‘Romance fraud’ victim loses £108,000 to bogus friend

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A victim of ‘romance fraud’ who lost £108,000 has shared her story to warn others.

The 74-year-old from West Sussex, who had been recently widowed, was approached on Facebook in December 2016 by someone claiming to have been a childhood friend; as their online relationship deepened and they messaged for several hours a day, he began to ask for cash supposedly to help him release money owed to him through his work in the oil industry.

“I felt that he was a friend and that he needed help,” said the woman, who even re-mortgaged her house in a bid to satisfy the fraudster’s demands.

“I have never had any problems with money, not that money has been easy but I have always paid my way. I thought it was a friend and that I was helping him.

“I had never heard of online scams like this – I had heard about letters through the letterbox or through telephone calls but it never occurred to me that he would be a fraudster, it was somebody I thought I knew. I never asked questions; it didn’t enter my head. I am an upfront person and I feel that everybody else should be.”

The fraud was uncovered when Halifax staff alerted Sussex Police thanks to the new banking protocol, which sees bank staff trained to spot signs that a customer may be withdrawing cash to give to a scammer.

She said: “Now, when I think about it, it was like a drug addiction – even at the stage when the police and my family got involved, I was still trying to prove that they were wrong and I was right.

“I have been stupid enough to think that I was helping somebody that needed help. Losing that money means that I won’t be able to do the things that I would normally do for my children or my grandchildren but I have to live with my mistake.”

Since March, she has been given assistance by Lisa Mills, a case worker at charity Victim Support whose job was one of two funded by the police and crime commissioner Katy Bourne.

Katy Bourne, said: “I’m very proud that these case workers have achieved so much - as we can see from this woman’s story, they offer invaluable emotional support as well as practical advice to some of our most vulnerable residents.”

Along with the woman’s family and officers from Sussex Police, Lisa has helped her to contact her creditors to take control of her finances and also to seek help through Citizens’ Advice.