A woman who was left facing bankruptcy after being conned out of £113,000 by a Facebook fraudster who convinced her to send money to fake kidnappers in an elaborate romance scam has said she has been left ‘very depressed’.
Rachel Elwell, 50, from Brownhills, West Midlands, appeared on This Morning earlier today to reveal how her mental health had suffered after falling victim to the fraud.
She had been contacted by an ‘attractive’ and ‘intelligent’ man on Facebook at the start of 2021 and just months later sent the scammer thousands of pounds after he convinced her that he was being held captive in Eastern Europe and in desperate need of money.
By April 1 Ms Elwell realised the magnitude of her problem after giving the fraudster nearly £113,000 and her world ‘came crashing down’.
She has now said the episode has left her ‘facing financial ruin and very depressed’ as she admitted: ‘I had been groomed by online predators who are very sophisticated manipulative criminals.’
But viewers were unsympathetic to her story as they took to social media to brand her as ‘gullible’.
Rachel Elwell, 50, from Brownhills, West Midlands, appeared on This Morning earlier today to reveal how her mental health had suffered after falling victim to the fraud
Speaking on the ITV show earlier today, Ms Elwell said she had met the man on a free online dating site she had joined ‘to talk to people with lockdown and if there was a possibility of romance down the line that was a bonus’.
She explained: ‘We had similar interests and he lived within 25 miles of where I lived, he had a dog we both liked dancing and he seemed quite open and transparent.
‘We were going to meet up but there were covid restrictions so there was no urgency and rush.’
But the scammer, who had said he was an engineer, later told Ms Elwell that he had been whisked away to Ukraine to complete a contract secured with the UK government.
The conman contacted Ms Elwell just days later claiming the engineering contract had been forcibly stopped and his equipment seized.
He said they would cover the costs of the unforeseen circumstance but asked Ms Elwell to send £250 to pay for food and taxis.
Ms Elwell explained: ‘There were massive alarm bells, I didn’t want to – I said “I don’t know you” and “I haven’t met you” – I was quite belligerent with him and I thought there’s no way I’m sending him any money.’
She had been contacted by an ‘attractive’ and ‘intelligent’ man on Facebook at the start of 2021 and just months later sent the scammer thousands of pounds
The conman (whose face has been blurred for legal reasons, 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 soon doubled down on the story and claimed they were being held captive in a Ukrainian cellar (above) by loan sharks
But she said she eventually transferred the amount ‘because he had led me to believe that he was a widower and he had lot his wife to breast cancer and he raised his ten-year-old daughter’.
The fraudster soon doubled down on the story and claimed they were being held captive in a Ukrainian cellar by loan sharks.
Ms Elwell was forwarded documents allegedly from the Ministry of Finance of Ukraine, explaining her love interest owed £102,940.
The scammer called Ms Elwell, crying down the phone and begging for her help.
She told the show: ‘It does sound incredible, and I thought this cannot be real, when I had the conversation with him, he was screaming and crying and pleading for his life.’
Ms Elwell claimed that he later sent her pictures of himself lying on a four-inch mattress in the cellar.
She borrowed tens of thousands of pounds on credit cards and loans and sent it across through her banks.
She said she sent £36,425 through Santander between January 22 and February 19 and also transferred £62,350 through HSBC, totalling £98,775.
Her entire losses added up to £112,575 – after claiming her sister also sent £13,800 from a different bank.
Ms Elwell’s case was the subject of a three-month investigation from Santander and HSBC as she hoped she would be covered by a code of conduct that supports fraud victims
It appeared that the man had been allowed to fly home following the transfers but a supposed email from Heathrow Airport officials said he had been arrested.
Ms Elwell, who had been waiting at the airport for four hours, was pulled aside by Border Force who explained it was probably all a scam.
Ms Elwell’s case was the subject of a three-month investigation from Santander and HSBC as she hoped she would be covered by a code of conduct that supports fraud victims.
But both banks concluded she would not be eligible for reimbursement of the money lost.
She has now said she has been left facing ‘financial ruin’ and is ‘very depressed’ with regrets about not listening to warnings.
Ms Elwell is now hoping that an impartial review by the Financial Ombudsman and Financial Conduct Authority will help her case.
She added: ‘My life is on hold now while the ombudsman reviews the banks decision… I have some very difficult decisions to make.’
But This Morning viewers were unsympathetic as one took to Twitter to write: ‘Whilst I feel sorry for the lady who was conned out of £113,000, I feel that as she was warned by the banks that she was likely paying a scam then the responsibility is hers. Banks should not repay those who paid scammers and were ‘stupid’ by keeping to give money.’
Another added: ‘I just don’t have any sympathy for these gullible women who get scammed out of their life savings. This woman must have previously read so many similar stories in the media that she should have realised it’s a scam #thismorning.’
And a third said: ‘Wow, it always amazes me how people fall for these scams #ThisMorning.’
A spokesperson for Santander previously 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 also previously 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.’