Woman reveals horror of being conned by fake soldier as romance fraud cases surge in lockdown

‘It seemed like a light at long last. Something was going right. Somebody liked me. I felt good about myself. We seemed to have things in common. There was the possibility of a future and of happiness,’ says victim

Maya Oppenheim
Women’s Correspondent
Thursday 08 October 2020 18:52
Comments
A copy of the fake photo which the romance scamster sent to the victim asking her to marry him
A copy of the fake photo which the romance scamster sent to the victim asking her to marry him

A 54-year-old scientist was scammed out of around £20,000 by a man with whom she built an intense relationship that led to engagement.

“Looking back I just feel stupid but these people are so clever at taking information you’ve given and weaving it into the story,” Kirsty*, tells The Independent. “They are so manipulative. I’d wake up in the morning to a little bit of prose. Since it happened, I’ve been very tearful. I could barely go a day without crying with masses of tissues.

“He said his name was Mark Cameron,” says Kirsty, who met the scammer on Tinder in April during lockdown. “He seemed like a really nice guy. He said he was in the British army and serving in Afghanistan. He said he was in special ops. A week later there was an attack on a maternity hospital in Kabul. The day after the president said they were getting the army to go on the offensive after these attackers, Mark said this mission that he’d been training for was going into effect and he would be going in.”

Kirsty, who lives in West Sussex, received a message from Mark a day later to say he had safely arrived back from the mission. Mark claimed he had gotten himself into trouble with his boss due to deviating from his mission to rescue a child — telling Kirsty he had been left with a flesh wound after being grazed by a bullet.

“I was absolutely relieved he had got out alive,” the mother-of-three adds. “I had never felt that frightened for another person’s safety before. I thought this must be love. It then turned out this child he had rescued was the godson of a local sheikh, who by way of showing appreciation presented Mark with a box of money. He said it wasn’t safe to leave it there so could he post it to me.”

Mark told Kirsty that he would be leaving the army in a month and flying straight to her where they would immediately embark on their new life together.

“He proposed the day after he got back from the mission,” Kirsty recalls. “He sent me a photo of himself by a big armoured building with a sign ‘saying will you marry me’. That money was going to be our future. He also said he’d send some of it to help support the families of Aghan soldiers who had died. He said he was going to send it back via a United Nations diplomat but it was going to cost money. He said he couldn’t access online money over there so could I possibly help out. I was questioning it at the time. But every time I asked a question, he gave a plausible answer back.”

Mark offered to prove the money existed without Kirsty probing him about it and the pair had a quick Skype call where he showed her a big silver box filled with neatly stacked dollar bills.

“It was only a few seconds long,” Kirsty explains. “I just saw hands handling money and a silver box. And then the call cut. Mark later messaged me to say someone had been trying to get in the door so he’d hung up."

Mark told Kirsty the secure box could only be opened by her and she would have to register her name, address, email address, phone number and a photocopy of her passport with the United Nations freight service. She was even sent a copy of the diplomat’s passport which she has since found out is fake.

He then said he needed her help with money for his flights home which were going to be highly expensive due to restrictions on travel in the wake of the coronavirus crisis - with flights costing a whopping £15,000.  

“I queried it but he said the high cost was linked to corruption and paying off officials on route,” Kirsty adds. “Then the diplomat landed in Gabon in central Africa and he contacted me to tell me, he had to go through big security queues because of the Covid situation and everything had to go through the scanner. He told me it was an ultrasensitive scanner but I couldn’t find anything about that on Google. Then he was asking for more money to pay off the top guy in security at the airport.”

Kirsty refused to pay him any more money and sent a photo of Mark to an ex-military acquaintance who said Mark was wearing an army uniform from 2010. She got straight on the phone to the police and the bank.

“It really hit me,” she adds. “The policeman and the person at Victim Support explained there was a team with clipboards who were scamming me. The police suspect that my scammers are Ghanaian or Nigerian and are a team of people running a professional scamming operation.”

Kirsty eventually managed to get the money she lost back from HSBC at the beginning of August but she notes the majority of romance fraud victims she has met in peer support groups have not been reimbursed. 

“I thought all the things I like doing – dancing, swimming gym – were going to have to stop doing because I couldn’t afford it and I’d be paying back the money for the rest of my life,” she recalls. “I was in a bad place before it happened. It seemed like a light at long last. Something was going right. Somebody liked me. I felt good about myself. We seemed to have things in common. There was the possibility of a future and of happiness, but that was taken away.”

Kirsty is not alone. Romance fraud has soared in recent years but has increased yet further during the coronavirus lockdown. Victim Support, a charity which helps victims of crimes rebuild their lives, saw a 27 per cent increase of daily reports of romance fraud when lockdown eased in May in comparison to the pre-lockdown period, which the charity suggests demonstrates a rise in romance fraud during lockdown.

Victim Support, which supports victims in England and Wales, told The Independent that women are more likely to be victims of romance fraud than men. Females made up 58 per cent of victims pre-lockdown - with the number increasing to 63 per cent as lockdown eased.

Action Fraud, the UK's national fraud reporting service, received over 400 reports a month from victims of romance fraud in the UK between August 2019 and August 2020.

The total of losses which victims reported during this period was £66,335,239 - which averages out at just over £10,000 per person who was duped. While in June, July and August of this, the reporting service received more than 600 reports per month of romance fraud.

Romance fraud takes place when you think you have fallen for the ideal partner online but they are using a fake dating profile to trick you into giving them money.

Lisa Mills, a senior fraud manager at Victim Support, told The Independent: “Ever since we were set up four years ago, romance fraud has become more and more common. In the last year, one in four of our referrals related to romance fraud.

“When people go on to dating websites, they are vulnerable. You are exposing yourself. The people I see are clearly there for a reason, they’ve gone through a divorce or they’re at a low ebb in their life. Their confidence is lacking. We all want someone to say nice things to us and make us feel special. But it goes so wrong for people I support through no fault of their own.

“It’s not just the financial side - it’s the emotional and psychological fallout. People are in this love bubble. That person is saying lovely things to you. Love is a drug. It’s only when it crashes down afterwards you think did this really happen. These scammers are so manipulative they have an answer for anything. People unwillingly become money mules and accept laundered money into their account.”

Ms Mills said they had supported victims who have re-mortgaged their homes, taken out loans, and borrowed money from loved ones to give their fake partner money.

Diana Fawcett, chief executive of the charity, said: “Circumstances caused by coronavirus were in fact used by fraudsters as a ‘hook’ to extort money. For example, some have invented lies about needing medical treatment, or urgent travel expenses to leave a country, or funds to keep afloat after a bogus job loss caused by the pandemic.”

The comments come as police forces around the country, alongside Match Group, which owns online dating services such as Tinder, Match.com, OkCupid, Hinge, PlentyOfFish, and others, have launched a campaign which takes place during October,  to raise awareness of romance fraud.

Dr Elisabeth Carter, from Roehampton University, said: “Romance fraudsters will use language that exploits and persuades in a way that is similar to domestic abuse, grooming and coercive control.”

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Please enter a valid email
Please enter a valid email
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Must be at least 6 characters, include an upper and lower case character and a number
Please enter your first name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
Please enter your last name
Special characters aren’t allowed
Please enter a name between 1 and 40 characters
You must be over 18 years old to register
You must be over 18 years old to register
Opt-out-policy
You can opt-out at any time by signing in to your account to manage your preferences. Each email has a link to unsubscribe.

By clicking ‘Create my account’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in