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Cambridgeshire woman tells how she lost £350,000 to romance fraudster

By Gemma Gardner

Carla lost £350,000 to a romance fraudster. Picture posed by a model.
Carla lost £350,000 to a romance fraudster. Picture posed by a model.

Carla's shocking story prompts Police and Crime Commissioner Jason Ablewhite to warn of dangers of online dating sites

Police and Crime Commissioner Jason Ablewhite is warning of the dangers of romance fraud. Picture Keith Heppell
Police and Crime Commissioner Jason Ablewhite is warning of the dangers of romance fraud. Picture Keith Heppell

Cambridgeshire Police and Crime Commissioner Jason Ablewhite is warning people about the dangers of romance fraud after a Cambridgeshire resident lost £350,000 to a conman.

With more people taking to online dating to find love, the commissioner wants people to be aware of the risks when accessing online dating sites.

Mr Ablewhite said: “While the vast majority of people using dating sites are sincere and honest in the information they provide and in their reasons for joining, there are exceptions and people need to be aware of how to keep themselves safe. There are a number of risks that can be associated with online dating: from people masquerading as somebody they are not, to personal safety when meeting someone in person, or when people appeal to your better nature to help them out of an ‘unfortunate situation’ by sending money. This is exactly what Cambridgeshire resident Carla told me happened when she recently came in to share her story.”

Carla’s story

When 67-year-old Carla, from Cambridgeshire, met Laurence online in September 2013, she thought her life was about to take a turn for the better.

She was recently divorced and had moved to a different part of town to start a new life. The only thing that was missing was a partner to enjoy it with.

Carla decided to create a profile on a dating website and was soon contacted by a man calling himself Laurence. Over the next few days, the two exchanged emails and a deep friendship began to blossom. Carla explained: “He said all the right things and made me feel needed. I was in a real low point in my life and felt incredibly lonely and vulnerable. Making this connection made me feel that there was someone out there for me.”

“Laurence’s texts were full of love and admiration – I couldn’t believe I had found him.”

Laurence ran an overseas transportation business and often chatted to Carla about how things were going.

His first request for money came in October 2013. He told Carla that he needed to settle a payment but his card wouldn’t work. Carla was happy to oblige. She took the money from her savings and waited to see when they could meet face to face. They had been talking about getting together for some time.

The next request for financial help came shortly afterwards. Laurence had a cash flow problem with ‘port taxes’ and needed £7,000 urgently. He provided all the necessary paperwork so Carla saw no reason not to help him.

And then someone he employed had an accident and he asked for £50,000. He promised Carla he was coming to see her to pay her back everything she had loaned him and had made a reservation in a local hotel.

Laurence never came. He disappeared, and Carla was left traumatised and financially broke.

Between September and January 2014, she had lent Laurence a substantial amount of money. She had taken out a loan against her home and dipped into her pension savings to cover the payments.

On January 9, Carla made an appointment at her bank to take out another loan. It was at that meeting that she was told she was a victim of a highly sophisticated scam. At this point, she had given Laurence over £100,000.

“I was in complete shock. I could not believe what had happened to me. I was too embarrassed to tell my friends. I realised that my profile on the dating website had been targeted.”

Carla decided to go to the Citizens Advice Bureau who contacted Action Fraud on her behalf. This led to police involvement which was then followed by a lengthy investigation which is still ongoing and support from Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s Victim and Witness Hub. Carla said: “The support I have from the victim and witness hub is fantastic. It is helping me to slowly rebuild my confidence. I did what I could to help the police investigation, later discovering that Laurence’s ‘identity’ was completely stolen from Facebook – every photo he sent, every hobby he professed to have – it was all someone else.”

Today, Carla is still suffering the impact of what happened. In total, she lost £350,000.

“Although it still hurts to talk about what happened to me, and I am still struggling to make ends meet, I want to make sure no-one else has to go through my experience. You might question how I didn’t read the signs until it was too late, but I truly believed he loved me.”

Mr Ablewhite said: “Carla’s story is desperately sad. It shows how incredibly clever and manipulative online fraudsters can be. I urge anyone using online dating to check if the dating site you are using is a member of the Online Dating Association (ODA). Membership means that the site has to commit to an industry code of practice that includes honest communication with users, protecting their privacy and providing a mechanism for reporting abuse.

“If you know someone who is dating online, Get Safe Online provides a wealth of experience about how to keep yourself safe.”

Staying safe on dating websites

Most people use online dating site for genuine reasons, but stick to these safety guidelines in case they have other motives.

■ Always keep your bank account information private.

■ Requests for money should put you on red alert. Don’t lend cash to someone you have never met or only just met, however unfortunate their story.

■ Stop all contact immediately if online dates ask for money and report it to the site to protect others.

■ Remain anonymous when using online dating sites. Don’t disclose your surname, address, place of work, email or other contact details.

■ Use the dating sites’ messaging service to correspond with potential dates to protect your identity.

■ If you are meeting a date, tell a friend where you are going and meet in a public place.

Visit getsafeonline.org/protecting-yourself/online-dating/ for more information.

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