The heart breaking story of a Chichester woman who lost to romance fraud

Photo from Sussex Police

This Valentines Day Sussex Police are trying to raise awareness of the impact romance fraud can have on people, mentally and financially. 

Sussex Police share the heart breaking story where a 78-year-old woman from Chichester lost over £2000 after she fell in love with a man she met online, whilst playing scrabble. 

She said: "We found we had so much in common. We had both lost our spouses and a child. He said he was a 63-year-old American, and he was working on an overseas oil rig.

"It developed into a loving conversation over days. We exchanged photos and spoke on the phone and there was even talk of getting engaged."

Weeks into the relationship, the victim began sending the scammer money after he claimed his work tools had fallen into the sea after the oil rig was damaged. In the months that followed she used all her savings to help him out of various difficulties.

"I gave him everything I had and started borrowing from my family,” she added.

The victim’s daughter contacted Sussex Police after the scammer asked her for £10,000 so he could get to Southampton to visit her. She and her sister did a reverse online search on his photo and found it was linked to six other identities.

Romance fraud is where scammers convince their victims they have met the perfect partner online - but they aren't who they say they are and may be using a fake profile to form relationships.

Once they've gained the trust of their victims, fraudsters will typically tell them about an issue they are experiencing and need financial help with. They will exploit the victim's desire to form a loving relationship to financially profit.

The local authorities received 286 reports of romance fraud in 2020, a 68 per cent increase from 2019. Over half of victims live alone and the average loss was £17,993. The vast majority of victims were contacted through social media and dating sites.

PC Bernadette Lawrie, Financial Abuse Safeguarding Officer for Sussex and Surrey Police said: "Fraud is one of the fastest growing crime types and we want to make people aware of the impact this awful crime has to help prevent further cases.

"Romance fraudsters prey on victim's hopes of finding a genuine and meaningful connection and then capitalise on it. Many of the cases reported to us happened during lockdown, when people have been feeling more lonely than usual, making these crimes particularly deplorable."

How to report it

Report romance fraud to Sussex Police online or by calling 101. 

Victims can add images, names, contact etc. of romance scammers.  

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