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Romance scams: how one woman was conned out of £100,000

Dating fraud is all too common, with criminals creating fake profiles on websites, apps and social media to target those looking for love online.

Here’s the story of one HSBC customer who fell victim to a romance scam. The details are fictitious but are based on a genuine case. All the names, locations and other aspects have been changed to protect the anonymity of the individuals involved.

 

Two years after her husband died, Marjorie decided to start using a dating website for the first time. 

It was a service aimed at the over 50s, with a focus on those who’d been widowed. 

After taking the plunge, she soon struck up an online conversation with a man called Gerald and they quickly hit it off. 

"Most communication was through WhatsApp although we also spoke over the phone," said Marjorie. 

Gerald claimed to be from Milton Keynes and told her he owned his own electrical business. He explained he was away in Dubai working on a major project building a shopping mall, so they weren’t able to meet. In fact, they never met face to face.

'Cash flow problems'

Marjorie recalls: "Towards the end of February, he began to mention that he was having cash flow problems with his business. In order to complete the building project, he said he needed a short-term loan of funds."

He told her he would repay her when the project was complete, which he said he expected to be the beginning of April.

This is when alarm bells should have started to ring. You should never send money to someone you've only met online.

Gerald sent Marjorie a copy of his passport, shipping documents and a link to a website which showed his company Gerald Symonds Electrical. 

"He also sent an image of a cheque for £2 million which was due to him on completion of the project," said Marjorie.

These all turned out to be fake.

Bank transfers

Marjorie began by making payments from an account she held with another bank. In total, she transferred £54,000 from that account. 

Then she started to make payments from her HSBC UK account, with a transfer of £42,000 intended to be the final amount needed to allow Gerald to complete the building project in Dubai.

He told her that if she was asked by her bank what the payment was for, she should say it was for building work on her home.

Marjorie said: "I had genuinely been having work done on my home around the same time."

As the fraudster expected, staff in Marjorie’s local HSBC UK branch did ask her about the purpose of the payment and accepted her well-rehearsed explanation.

Marjorie made a second transfer from her HSBC UK account, which Gerald said was needed to cover health and safety checks and inspections before the building project was handed back over to the owners. 

Romance scam revealed

When Marjorie tried to make yet another payment, the local branch used the UK’s Banking Protocol scheme to call the police and uncover the scam.

Gerald Symonds was a fake identity created by criminals. HSBC UK, the police and the other banks involved are now carrying out investigations into the fraud.

Marjorie was the victim of what’s known as a romance scam. Typically, it starts with a fast-moving online relationship, with the fraudster often claiming to be working or travelling outside the UK. 

They then start asking for money. Sometimes it’s to cover the cost of coming to the UK, or they could claim they have a relative who needs an urgent operation which they can't afford to pay for.

If you've been a victim

If you think you’ve been the victim of a romance scam, you can call us using the number on the back of your credit or debit card, or report it to the national fraud reporting centre Action Fraud.