Susan Tollefsen has been scammed out of £160,000 by a fraudster she met through an online dating website. She was 57 when she had her daughter Freya in 2008, and she thought she was giving the money to a man who would ensure her daughter would be provided for financially in future. It was only when he failed to show up for meetings that she contacted the police.
Tollefsen, now aged 64 and living in Romford in Essex, told the Sunday Mirror she had split up with her partner in 2010, and was persuaded by a friend to join dating website Plenty of Fish. She was approached by a man claiming to be an Italian gold and diamond dealer called Glenn Vanslyke. She said: "Before too long we were spending all our time chatting online and started calling each other."
He told her he was in the middle of a land deal, but couldn't access cash. She felt sorry for him, so started wiring him money. Over subsequent months he asked for larger and larger sums, and told her he was investing it for her. She sold her jewellery, then sold her flat and gave him the profit. She even borrowed £32,000 from friends.
She said: "I thought I was investing in something that would set Freya up for the rest of her life but instead I was being played like an idiot." She has since returned to work as a teacher to raise the money to repay her friends. She said she was telling her story in the hope it would never happen to anyone else.
While Tollefsen lost a highly unusual amount of money, this sort of romance scam is actually remarkably common. A study in 2011 showed that by that point, at least 200,000 people in Britain had fallen victim to the scams. It means that it's worth knowing the warning signs.
Action Fraud says that often the scam will start as soon as you register with an internet dating site. You will be contacted by someone very good looking (often based overseas). They will persuade you to move off the site and communicate direct. They will also develop a pet name for you because it makes it easier for the gangs to string a number of women along if they all have the same pet name.
Once they have reeled you in, they will sell you some kind of sob story, and ask you to send money. Common claims are that they are ill, they need money for travel costs or visas, or they have had their plane ticket stolen. If you send the smaller sums they ask for to start with, they will push for bigger and bigger amounts of money.
What should you do?
If you have been a victim, you need to stop sending money, sever communications immediately, and report them to the site where they first contacted you, and the police.
You should also take precautions against becoming a victim. The first is to ask yourself whether anyone contacting you is too good to be true. In many cases you need to consider why someone so good looking is on a dating site - and why they have fallen for you so quickly.
Even if they seem genuine, err on the side of caution and don't exchange emails or phone numbers. Don't reveal too much about yourself either. It's important to ask about the basics such as what they do and where they live. Probe deeply, and check up on their answers.
Finally, never send money to anyone you meet online. They may seem incredibly kind and thoughtful, but you will be surprised what scammers will say and do to win your confidence and trick you out of your money.
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