Sussex woman loses £350,000 in online romance fraud

A WOMAN who believed she was in a genuine relationship with a man online has lost an estimated £350,000 in a romance scam.

Anna, who is not her real name, thought she had been in a relationship with a man named Andrew for over two years when she realized she had been the victim of a romance fraud and reported her to Sussex Police in October.

Anna, a finance professional in her 50s, joined dating site Zoosk in February 2019 after four years of celibacy and the man, who claimed to be a Bulgarian food importer living in London.

She said she had an immediate connection with him and said: “I was recovering from an incredibly difficult and abusive marriage and was finally ready to meet someone.

“He showered me with love and affection. If you imagine a stick of cotton candy, I was the stick and he was the sugar wrapped around me. I felt like I was floating.”

About five weeks after they first connected, Andrew asked Anna for money to get through a temporary business crisis.

Requests for additional financial aid have multiplied, including even a request to cover the costs of repatriating his daughter who died abroad.

Although there were occasions when Anna expressed her suspicions to Andrew, she said: “I would get sucked into his almighty love bubble. I also got receipts for a lot of things, and he constantly had an explanation for me.”

She had engaged in video calls with Andrew, but has since discovered he used the technology to superimpose a moving image.

When Andrew claimed to be held hostage in Paris and tortured by loan sharks over unpaid debts, Anna took to social media for help with his whereabouts.

She was then contacted by a lady in France, who told Anna that Andrew’s picture was actually of a famous actor in South America.

Anna said: “I had spent the year sleep deprived, completely unstable, but trapped in this abusive cycle.

“I had become obsessed with him and was preventing his pain. It was like losing a husband that I loved with all my heart and soul.

“I was never going to have a conclusion or say goodbye.”

Anna reported what happened to Action Fraud, and later became involved with Sussex Police and Victim Support Sussex. As is often the case with people who are victims of this type of fraud, Anna did not tell anyone around her what had happened.

She said: “He was my fantasy man and after being abused in my previous relationship, it seemed like I had finally found perfection.

“I’m smart but I’m not the only person this has happened to. Hearts and minds can be fragile, especially after abuse.

“The combination of taking someone’s heart while stealing it day after day is beyond the known evil of the general public.”

Anna’s case was one of 427 romance fraud reports passed to Operation Signature which Sussex Police are processing to identify, protect and support vulnerable victims of fraud.

Police have urged people to be vigilant when looking for love, especially those aged between 30 and 59 who accounted for half of all love fraud cases in Sussex last year, at more than 4 million pounds levied on people who were victimized in the county in 2021.

Bernadette Lawrie BEM, Financial Abuse Protection Officer for Sussex Police, said: “With more and more people turning to online platforms to build relationships, this cruel and heartless crime is on the rise. .

“Fraudsters prey on the loneliness of victims, targeting and grooming them with the aim of exploiting money. Since the pandemic, we have seen an increase in this type of fraud as social interactions and connections have been reduced and criminals took the opportunity to befriend people and build online relationships with the most vulnerable before scamming them and stealing their money.”

Ms Lawrie advised relationship seekers not to rush into an online relationship, scan their profile, talk to friends and family, avoid scams by not sending money or not sharing bank details with someone you’ve only met online and staying on the dating site. messaging service until you are sure the person is who they say they are.

Sussex Police said they were taking proactive steps to try to stop people falling victim to romance fraud.

People can report a scammer making contact or fraudulent material related to romance fraud to Scamalytics.

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