The victims of fraudsters who use romance to steal a fortune

How do victims like Susan Baio get taken in?


Baio, a fraud victim

David Checkley conned hundreds of thousands of pounds out of women who were looking for love. He promised them the world, told them he was in love, and then abused their trust in order to con them out of their savings. Susan Baio (pictured) lost £20,000, and she is just one of the victims telling her story on ITV this evening.

So how do women get taken in by these romantic con-men, and can they protect themselves?

Checkley had told Baio he was a fighter pilot, but that he needed money to pay for an operation for Parkinson's disease. Meanwhile he was busy conning 29 other women on dating websites - all of whom thought they were the only one dating him. He told some of them he needed an operation, and others that he needed the money for a business deal. Some women remortgaged their homes in order to help him out with tens of thousands of pounds.

Baio first realised that something was wrong when she was sent a picture of Checkley in a state of undress - quickly followed by a call from woman who said she was also his girlfriend and she had also received the photo. His story started unravelling and in 2010 he was jailed for six years and ten months (although he was out in less then four).

How did he do it?

ITV will tell Baio's story on The Betrayers tonight. The programme explores how he was able to con so many women, and concludes that the women don't even consider the possibility he is lying, because he says he is in love and all his actions seem to point to the fact that he is.

She is far from the only woman to fall for a conman who promises romance. We reported in January on the 46-year-old grandmother who had met a 28-year-old in a Turkish resort of Marmaris, sold her house, and given all the money to her boyfriend to invest in his bar: he fled with the money.

Then there was Brenda Parke, a 60-year-old retiree who met a man online who said his daughter had been injured overseas and needed £9,600 for an operation. He then asked for £44,500 for his business and to enable him to travel home. He insisted he would repay her as soon as he returned to the UK, but when she went to the airport to meet him he never showed up.

When Professor Monica Whitty from the University of Leicester researched the risks of internet dating, she discovered these scams were rife. In just one year in the UK there were 592 victims of this crime - with more than a third of them losing over £5,000.

Protect yourself

These con-men can be incredibly difficult to spot, because they are so practiced in the art of deception. However, most of them follow a similar pattern that it pays to be aware of. They will set up a fake profile, connect you, and declare their love very quickly. They will then ask for a small gift or sum of cash fairly quickly - to test the water. If they manage to get this, they will then increase their requests - often in a way which is designed to make you concerned for them, their health or their livelihood. Once they have fleeced you, they simply disappear without a trace.

To protect against these dangers it's best to assume that everyone is a potential fraudster when you meet them online. You need to be wary about revealing too many personal details - especially if they ask you anything about your finances. At the same time, try to get a full picture of them and their background - ask a lot of questions, research their answers, and be concerned if they seem to be hiding anything.

If they declare their love early on - even before they meet you - then it's a worrying sign, so don't be temped to get carried away in response.

Finally, if they ask for financial help or talk about money worries, assume it it a scam. In the cold light of day it's easy to see that normal people don't fall head over heels in love in a matter of days and then start asking for money. It pays to remember this even when you're embroiled in the romance.

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