Police are urging people to be vigilant after reports of global crime gangs targeting people online, breaking their hearts and emptying their bank accounts.
In one Nottinghamshire case, a woman in her 70s lost £170,000 after being targeted in a crypto romance scam.
With the help of Nottinghamshire Police’s fraud protection team, the pensioner was compensated £110,000 by her bank after the financial ombudsman found she had been the victim of a sophisticated scam, orchestrated from Nigeria and linked to organised crime gangs.
It left the Rushcliffe pensioner £60,000 out of pocket and emotionally drained, having endured months of stress and anxiety waiting to learn if she’d be compensated.
The woman was scammed after she began talking online to someone purporting to be a US Army surgeon in May 2020.
The pair entered into an online relationship and communication progressed to Google Hangouts.
After a couple of months of talking, the scammer convinced the lady that he was in love with her and that he wanted to be with her – but that he needed money so that he could end his work contract sooner.
He told her that Bitcoin was the only way this could happen, adding that he had his own funds that he could pay her back with – but that he couldn’t access those funds at the present time.
Having been persuaded, the lady withdrew cash from her bank accounts on several occasions and deposited the notes in Bitcoin ATMs in Nottingham.
But what she didn’t know was the Bitcoin wallet she was paying into was fraudulent. In reality, she had handed control of the cash, without realising, to someone who was a con artist and not, as she thought, a wealthy surgeon who wanted to be with her.
The bank contacted Nottinghamshire Police due to the number of large transactions the lady was making and it took a meeting with the Fraud Protect team to convince her that the person she’d be talking to for 18 months was a scammer.
By this time, she’d parted with £170,000.
Fraud Protect officer Dale Richardson said the scam had left the woman feeling devastated and urged others to be vigilant.
She said: “Romance fraud is a particularly callous crime that targets the most vulnerable in society.
“In this case, the victim developed an online relationship with a male purporting to be a US Army surgeon, who went to great lengths to gain her trust.
“Over a period of 18 months, he fabricated so many stories that the victim was exploited out of £170,000.
“I am pleased we were able to help her recuperate £110,000 through the financial ombudsman – but we don’t want anyone to go through what she did.
“That is why today, on Valentine’s Day, we are urging people to be vigilant when talking to someone online.
“We would also urge anyone going through a similar scenario to contact the police. Don’t be embarrassed to tell us what you are going through. We can help and support you if you are going through a rough time.”
Police and Crime Commissioner Caroline Henry said: “It is really important that we all look after each other online and offline.
“Cases like this show just how much of an effect fraudsters can have on vulnerable people and they can’t get away with it.
“I really urge everyone to be aware of the signs that could show if your friends and family have fallen victim to a scam so we can continue to make Notts safe.”
Nottinghamshire Police can be contacted by phone on 101 or online: Contact us | Nottinghamshire Police
Fraud can also be reported by calling 0300 123 2040 or by visiting the Action Fraud website: www.actionfraud.police.uk.
PROTECTING YOURSELF FROM ROMANCE FRAUD
Just because there are some cruel and dishonest people out there, it doesn’t mean you have to stop using dating sites altogether.
You just have to be aware that scammers do exist, and follow some simple rules to protect yourself online:
- If you’re using social media sites like Facebook, don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.
- Don’t give away too many personal details about yourself online. Revealing your full name, date of birth and home address could lead to your identity being stolen.
- NEVER send or receive money or give away your bank details to someone you’ve only met online. If anyone asks for your financial details stop communicating with them immediately and report them to the dating site.
- Use reputable dating sites. Fraudsters will want you to quickly switch to using text messages, social media or telephone so there is no evidence on the dating site of them asking you for money, so keep communicating through the dating site messaging service.