Man killed himself over dating scam

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The Independent Online

The ex-partner of a man who committed suicide on a railway track after he lost around £82,000 in an internet dating scam described those who targeted him as "vultures" today.

Philip Hunt, 58, of St Catherine's Court, Grimsby, North East Lincolnshire, met a "young and beautiful woman" calling herself Rose via a website and paid out the money to help her come to the UK from Nigeria to start a new life with him.



But, within months, Mr Hunt, who suffered from depression and had two failed marriages, had "insurmountable debts" and took his own life near Hessle, East Yorkshire, in August last year.



Today, a jury at an inquest in Hull took 15 minutes to return a verdict of suicide.



Speaking after the verdict, Lesley Smith, Mr Hunt's former girlfriend of around three years, condemned the internet fraudsters.



"These people are out to get people when they are very vulnerable and at a low ebb. They're in there like vultures," Ms Smith said.



"Philip was a very gentle gentleman, very quiet and reserved and very intelligent, which hearing the story today you find unbelievable but he was at a low ebb and it gets people at their most vulnerable."



Detective Chief Inspector Danny Snee, of British Transport Police, said Mr Hunt had met "Rose" on a website in December 2008 and communicated with her through emails and texts.



He was also sent a photograph of a woman purporting to be "Rose" and told Ms Smith he had met a "woman who was young and beautiful" and that "amazing things" were happening in his life.



Mr Hunt was asked to help transfer 2.9 million US dollars into the UK through customs, which he was led to believe would be used to help him and "Rose" build a life together in this country.



On one occasion, he travelled to a hotel near City Airport, in London, where two men took what appeared to be a dirty piece of paper from a case and covered it in a solution, making it appear to turn into a 100 dollar bill.



They told him they needed money to convert the remainder of the notes in the case.



Mr Hunt subsequently remortgaged his house and took out loans and overdrafts to pay for various alleged costs, including medical treatment for "Rose" who he was told was starving to death and suffering from malaria.



He also asked to borrow around £25,000 from his employer, a shipping company at Immingham Docks, but later retracted the request and resigned from his job shortly afterwards.



His last contact with the scam was in June 2009 and he died on August 13 when he was hit by a train and suffered multiple injuries.



An unsent text message to "Rose" was found on his mobile phone after his death.



It read: "I hurt all over, I'm stiff, I'm cold, angry, depressed, so lonely without you. Tonight I go to meet my maker."



Mr Snee told the inquest today that Mr Hunt left a bundle of documents in his home containing information about the scam and marked for the attention of the police.



The inquest heard that he also left a number of notes and sent text messages implying he would take his own life.



An email sent to somebody connected with the scam in May last year said: "I have insurmountable debts and will take my own life."



Mr Snee said the internet scam is known by various names, including the Nigerian Fraud or the Romance Scam, and involves inviting the victim to advance sums of money for a particular reason with the promise of significant gain later.



"Mr Hunt fell victim to the romance angle. He was clearly hoping for a relationship with Rose and they would then share the benefits of the money," the detective said.



"I think it is clear there was never to be a relationship and Mr Hunt was never to enjoy vast sums of money."



Speaking after the inquest, Mr Snee said Mr Hunt had been "bled dry" by the scam.



"The cause of Mr Hunt's death is due to the insurmountable debts which had clearly been caused by the scam which Mr Hunt had been victim to, which makes it all the more tragic," he said.



"We would like to reiterate a warning for those who may find themselves in similar circumstances to be very wary. If something looks too good to be true, then it probably is."