Friday, August 24, 2012

Match.CON: How a Fraudster Fleeced a Woman on Online Dating

by Stephen Wright

(U.K.) 'I've been utterly stupid,' said 60-year-old Brenda Parke

A vulnerable divorcee was conned out of £60,000 (approx $95,200. US)by a man she befriended - but never met - through a dating website. Brenda Parke, 60, fell victim to a confidence trickster who persuaded her to part with her savings to help his supposedly sick daughter. They arranged to meet at Birmingham Airport so he could repay the loans, but he never arrived.

Miss Parke, a retired air stewardess, admits she has been 'utterly stupid' but now wants to raise awareness about 'romance fraud'. Police estimate that Britons are losing tens of millions of pounds as a result of scams by conmen who target emotionally vulnerable Westerners on dating websites.

Other victims have included dentists and barristers. Miss Parke, who had never used a dating site before, joined Match.com last December and befriended a man calling himself Bradford Broad Cole. Over the following weeks they developed a close relationship via emails and phone calls. Cole portrayed himself as a successful Dutch businessman who earned his living supplying and fitting computers. He said his partner had died and he was estranged from family and friends, claiming to have moved to the UK a year ago with his young daughter, Maureen. But she was injured in a hit and run abroad while accompanying him on a business trip, he claimed, and he needed £9,600 for an operation.

He did not ask Miss Parke for money directly but moaned that he had no one to turn to, having borrowed as much as he could from the bank. She repeatedly told him she could not help and each time he said he understood, but she wrestled with her conscience as she did not want to leave a child in trouble. Eventually she offered to pay the hospital direct, but discovered it only accepted cash, so she arranged money transfers to Cole. Miss Parke handed over more money after Cole said he needed £44,500 for his business and further cash for his accommodation and transport home. The police are now investigating the case.

Miss Parke, who has no children and lives in Sussex, said: 'I am fully aware how utterly stupid I have been and appreciate there is little, if any, chance to get my money back. However, I have always considered myself to be a bright and intelligent woman. If I could be manipulated and reduced to "a puppet on a string" because of this man's subtlety and supposed sincerity, then there are millions of vulnerable people out there just waiting to be abused by a very professional and consummate actor. It is so cunning and amazingly well done that I am reeling with shock at my own vulnerability.'

'I urge dating sites to take far more responsibility for who they allow to advertise on their websites.'

Miss Parke agreed to waive her anonymity to talk out about romance fraud for national fraud reporting centre: Action Fraud. Dr Bernard Herdan, of the National Fraud Authority, which runs Action Fraud, said: 'Fraud is a serious crime that devastates lives and often funds more organised crime such as drug smuggling.'

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