Northern Ireland

Munich woman scammed out of £130,000 by 'NI man' online

Pissamai Strehle
Image caption Pissamai Strehle began an online relationship with a man who claimed to live in Newtownabbey

Northern Ireland is at the centre of an elaborate international scam that deceived one woman out of a small fortune.

The victim, a divorcee from Munich, said she lost £130,000 in an internet swindle.

Pissamai Strehle, 50, started an online relationship with a man who claimed to live in Newtownabbey, County Antrim.

She recently visited Northern Ireland to try to recover her money.

"I need my money back, to pay for my car and my home and everything else," she said.

Asked if she was naïve for sending money to someone she had never met face-to-face she said: "I know, I know. I realise that now."

Planned to marry

Ms Strehle, who is originally from Thailand, joined an internet dating site after she split from her German husband.

She was introduced to a man calling himself Andrey Menezes, who said he was a widower with two small children living in Newtownabbey.

She said the pair fell in love online and planned to marry.

Then the man told Ms Strehle that he was very ill, and needed a life-saving operation in Dubai. She claims she sent him 150,000 euros (£130,000) to an address in Malaysia to pay for surgery.

Ms Strehle said he told her the money was a loan. "I trusted him and he told me he would pay the money back," she said.

She was presented with a bogus loan agreement drawn up by a law firm based in Belfast. That business does not exist.

Image copyright Facebook
Image caption Ms Strehle was sent these pictures taken from a Facebook profile for a man called Aaron - an unsuspecting American whose pictures were used by the scammers

When the BBC checked the address he gave in Newtownabbey, no one there had heard of the man. The local addresses were used without the owners or occupants knowing anything about it.

It has emerged the photographs sent to Ms Strehle of who she believed was Andrey Menezes are actually of an unsuspecting American.

His personal images were copied from his Facebook site without permission and used by the scammers.

BBC News NI tracked the man down to a small town in Missouri. His name is Aaron and he asked for his surname not to be used.

When the BBC informed him that photographs of him and his family were being posted on an internet dating site, he was surprised.

"The photos were on Facebook, but they were my life," he said.


"I was probably a victim for two reasons. I have children and that story probably helped supplement the heart strings they are pulling.

"And also my Facebook setting as far as security was concerned were not very tight.

"A lot of folks might feel like a victim but I don't. I posted the pictures on social media and I know the risks involved.

"I feel regret and sadness for those that are victims of the scamming and lost time, income and emotion to these scammers."

The PSNI confirmed that a woman had reported an international scam to them in Belfast last month. Police sources said a report has been made to German police who are investigating this incident.

Because the money was sent from Germany to the Far East, sources said there was nothing to suggest that any crime took place in Northern Ireland.

"I need to warn other women about what happened to me. Never ever get involved with a man on the internet," said Ms Strehle.