One of the most heart-breaking ways in which people can be conned is by a romance scam. A recent episode of the BBC radio consumer programme You and Yours featured the story of a lady, Claire, in her 50s who, after sadly losing her husband to cancer, went online and found a man calling himself David.
How It Happened
Soon after they started messaging (by text, email, IM) he revealed he was going to South Africa on a short-term contract on a bridge-building project. They continued online messaging for the next 3 months and the relationship grew closer. Then came the bad news that the bridge had collapsed and he had run out of money. He never asked for money but soon Claire offered to help him financially, even though she was not well off herself, and ended up sending him £5,000. Eventually came the news that the bridge was complete and he was returning to the UK. Claire was excited at the prospect of finally meeting him.
Then came a phone call from a stranger using David’s phone to tell her that David had been in a car accident and was in a coma in hospital. The phone calls continued from people claiming to be a colleague and a policeman, saying that they could not support him much longer and money was needed for his on-going treatment. At this point Claire became suspicious and contacted You and Yours. The team investigated and established that the hospital at which David was allegedly being treated did not exist. They also found further online images of “David” using different names on other dating profiles.
The Emotional Impact
The programme is well worth listening to, as Claire tells her story in her own words and explains – far better than I can in this blog post – how easy it was to fall for this clever and callous scam. She describes how, although the financial loss was significant, the emotional impact was immeasurable and how she felt like she never wanted to seek romance again. Fortunately, she is a brave woman and is determined not to let her bad experience stop her from looking for love in future.
Avoiding this Scam
Romance fraud preys on people’s loneliness and vulnerability, and a fundamental human desire for love. Action Fraud has some tips for avoiding this kind of scam. This includes not sending money to someone you have never met, whatever story you may hear and regardless of how you may feel towards them.