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 those 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.
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 at a shopping mall, so they weren’t able to meet. In fact, they never met face to face.
Marjorie recalls: "Towards the end of February, he began to mention that he was having cash flow problems with his business. He said he needed a short-term loan of funds to finish the project."
He told her he would repay her when the project was complete at 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 showing his company Gerald Symonds Electrical.
"He also sent an image of a cheque for £2 million, which he said was due to him on completion of the project," said Marjorie.
These all turned out to be fake.
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. A transfer of £42,000 was supposed to be the final amount Gerald needed to complete the project in Dubai.
He told her to 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 further transfer from her HSBC UK account. Gerald said this was needed to cover health and safety checks and inspections before the Dubai project was handed back over to the owners.
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 launched 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 may claim they can't afford to pay for a relative's urgent operation.
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. You can also report it to the national fraud reporting centre Action Fraud.