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I was single and looking for a relationship so I decided to try online dating. I matched with a woman whom I had a relationship with for around five months.
She introduced me to her friends and confided in me about various personal issues which were going on in her life. Having come over from Colombia to study and work in the UK, she had no financial support and no family here, she said.
After around three months I booked a holiday to Miami with her, but then at the last minute she said she couldn’t make it. I felt really disappointed but decided to go on my own, as the flights were non-refundable.
Then my girlfriend’s grandmother died, leaving her heartbroken. They had been extremely close and it came as a huge blow. At around that time a blonde “psychic” woman whom I didn’t recognise added me on Instagram.
It wasn’t clear who was actually behind the account, but it seemed to be the group of friends my girlfriend had introduced me to, as the language and sentence structures were the same as what they used. They also knew details no one else could have known, like the fact that we had our first date in London’s Hyde Park.
They talked to me about my girlfriend’s personal issues, explaining that she needed financial support to help her through the grief of her beloved grandmother dying.
They instructed me to send chunks of money to bank accounts belonging to various individuals. I believed these to be names of various therapists she was using to help her recovery.
Thinking that we were building a serious relationship I agreed to hand over the money, under the stipulation that it was definitely being given to my girlfriend. I did think this was a little strange at first, but I thought her friends just wanted to surprise her.
This continued for a few months, at which point, in June, my bank called me in along with two police officers to discuss why I had gone from being extremely financially healthy to being continuously overdrawn.
During this interview, after hearing my version of events, the fraud team and the police did seem to understand that this could be genuine, but mentioned that this could also be a case of fraud. I’m an intelligent person who had never been a victim of fraud before, so I continued to believe it was all real.
I did, however, decide to ask my girlfriend if she thought I had been scammed, and she said I might have been. However she said all the issues with her finances and her grandmother were real, and then 30 minutes later the psychic woman’s account messaged me to ask for more money. This seemed to confirm it was all genuine, so I made the payments.
However, as the months went on, the messages from what I thought were her friends became threatening in nature. It felt more like blackmail, stating that if I didn’t continue to provide financial support, I would never see my savings again. I finally realised that I had been scammed when my girlfriend ceased all communication with me.
This has been going on for a year, and has affected everything from my health, to being able to afford to live. By the end of it I was completely skint after handing over around £30,000, so I took out a loan from Lloyds for £1,000 so I could buy basics like food.
You are in your late 30s and although you’ve had several girlfriends over the years, you’re inexperienced when it comes to long-term, serious relationships. None of yours have ever lasted longer than a year, and you say you’ve never lived with any of them.
The spark usually just seems to “fizzle”, you say. I know this was what you were looking for and why you fell so hard for this scam, because for a time at least, you thought you might have found “the one”.
You say you had been seeing this woman for around five months, but when I asked about the nature of your relationship you said you had only ever been on dates in public places. You had never consummated your relationship with this woman, visited her home, or made it “official” by asking her to be your girlfriend.
But you thought it was heading that way, you say, which is why you allowed yourself to become so emotionally invested and why you handed someone controlling an Instagram account purporting to be her friends your worldly savings of £30,000.
I’m aware you wrote to this column, as many do, knowing I’m a huge supporter of innocent scam victims. Before I continue, I want to say I am truly sorry you’ve been the victim of this crime.
However, I was alarmed to hear you say you feel there was nothing more you could have done to protect yourself or see the scam coming. I feel a duty, as a consumer champion, to point out that there were numerous glaring “red flags” which you, for reasons unknown, failed to spot.
First this woman cancelled on your holiday, which was not only plain rude, but also a warning sign that not all was as it seemed. Then, you were added by the suspicious “psychic” Instagram account, which you should have taken stringent steps to verify, instead of trusting it on face value.
Then came the subsequent requests for huge sums of money, which you happily paid. You really should have done some proper due diligence on where your money was going before pressing “send”.
Then, staggeringly, you chose to ignore a serious intervention by Lloyds and the police. You say Lloyds’ fraud team said they were “50/50” on whether or not it was a scam, which you took as decent odds that it all might be real.
This turned out to be a huge mistake, as most of the money you lost was in transfers made after this meeting.
All of this should have had you running a mile. And yet, while distancing herself from you physically, this woman and her accomplices seemed to have you on a tighter and tighter leash. They only stopped extorting you once they’d bled you so dry you could barely afford a tin of beans for supper.
You complained to Lloyds and it refunded you £1,700 for some of the payments you made before it called you into the meeting with the police. But it refused to repay the rest.
Based on what I’d seen I didn’t feel in a position to challenge this as Lloyds, unlike in some other cases I’ve seen, did go all out to warn you something didn’t seem right.
But I did take issue with the fact that it went on to lend you £1,000, even though it could see you were skint and strongly suspected you were actively being scammed.
This struck me as downright irresponsible as it exacerbated your loss, so I asked Lloyds to consider writing it off. However I’m afraid to say Lloyds refused, on the basis that you knew what you were doing, and that any future fraud warnings it provided would have been futile.
A Lloyds spokesman said: “We have a great deal of sympathy for the customer as the victim of a scam. As the customer opted to continue making payments after being warned by both the bank and the police that he was at risk of being scammed, we are unable to refund those transactions.
“We have fully refunded the faster payments he sent prior to those warnings being provided.”
You came to me hoping I could get the rest of your money back. Although you’ve walked away empty handed I have, I hope, helped you reflect on what’s happened in a constructive way.
I apologise if it sounds harsh, but I am writing this with the best of intentions.
I think you need a healthy dose of reality before you go dating again and expose yourself to more potential risk. Above all I want you to be able to move forward with a cautious confidence that you can let yourself trust someone, and maybe fall in love, without ever ending up in the clutches of a fraudster again.
You say you will never believe people’s sob stories from now on, nor will you hand a woman any of your money until they have a ring on their finger.
I wish you the best of luck with your dating journey.