A widow has lost nearly £15k worth of savings after being duped by scammers pretending to be a lover on a dating website.
Recovering cancer patient Joan Thornton, from Tameside, signed up to Match.com just before the UK lockdown to find friendship and company with someone sharing similar interests.
Soon after joining and paying the membership fees Joan was immediately messaged by a man claiming to be called Michael.
Michael told the 71-year-old he was a Londoner, but he was currently working out in Ghana installing solar panels to help rural communities.
He also spoke about his 14-year-old son.
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Joan looked him up online and it seemed legitimate as there were websites and YouTube videos about his work in Africa.
The pair began to message and speak on the phone, with Michael saying he was due to return to the UK soon.
But the lockdown took place, putting a stop to any supposed plans.
Joan, who was shielding due to cancer, said she looked forward to his phone calls in the evening during the lockdown period.
However, a few days later Michael then called to say there was an accident and he had been stabbed.
He told Joan he had lost all his money and needed cash to pay for urgent medical treatement.
A doctor even called Joan to say they would not operate until they received any funds and Joan’s was the only number saved on his phone.
She ended up paying out £300 after feeling concerned Michael’s life was in her hands.
But the demands for cash continued.
After ‘Michael’ left hospital he said he had no money left and needed cash for housing, food and even a Netflix subscription.
He also said he needed £700 to transfer gold bars over to the UK, which is how he was being paid by the government in Ghana.
Joan was advised to use an app called Taptapsend to keep transferring the cash, with the payments totalling up to £15k
Joan said: “After all I have gone through in the past, having cancer and all of that, I wanted to meet people.
“My niece helped me set up an account on Match.com, I paid to go on it. He was more or less the first guy that got in touch with me.
“He was from London, but was working in Ghana installing solar panels for people who have got nothing.
“He sent me photos of him working. He called me after he finished work at 9pm.
“Then one day he said he had been stabbed. He is supposed to have cut a main artery.
“The doctor called me to tell me this, said my number was only one he had on his mobile phone.
“There was no insurance money, they wouldn’t give him treatment until I paid.
“He asked for £300. I thought he was going to bleed to death, I didn’t want his death to be on my conscious.
“He said ‘You are my guardian angel’.
“A few days before he was due to come home, the lockdown happened. I carried on then paying for his digs, food, I got him Netflix.”
It was not until Joan’s son paid a visit that it became clear she had fallen victim to a scam.
She was heard speaking with Michael over the phone, where her son realised what had been going on and immediately put a stop to the payments.
Joan said: “My son came around and heard me talking on the phone to him. He took the phone off me and said ‘Who was that?’
“I realised I had lost £15k, it was my nest egg.
“It sounds so stupid but he got inside my head. He said he had a 14-year-old son, he kept telling me he would pay it back.
“He was supposed to be coming back last Saturday, but my son checked the flights and there were none coming in from Ghana to Heathrow.
“That is when the penny dropped. I even told lies to my bank and said I knew him, he was a family friend.”
The stolen cash was intended to be used to purchase a headstone for Joan’s husband who died in 2018.
A family member, who wishes to remain anonymous, said: “We are all a bit shocked, she has been through so much. She is recovering from cancer and is still going to the Christie for treatment. In March time she suffered from sepsis and pneumonia, now medics think this was possibly Covid-19.
“It was all a con and it went on and on. Even to this day he is still calling her trying to get money.
“I am scared to leave her on her own, these people know who she is and have her details. I have had to delete Facebook Messenger, change all the passwords.”
At one point the scammers even pretended they were on a video chat with Joan to dupe her further.
They would put a YouTube clip onto the screen and turn it down really low so she could not hear, then they would call her to speak instead.
Joan advises anybody using dating websites to look out for telltale signs for scammers.
She said: “The main advice I would give is when they say lets go on Whatsapp or Skye because it is free, that is the first sign.
“I checked his name on the internet. If somebody comes up and it corresponds with a proper person, that should be a sign. If they were legit nothing would come up.
“I had a few messages from people pretending to be soldiers in Afghanistan, I knew that was a scam I could tell.
“I used to look forward to his calls at night. And first thing in the morning he would message saying good morning. It all felt realistic. Even yesterday he called even though I changed my number, I left it with my son and didn’t answer.”
The incident has been reported to Greater Manchester Police.
A spokeswoman said: “On June 29, 2020, we were called to reports of a fraud by false representation.”
Joan’s family and friends have since launched a fundraising campaign to try and get some of the money back.
To make a donation visit gofundme.com/lifesavingsstolen
Match.com have been contacted for a comment.