Romance Scams - Elspet's Story
Romance scams are becoming increasingly common as people continue to move online to find love. In the last few years, there have been several programs and documentaries about criminals and ‘swindlers’ taking advantage of someone looking for love online.
However, the documentaries and articles of these experiences are marred with reactions and comments from viewers of “these people should know better”, “how could they be so naïve” and similar judgements.
It’s incredibly courageous for victims to share their experiences of being scammed, as these stories warn others about the red flags to look out for.
One such experience is Elspet Wilson’s, a retired nurse from County Durham, who shares her story of being victimised by a romance scam:
Back in 2016, after eight years of being single, Elspet decided to head over to a dating website and look for a relationship. Here, she met ‘Brian’ – a handsome soldier, based in Syria, in his late 40s.
The conversation between them flowed and they messaged back and forth for hours at a time. They spoke regularly about a future together, and ‘Brian’ surprised her with roses and chocolates delivered to the door. After a while of speaking, ‘Brian’ said he was granted immediate leave from his current tour in Syria to come back to the UK and visit Elspet, he just needed to send through some of his belongings before he travels. It would need to be sent by a diplomat based in Ghana, but ‘Brian’ didn’t have access to funds while on tour. This was when the payments started.
Elspet paid for the courier fees, diplomat’s air fares and various other travel arrangements. By this point, her pension pot was almost £10,000 lighter but the promises of visiting, marriage and their future together continued to grow. After everything had been supposedly paid, ‘Brian’ became upset and claimed that the diplomat had been shot, so the process would need to start again with somebody else. This was when Elspet knew it had all been a scam. She questioned ‘Brian’ for information but was met with replies shaming her for not trusting him.
She cut all conversation with ‘Brian’ and contacted the Foreign Office, who listened to the account and confirmed that it was indeed a scam.
Elspet’s story has been previously shared by newspapers and has been featured on BBC’s ‘For Love or Money’, but like most, sharing her experience has been met with a swarm of negative comments from the public.
In Elspet’s words:
“People said, ‘You’re stupid for letting this happen, it’s your fault’. It was horrible and I felt suicidal. People should be giving constructive feedback, not sit there and demean a person.”
By sharing her story, Elspet has given us all a unique opportunity to see inside a romance scam.
Using the Staying Safe from Romance Fraud guide from Thames Valley Police, let’s have a look at the criminal’s tactics from Elspet’s story:
- TACTIC 4: the setup - a handsome soldier, based in Syria and Brian surprised her with roses and chocolates delivered to the door
- TACTIC 1: legitimate urgency - Brian said he was granted immediate leave
- TACTIC 5: indirect requests for money - Brian didn’t have access to funds while on tour
- TACTIC 3: power manipulation - Brian became upset and claimed that the diplomat had been killed and she questioned Brian for information but was met with replies shaming her for not trusting him.
These tactics can be read in full on the guide.
Tips from the Staying Safe from Romance Fraud guide:
- Be wary of revealing personal information about yourself online.
- Remain on the dating site’s messaging platform if contact was via a dating site.
- Remember that anyone can pretend to be anyone they want to be online.
- Be wary if you are encouraged to keep things from your family and friends
- Be wary of anyone asking lots of questions about you but not revealing much about themselves.
No matter how long you’ve been speaking to someone online and how much you trust them:
- Never send them any money.
- Never allow them access to your bank account.
- Never transfer money on their behalf.
- Never take a loan out for them.
- Never provide copies of your personal documents such as passports or driving licenses.
- Never invest your own money on their behalf or on their advice.
- Never purchase and send the codes on gift cards from Amazon or iTunes.
- Never agree to receive or send any parcels on their behalf (such as mobile phones or laptops).
Take Five advice:
STOP: Taking a moment to stop and think before parting with your money or information could keep you safe.
CHALLENGE: Could it be fake? It’s ok to reject, refuse or ignore any requests. Only criminals will try to rush or panic you.
PROTECT: Contact your bank immediately if you think you’ve fallen for a scam and report it to Action Fraud
If you have lost money to a scam, contact your bank immediately. Report scams to Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or via actionfraud.police.uk. If you are in Scotland, please report to Police Scotland directly by calling 101.