A CHESHIRE woman has spoken about how she was conned out of her entire pension after falling victim to a romance fraud.

Fraud is one of the most common crime types seen today, accounting for over 40 per cent of all crime in England and Wales.

Romance fraud, where unsuspecting victims are scammed by someone who they have formed a relationship with is nothing new, but online dating has made this type of fraud easier. The love bombing tactics used by such scammers can be hard to resist.

Romance scams prey on vulnerability and anyone can be a target. While often thought of as targeting specific demographics, new research reveals that romance scams pose a risk to everyone, regardless of age, location, or socioeconomic status.

Contrary to popular belief, the reality is far more complex. While there is a higher susceptibility among individuals living alone, recently widowed/bereaved, or going through breakups, this does not imply exclusivity.

Scammers exploit human emotions, and these vulnerable situations simply offer richer opportunities for manipulation.

Lyn was a victim of romance fraud.

To raise further awareness that anyone can be a victim of fraud, Lyn who is in her 60’s and from Warrington, has shared her story of how she fell prey to a man she met online. 'Derek', defrauded her out of more than £50,000.

The two engaged in an online relationship in 2020 and never met in person, with Derek telling Lyn that he had recently moved from Manchester to Dubai where he owned a mineral company. To aid in the sham, the scammer had taken and edited pictures from the internet to manipulate Lyn into thinking that he, and the relationship, was genuine. 

As the relationship progressed, Lyn had withdrawn over £50,000 out of her pension and transferred it to Derek as a gift.

She was also encouraged to open multiple Coinbase and Cryptocurrency accounts, in order to send more of her own money to Derek and others claiming to be business associates of the suspect. These constant requests for money eventually resulted in cashing her entire pension and transferring it to the suspect.

She believed that she was merely helping Derek with medical bills and business-related expenses, however this was all a lie, she was being taken advantage of.

In January 2021 Lyn received a knock at her door from Cheshire Police informing her she was in fact being scammed and not in a real relationship.

Police Constable Jim Day from the Economic Crime Unit (ECU) met with Lyn, led the investigation and signposted her to the Constabulary’s Peer Support Group.

The support group, set up by the ECU’s PC Jim Day and Cali Wilkinson, aims was to provide a safe and confidential space, where people who have experienced romance fraud can open speak with other individuals who have undergone a similar experience. During the meeting, the victims could decide whether or not they wish to turn their camera function on, and also could just sit and listen to others talk about their journey.

Alongside the emotional support Lyn was provided, PC Day went to Lyn’s bank and brought forward a fraud case. It was found that the bank had missed several opportunities to step in and prevent the transferring of further funds.

While enquiries in relation to identifying the suspect remain ongoing, Lyn’s life has taken a more positive turn and has since found a more local, and genuine, partner as well as being successfully refunded the money that had been unwittingly transferred to the scammers.

Cheshire Police Constable Jim Day, who helped lead the investigation said: "Previous relationships and experiences can shape one's expectations, trust issues, communication styles, and attachment patterns.

"However, that make us susceptible to someone promising love. It’s tempting to ignore doubts and see what we want to see being the promises of a relationship, this cognitive process is known as “betrayal blindness”.

“Romance fraudsters prey on and exploit the insecurities, gaining trust over prolonged periods of time before money is transferred either in the form of gifts or through a request for help.

"With fraud accounting for 41 per cent of all recorded crime nationally, this achievement highlights the significant financial impact that fraud has on people within our communities in Cheshire and the responsibility that lies with all officers to ensure safeguarding and appropriate advice and referrals are made available to all victims of financial crime.

"We have been very lucky in that we have managed to secure a refund for Lyn; every penny we are able to successfully recover in these investigations is a huge step forward in showing scammers that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated."

Safety tips to help prevent romance fraud:

  • Don't rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile. Ask plenty of questions.
  • Analyse their profile – confirm the person's identity. Check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term 'dating scam' into your search engine.
  • Never send money or share your bank details with someone you've only met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you've been speaking to them.
  • Stay on the dating site messenger service - don't use email, phone, social media or other messaging apps until you're confident the person is who they say they are.
  • Most importantly talk to your friends and family  - be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.

If you think you have been a victim of fraud, contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud by calling 0300 123 2040.

If you are interested in finding out more about the support group contact jim.day@cheshire.police.uk