperate need of money, Ms Elwell sent the scammer tens thousands of pounds.
By April 1, 2021, Ms Elwell realised the magnitude of her problem after giving the fraudster nearly £113,000 and her world ‘came crashing down’ around her.
Her case has been the subject of a three-month investigation from Santander and HSBC, and she hoped she would be covered by a code of conduct that supports fraud victims.
However, Rachel says she has been left in ‘a devastating situation’ after claiming the bank concluded she would not be eligible for reimbursement of the money lost.
Rachel Elwell, 50, from Brownhills, West Midlands, lost £113,000 and is facing bankruptcy after an elaborate four month scam
Pictured is the ‘scammer’, whose face has been blurred for legal reasons, allegedly being held captive in a cellar by loan sharks in Ukraine
Rachel said: ‘I am in a devastating situation. The banks have found me liable and I am left with suicidal thoughts.
‘I don’t believe I had a fair investigation and I feel as though I have been robbed twice. The way I have been treated is shocking.’
Rachel borrowed tens of thousands of pounds on credit cards and loans and sent it to the fraudster through her banks.
Rachel says she sent £36,425 through Santander between January 22 and February 19. She says she also transferred £62,350 through HSBC, totalling £98,775.
Her total losses add up to £112,575 – as well as claiming her sister also sent £13,800 from a different bank – which is still under investigation.
But both banks have dismissed her case.
The conman (above) initially requested small sums of money, but managed to eventually convince Ms Elwell to transfer him tens of thousands of pounds at a time
The fraudster sent Ms Elwell pictures of everything from him boarding flights (above) to smiley snaps of him and his supposed daughter
Rachel accepts she was fooled and has stressed she does not expect special treatment.
She said: ‘I have never disputed that I authorised the payments.
‘I know this is my mistake, but under their code I am eligible for help and I just want to be treated fairly which is why I am taking this further.’
Rachel claims she is now being chased by credit cards and loans and added: ‘I am fighting for my life now, I stand to lose everything I have ever worked for.
‘I am suicidal and a review could take up to four months but I now have very demanding creditors on my back. I am begging them for some breathing space.
‘I am going to fight this, I am a victim of crime and I am prepared to take the banking industry on because they are ignoring their own code of conduct.’
Rachel is now hoping that an impartial review by the Financial Ombudsman and Financial Conduct Authority will help her case but she is running out of time.
She said: ‘The police have said I am a victim of crime but the banks are refusing to treat me like one.
‘The code these banks have created and signed up to says they should support victims of crime, but where is the support? I am going to be left bankrupt and I am being chased every day for money I don’t have.
The alleged Ukranian building site that the conman said he was working from. He promised to repay all the money Ms Elwell had sent him once he returned to the UK
Are banks obliged to pay you back if you suffer from ‘authorised push payment’ fraud?
With both the complexity and number of scams continuing to rise, many people might be wondering what their rights are if they mistakenly send money to a fraudster.
When you willingly transfer money from your own banking account to a scammer’s, this is known as ‘authorised push payment’ fraud (APP).
Eight UK banking groups have so far signed up to a 2019 voluntary code that protects consumers from APP.
These are: Barclays, HSBC, Santander, Co-op, Lloyds, Metro, Starling and National Westminster Bank PLC.
Often banks will say the customer did not take enough care or carry out sufficient checks before making a payment.
But the voluntary code states only that customers need to have a ‘reasonable basis’ for believing the payee is whom they expect.
Customers must therefore explain why they believed the person they were paying was legitimate.
The new code also states that banks must provide customers with ‘effective warnings’ when they are making an unusual payment – such as when you’re paying someone new. If your bank failed to do this, make sure you include this information within your complaint.
Consumers should also tell their bank if they are vulnerable, because under the new rules they are obliged to take extra measures to ensure you are protected.
‘I have reported the banks for financial misconduct for their failings towards victims of crime.’
Ms Elwell first started speaking to the man, who said they lived in nearby Coventry, on January 1, after he contacting her on Facebook’s dating app.
The pair planned to meet up after the Covid-19 lockdown period, but the crook was whisked away to Ukraine to complete an engineering contract they had secured with the UK government.
By Tuesday January 19, the conman told Ms Elwell the engineering contract had been forcibly stopped and his equipment seized.
The fraudster said they would cover the costs of covering this unforeseen circumstance, but asked Ms Elwell to send £250 to pay for food and taxis.
After pondering the request for two days, she eventually gave in and transferred the money, explaining it seemed ‘such a small amount of money at the time’.
But the fraudster didn’t stop there, and doubled down on the story, claiming they were held captive in a Ukrainian cellar by loan sharks.
The scammer called Ms Elwell, crying down the phone and begging for her help.
Ms Elwell was forwarded documents allegedly from the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine, explaining her love interest owed £102,940.
Feeling like the only person who could save him, she said the pressure she was under at the time ‘felt as if I had a gun to my head’.
After speaking with her family, she then sent the con artist £7,500 from her own savings and secured a bank loan, transferring him £22,940 on February, 4.
She secured a further £12,000 loan and forwarded it the following day.
After sending a further £45,000 from a third loan and her second credit card on March 5, it appeared the man had been saved and would be flying home.
He was due to fly back on March 16, but a supposed email from Heathrow Airport officials said he had been arrested.
Ms Elwell described the pictures her scammer sent as showing an ‘attractive’ and ‘intelligent’ man, after the pair struck up an immediate connection on Facebook’s dating app
The export manager was sent ‘official’ documents and told that her love interest owed tens of thousands of pounds after being held captive by loan sharks in Ukraine
While waiting four hours at the airport, Border Force pulled Ms Elwell aside and explained it was probably all a scam.
She even went to his supposed address in Coventry, but soon discovered no-one by that name lived there.
A spokesperson for Santander said: ‘We have the utmost sympathy for Ms Elwell and all those who fall victim to the criminals who carry out these scams.
‘Unfortunately, despite repeatedly warning her of the dangers of transferring money to someone she hadn’t met and directly raising our concerns that this was a scam with Ms Elwell and the police, she confirmed she wanted to proceed with the payments.’
A spokeswoman for HSBC said: ‘Protecting customers from fraud is an absolute priority for us and we are sorry to hear that Ms Elwell has been the victim of an authorised push payment scam.
‘We work hard to deliver on our commitments under the CRM Code, helping protect as well as support customers should they fall victim to scammers. We act with empathy and understanding when investigating a case and we work hard to ensure fair and reasonable outcomes for our customers.
‘Whilst we have an experienced team looking for signs of fraud, customers can also help themselves by taking note of fraud warnings when making payments and following the advice given.
‘Romance scams are one of the most common types of fraud. Criminals exploit the emotions of their victims to build up a relationship, often via social media or dating sites, and then request money.’