A woman from the West Midlands is facing bankrupt after falling victim to a fraudster she met on a dating website.
Rachel Elwell, from Brownhills, West Midlands, announced on a Facebook post that she had become a victim of ‘Romance Fraud’ – losing £113,000 to a scammer.
As she shared a snippet of the story to serve as a warning to others, Elwell told her full story on a BBC Radio WM and on her GoFundMe page.
Elwell explains she was contacted by a man on the Facebook dating app on the January 1, 2021, who claimed to be from Coventry, some 25 miles away.
The man said that he had been widowed seven years earlier after his wife had died of breast cancer, leaving him to bring up his then ten-year-old daughter.
As the pair began chatting, Elwell discovered they have a lot in common – both owning dogs, liked walking, dancing and travelling, and agreed to meet up at the Covid-19 lockdown restrictions had eased.
Elwell said: “The conversation felt honest and open.”
Within a week of chatting on the dating app, the two moved their conversations to email where the man confessed that he had wanted to close his Facebook account after being propositioned by women.
The week after the man explained to Elwell that he was trying to secure funds for an engineering contract he’d been after for four months – eventually being granted a project in Ukraine.
Just 48 hours after securing the project, the conman was in Ukraine to start the contract and had switched to contacting Elwell via a Ukrainian mobile number.
But then by Tuesday January 19 all worked had been forcibly stopped and the equipment the man was using was seized.
The fraudster claimed to have received a tax bill of £457,000, but that Elwell shouldn’t worry as this had been budgeting for and that the investors in the project would cover the cost.
This was when Elwell said he had begun to ask her for money, but not for the tax bill.
Elwell sent him £250 to cover food and taxis to and from the project site, explaining that it just seemed ‘such a small amount of money at the time’.
The conman explained the different avenues he was going through to make up the money he needed, sending Elwell a copy of the letter from the Tax Office
However, the fraudster didn't stop there, claiming his team were held captive in a Ukrainian cellar by loan sharks.
The scammer even called Elwell to legitimise his situation.
After feeling as though the only person could help him, Elwell sent him £7,500 out of her savings, and after securing a loan – she sent him £22,900 on February 4.
Elwell wrote that after the man had sent pictures to her on him sleeping on a floor in the cellar he was locked up in, and that she felt she had to help him, because if she didn’t she feared he’d end up dead.
On Friday March 5 2021, Elwell borrowed £45,000 from a third loan, as well as on her second credit card.
She says that police officers from the West Midlands Economic Crime Victim Care unit after being tipped off by her bank that something may be wrong.
Elwell said: “I felt helpless.”
With the fraudster due to arrive back in the UK on March 16, Elwell arranged everything from his plane ticket home to a new passport.
As she was waiting, she received an email from a Ukrainian airport official that he had been arrested, but that Heathrow Border Force explained that it could be a scam.
Elwell even drove to the man’s supposed address in Coventry on April 1 to meet the man’s daughter, but arrived and was told no one lives there with the name she’d be given.
She said: “In that instant, I just knew it was a lie.”
Elwell said she felt sick and numb, trying to comprehend how a person could conjure up such elaborate lies.
She describes feeling of relief, but knew she was facing financial ruin.
‘These thoughts kept me up at night and stopped me from eating.’
‘All I want now, is to get my life back and to help to warn other people about this type of fraud.’
According to data from the National Crime Agency, the average victim of ‘romance fraud’ just over £10,000.
West Midlands Police explained that Elwell’s case is a ‘prime example’ of the UK’s increasing issue of ‘romance fraud’ – something which has surged over the past year.
Read how fraudsters are luring people in with fake Covid vaccine scam.
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