Woman loses nearly £113k in dating site romance fraud

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Rachel ElwellImage source, Rachel Elwell
Image caption,
Rachel Elwell said police had told her she was a victim of romance fraud

A woman says she is facing bankruptcy after losing just under £113,000 to a scammer she met on a dating site.

Rachel Elwell, from the West Midlands, said the man, who claimed he lived nearby, told her he had gone abroad for an engineering contract in Ukraine.

He convinced her with documents and pictures he needed money for issues that had cropped up and stated he had been taken captive by loan sharks.

Ms Elwell, 50, said there was no guarantee of any money coming back.

Asked why she had given money to a man she had never met, the export manager, of Brownhills, said: "When he said to me his life was in danger and I didn't hear from him, I thought he'd been murdered.

"Can you imagine feeling you're responsible for whether someone lives or dies?"

Ms Elwell said after he had contacted her on 1 January claiming to live in Cannock, his "picture looked nice", he "seemed to like the same things as me" and "seemed quite an open and genuine guy".

'All a lie'

The man told her they would have to wait weeks to meet as he would need to stay in Ukraine, but later phoned claiming laws in that country had changed due to Covid and he now had to pay tax before any of the engineering work began, Ms Elwell said.

Telling the story to BBC Radio WM, Ms Elwell said she had been told work had stopped on site and matters "appeared very legitimate", but later she had "reluctantly" sent him money.

She stated at one point a supposed tax office had sent a letter to him, which she had a copy of, and added: "They said... 'you need to pay 160 thousand'. So he cashed his pension in, sold his car, borrowed money and I helped him.

"I mean at this point I think it was about £45k I'd sent him to help him with the tax bill."

What is romance fraud?

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
Action Fraud advises people who believe they have been a victim to contact their bank

According to Action Fraud, romance or dating fraud is where criminals dupe people into sending them money by gaining their trust and convincing them they are in a genuine relationship.

In order to stay safe from such scams, it advises people to:

  • Be suspicious of any requests for money from someone they have never met in person, particularly if they have only recently met online
  • Speak to family or friends to get advice
  • Perform reverse image searches on profile pictures, as they may not be genuine. A reverse image search can find photos that have been taken from somewhere else

Anyone who believes they have been a victim of romance fraud, it said, should report it to their bank immediately and to Action Fraud.

Continuing the story, Ms Elwell said the man had claimed two "heavies" had turned up and he had been locked in a cellar. He sent her pictures purporting to show him there.

She added he claimed to have been released after money had been sent, but he had told her he would not have his passport, which had been taken from him, until interest had been paid.

On the day the man told Ms Elwell he was due to fly back, 16 March, she went to Heathrow airport and got an email from supposed airport officials saying he had been arrested.

She said she had then approached Border Force officials who said, "look, it's a scam".

She went to his supposed house in Coventry to meet his daughter and housekeeper/nanny, but "no such people lived at that house".

Ms Elwell said: "It was in that moment that I knew it was all a lie."

A spokesperson for West Midlands Police said: "Rachel's case is a prime example of romance fraud, her case highlights how much these scammers affect people's lives."

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