A man who just wanted to get married and have a family killed himself after being conned out of all his money by fraudster ‘girlfriends’ he never met.
Ian Doney gave all his money away through an online relationship and even resorted to starving himself.
The 51-year-old sent money to fraudsters who posed as women on the internet, a process known as ‘catfishing’.
An inquest into his tragic death heard how Mr Doney, who had worked for high-street retailer Wilko’s for 19 years, had visited a website for single people looking to travel abroad when he began speaking to an individual online in the summer of 2015.
His sister, Gillian Doney, told the inquest how he was intending on meeting them during the trip but the rendezvous never materialised.
After returning home, Mr Doney changed his Facebook status to ‘in a relationship,’ despite never actually meeting the woman behind the messages.
By this time he had already started sending money to the fraudster without his family’s knowledge.
Recording the death as suicide, assistant coroner Jane Eatock warned of the dangers of being sucked into such scams and described the case as “a really, really tragic story”.
“I know everyone feels difficult about things like this but actually you couldn’t have done more to help him,” she told Mr Doney’s family at Cleethorpes Town Hall.
“In the end he’s chosen a way which wasn’t the right way and actually there’s not much anyone could have done to stop that. It’s a really, really tragic story.”
Miss Doney told the inquest how her brother desperately wanted to meet up with the recipient of his messages and had hopes of getting married and starting a family.
She explained that Mr Doney, who was described as “not being able to separate fact from fiction,” had even paid for a plane ticket so his ‘girlfriend’ could travel over to the UK.
He waited at the airport all day but she never arrived and claimed this was because she had suffered an ‘accident’. Mr Doney agreed to pay for the medical bills.
“He thought she was going to come over here and that they were going to get married and have children. He had not had a relationship with anybody. He just wanted a family” Miss Doney said.
“He was borrowing money to send over there. He wasn’t eating properly and he was starving himself. Anything he could sell, he sold it.”
She added: “If we ever questioned it, he told us that we didn’t know what we were talking about.”
The court heard how Mr Doney later took an overdose of painkillers after blaming the apparent accident on himself.
And as the demands for money continued, Mr Doney caused further harm to himself, firstly by cutting his wrists in April 2016 and then later when he sparked a police search after leaving his home following threats to take his own life.
Mr Doney was sectioned under the Mental Health Act and received support from staff at Harrison House in Grimsby.
But just as he was beginning to turn his life around, the popular Wilko’s worker began messaging several other dubious characters online, one of which was traced back to Nigeria.
Mr Doney was found hanging at his home on August 30 last year.
A note found at the scene read: “I’m sorry. Sometimes a bad situation is the only solution to my problems. Sorry I’ve hurt you all but I can’t see any other way out. No one can help me now, it’s my own fault.”
Giving evidence at the inquest, Martin Newton, senior operational manager at Navigo in Grimsby, said there was little more they could have done for Mr Doney because he was judged to have had capacity to make his own decisions.
Concluding the inquest, Jane Eatock asked Mr Newton to look into what more could be done to support individuals who are vulnerable to such instances of fraud and recommended the police send evidence of the correspondence between Mr Doney and the scammers to the UK’s cyber crime reporting centre, Action Fraud.
“It’s quite clear that the mental health difficulties stem from these really unfortunate relationships with fraudsters. It is a huge problem,” she said.
“Ian’s capacity as a fully functioning, adult, intelligent, male was sucked away from the last 12 months and he really was in the grip of what has been described as a fantasy.”
Signs to look out for if you’re being catfished:
If they seem too good to be true, they probably are. People who catfish others usually make up fake lives so they can be as extravagant as they want to be. It’s difficult for you to verify the information so, be careful if they live an extreme lifestyle.
Online scammers and catfish usually have broad profile interests so that they can appeal to as many people as possible. So, if someone doesn’t seem to have an opinion or their interests are very broad, be wary.
If someone seems to be falling for you and pushing the relationship forward without having talked to you or after just a little contact with you, they’re probably trying to catfish you online.
If someone can only talk to you through chat or through email and things ‘keep coming up’ that prevent them from using a phone or from you seeing them in person, there is probably something funny going one.
Most scammers live overseas and having a ‘job’ that takes them overseas is convenient. If someone always has to travel to countries like Africa or the Middle East, be very careful if they start asking for money. In most cases, this will turn into a nigerian 419 scam. Also, think about why someone would ask you for money instead of other friends and family. This normally doesn’t make sense that someone would ask you for money over their family or friends that they’ve had for a while.
If someone asks for money after only knowing you for a little bit of time, be cautious. You may have been the target the entire time. And if they ask you to send it to someone else for any reason, make sure you stop communication as there is a high possibility that they’re a scammer. If you tell them that you don’t have money, see how fast a catfish will run. And even in some cases, people have seen catfish offer money and ask for bank account information. NEVER GIVE YOUR BANK ACCOUNT INFORMATION OUT!
Think about it. The likelihood of someone contacting you out of nowhere and starting a romance with you is highly unlikely. So, if anyone is doing this to you, be careful. Also, be on guard if someone says a friend of a friend is trying to connect you two. Go to any contacts and try and verify if that information is correct before moving forward with them.
If someone lives in the U.S. but, has really bad grammar like it’s their second language, be aware and don’t be afraid to ask more questions before pursuing a relationship with out seeing or talking to them first.
Online dating scams usually consist of a person ‘faking’ their identity so, keep an eye out if their online identity doesn’t look real. People should have contacts, friends and relatives on their social profiles. If they don’t, be open to the fact that the person may be lying. Most people will post pictures of themselves, their friends and will have real interactions with others on their social accounts. If they don’t they’re usually hiding something.
Most catfish try and look appealing so they’ll steal pictures of attractive people. The people can be models, movie stars or other famous people. Even famous people from overseas so, don’t let the fact that you don’t recognize someone as being famous fool you.
Most catfish that are trying to scam you will make up far-fetched lies so that you’ll feel sorry for them. If they do this and then ask for money, be weary.
In the end, trust your instincts. Most people that come to us already have a hunch that something isn’t right. If that is you, you may be correct. You know when you have that unsettling feeling. When dating people online, trust your gut.