Warning: Don’t be duped by con-artist like me
A woman duped by an online conman is warning others against cruel tricksters who will look to exploit lockdown loneliness for cash.
Berna Ireland has admitted she was drawn in ’hook, line and sinker’ after being befriended by a scammer posing as an American soldier.
The 51-year-old has spoken out about her own experience in a bid to stop others becoming a victim. It comes as people may feel more lonely and vulnerable during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Mother-of-one Berna, from Wolverhampton, had connected with the ’soldier’ while playing an online word game last Spring.
It led to flirty messages being exchanged and she started making plans to meet him in person during his leave from Afghanistan.
She offered to send him a care package in the meantime, but she was instead asked for a gift card and then days later to transfer up to £4,000 into a bank account.
The fake soldier claimed to need help with paying a ’builder’ as he was struggling to cover the bill, but would return the money and more.
Berna had been so drawn in by the friendship, and potential of a relationship, she wanted to send over the money.
But she was unable to draw on the sum at that stage and the delay - along with the realisation she may be a scam target - helped prevent her from losing cash.
Berna reported what happened to police and it emerged the con-artist had falsely taken the identity of someone else aged in their mid-50s.
Berna said: "I was lucky, as I would have most likely paid the money if I had it there. He was so convincing, there seemed a connection and it felt so nice.
"We were chatting online for three weeks and he claimed to be divorced with a daughter. I had developed feelings for him and he was talking of coming to the UK.
"When I look back now I think how on earth was I drawn in, my friends are shocked it could have happened to someone like me.
"But I had been caught hook, line and sinker. It’s hard not to feel embarrassed about it, but I’m relieved I came to my senses.
"These con-artists know what they are doing and prey on you when they know you’re lonely and vulnerable. I was fortunate not to lose any money... but it could have been thousands of pounds.
"From my experience alone, I know it can be difficult to think logically in the moment. But the reality is, you wouldn’t normally hand over large sums of money to someone you have never met so why start now."
There were 245 reports of romance fraud - across all ages - across the West Midlands during 2020.
Kloe Burrows, from our economic crime unit, added: "Con-artists are manipulative and know how to build up your trust before striking for your money.
"While this scam didn’t originate from a dating site, the scammer clearly saw the chance to play on and exploit Berna’s feelings.
"We know people will be feeling more isolated and vulnerable than ever due to the Covid restrictions and the new lockdown measures. These fraudsters’ will see this as an opportunity to act on this and strike.
"It’s important to always stop and think when forging a relationship online. Take your time to get to know someone and never be forced into handing over your money."
To report fraud message us via Live Chat or go to the Action Fraud website at www.actionfraud.police.uk