A WOMAN who was scammed out of more than £13,000 by a man she met on a dating website said her life had been “destroyed”.
The 56-year-old from Bournemouth met the man in February this year and they became friends over two months via email and Skype.
He claimed to be a UN medic working in Syria and seeking companionship online, but in reality she had fallen for a cynical scam.
“I have paid the price for being naive,” said the victim, who wished to remain anonymous.
“It is difficult to meet men in everyday life at my age, I went on this website looking for companionship and we became good friends.
“He gave me his life story, sent me a picture, even spoke to me on Skype, I had no reason to disbelieve him. He talked about our future and paint a beau-tiful picture. But that’s all it was.”
The scammer said he was sending her a package for safe keeping, and in March she received a video supposedly showing the package at Heathrow Airport with gold bars being removed by customs officials.
When questioned, her online correspondent said he had been given the bars by a Syrian sheikh and wanted her to look after them.
But with the video came emails with official-looking documents from the airport, the Home Office and HMRC demanding a £1,770 handling charge and £7,400 in tax before the package would be released.
By borrowing money from her mother and son and maxing out her overdraft and credit card the victim paid the fictitious fees, and she later transferred £4,000 to the scammer for his air fare home.
The fraud was only exposed when the victim’s son spotted the same video of the gold being unpacked on YouTube.
“I have accepted I probably won’t get the money back, I am paying off my debts at £300 a month but I only get paid £850,” said the victim.
“Looking back I can see I was really stupid, but I didn’t know that these people were so clever.
“I want to warn people not to make the same mistake as me, as I would hate any other vulnerable woman or man to fall victim.
“You never know who you are talking to on the internet.”
The case was referred to West Midlands Police by Action Fraud, but the victim said the force had told her its investigation had stalled.
Crime Commissioner: Case has been handled in slapdash way
DORSET Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said her case had been handled in a “slapdash and slapstick” way and he would refer it to the Policing Minister.
The victim had made a complaint that neither Action Fraud nor West Midlands Police had updated her regularly about the status of the investigation – and her phone calls to them were just “passed around”.
“Other than an intervention from Victim Support, the victim has had nothing. This is not the way to carry out police investigations,” said Mr Underhill.
An Action Fraud spokesman said there was “more for us to do” to support victims of economic crime.
He said a new system for informing victims was introduced in April, as well as funding to set up an Economic Crime Victim Care Unit