Scams are sadly rife, and many criminals will play on the emotions of vulnerable people for unscrupulous gains. BBC’s For Love or Money shared the story of Christine, a nurse from Middlesborough who was grieving the loss of her husband David to cancer in 2014.
She had also dealt with the blow of the death of both of her parents, whom she had cared for in their final months.
In attempts to find comfort after being a widow for seven years, Christine became a born-again Christian but was also looking for companionship.
She turned to a Christian dating website, and it was here she met a man claiming to be called Frank Muller, who said he was a 57-year-old oil rig drill consultant, based in New York.
Sadly, this was just the start of a web of lies, as a fraudster was using photographs of a totally innocent party to enact his scam.
The pair were soon getting along well, as they had shared interests and spoke on the phone.
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Christine told the BBC: “We had things in common, as in church, so we talked a lot about God. He would quote Scripture to me, and put a prayer onto WhatsApp.”
Soon enough, the man claiming to be ‘Frank’ told Christine he was leaving for Moscow to work on an oil rig, a job he was excited about.
He promised after his work was finished, he would visit the UK and Christine on his way back home to the US.
However, things took a turn for the worse, as ‘Frank’ claimed his job had run into difficulty.
“I got a very long message to say that the drill he’d taken on board the oil rig had broken. He needed a particular part from China, and asked for some money.
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“He used Scripture, and told me, ‘Lean not on your own understanding Trust in God with all your heart and mind.’ For Christians, that is a really strong piece of Scripture.”
‘Frank’ told Christine he didn’t have access to his bank account, as he had lost the phone containing all his details, but needed at least £3,500.
Continuing to weaponise Christine’s faith against her, the nurse was soon pressured into using the £5,000 inheritance she’d received when her father had died.
However, her bank became suspicious, questioning why Christine was sending this money, and warning her the transaction looked fraudulent. But Christine was reassured by ‘Frank’, who said the bank was simply being overly cautious, and that he would pay her back within a few days.
As a result, Christine transferred the money using Bitcoin – which she wasn’t aware is a common scam technique, as the digital currency is less traceable.
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‘Frank’ expressed his gratitude, but then said he had run into further issues and needed urgent help.
Christine explained: “He then said he needed $10,000 (around £8,200) because the part of the machinery I’d paid for was damaged again.
“I told him I didn’t have that kind of money, that I only had £4,000 left, and he told me to send that. I made the bank transfer, and asked if I was doing it right. A message came through, ‘Just do it’.”
On the anniversary of her father’s death, ‘Frank’ sent Christine chocolates, flowers, a teddy bear and a card – and she was charmed by the romantic gesture.
She added: “He would say what an awesome person I was. I was sucked in like a big sponge.”
When Frank said the loan he had asked for had declined and he needed a further $10,000, Christine became suspicious.
She turned to a friend for advice, who urged her to watch For Love or Money, and it was only then Christine made the horrifying realisation she was a victim.
The nurse ceased all contact with ‘Frank’, who she realised had scammed her out of £7,000 – her entire inheritance.
His story about working on an oil rig was an elaborate lie, and the faceless scammer had only forged a relationship with Christine to con her out of her money.
She concluded: “I cried, as I realised. I was so ashamed of what I’d done, and I tried to think of ways to replace the money without my family knowing. That was the hardest thing, actually having to confess to my children and my brother what I’d done with my dad’s money.”
Thankfully, Christine has been able to put the ordeal behind her, finding love again and getting married.
However, the impact of the scammer on her finances has been difficult to reconcile.
Those who believe they have been made the victim of a scam are urged to contact their bank or building society as soon as possible.
BBC’s For Love or Money continues weekdays at 10.45am.