Sunday, October 21, 2012

Woman Scammed via Online Dating Site

by Alison Smith Squire

When Alison Peters’ 42-year marriage hit a rocky patch, she sought comfort with a man she met on a dating website.

But unbeknown to Alison, 65, a teacher, her new romance was an internet scammer – who was to cruelly fleece her of £120,000.

Today, Alison who is now living in a caravan and trying to piece her life back together said: 'I can’t believe I was so stupid. I thought I was an intelligent woman. But I have lost my savings, my home – and almost completely lost my marriage.

'My life has been left in ruins.'

Alison’s nightmare began last year after she decided to try online dating.

She says: 'I’d recently moved out of the home I shared with my husband David, 68. We were going through a rocky period in our 42 year marriage. “David said he wanted a fresh start. He wanted to sell our house. He wanted to buy a boat and go sailing round the world without me. I was devastated. I hoped he was having a mid-life crisis but then he put our house on the market and we’d both seen solicitors and decided to divorce.'

A few weeks earlier Alison, a mum of two and grandmum of four, had been to a friend’s wedding.'She was marrying a wonderful man she had met on the internet,' she recalls, 'and so as my marriage was over I thought why not. My profile said, "Woman going through divorce... I am looking for friendship, good conversation and companionship".  I put up a photo and was amazed when a few days later I had seven replies.'

One was from Steve Myers. Claiming to be a widow aged 55, he said his wife had died twelve years ago. Half English and half Hungarian, he’d lived in America for a long time but he now had houses in Virginia, the U.S. and Croydon.  Says Alison from Basingstoke, Hants: 'Steve claimed he worked as a self-employed petroleum engineer earning £100,000 a year and travelled the world.  'Within an hour of messaging, I found myself pouring my heart out to him: "You deserve better," he wrote sympathetically after I’d said how devastated I was about my marriage. 'He sent me a photo and when I saw his kind face, I couldn’t help but warm to him.'

The next day Steve rang explaining away his unusual accent with the fact that he travelled so much.  Over the next few days Alison could barely wait until the evening when they would chat online.And over the next couple of weeks his emails became affectionate. 'He would write, "You’re someone I could marry" and when I said I was a Christian, back came another email full of bible quotes.'

Within five weeks the pair had agreed to meet. But as the big day arrived there was a problem.  Recalls Alison: ‘He told me he’d been called to the US. He said, ‘"There’s an oil contract in Malaysia that my company bid for – a $5.2 million dollar contract. I need to go to a conference in the US run by a large energy company."'On his way to the airport, I got another surprise phone call: "You couldn’t top up my mobile phone credit could you?" he asked, "Only I’m not going to be able to do it while I’m away." 'I said, "Of course not," What was £50 pounds between friends…'

Over the next couple of weeks, Steve continued to email. It was agreed Alison would pick him up from the airport and Steve sent his flight details.  'My stomach tingled as I imagined us running into one another’s arms,' says Alison, who booked a hotel for him. Only the day before he was due to return her mobile rang. She expected to hear Steve’s voice but it was another man on the end of the phone.'The Asian sounding man had a message for me. There had been a big explosion and accident on the site in Malaysia. Unfortunately Steve had to cancel his flight to the UK and fly to Malaysia that day.  The news hit me in the stomach. I’d been so excited to meet Steve at last. I’d even already paid for his hotel room.'

A few days later, in November, Steve rang, this time asking for $12,000 to buy equipment.  Alison admits: 'A tiny part of me nagged that it wasn’t genuine. But he told me he was going to give me a share of the 5.2 million dollar contract. And when tenatively I mentioned about scams Steve was so offended.'

Over the next few weeks she wired over the rest of her £23,000 savings.  'Once my daughter Catherine overheard me talking about money with Steve but I assured her I wasn’t sending him money,' she says.  However, she was still paying £50 a month for his mobile phone bill and Steve had promised her he’d soon be back in the UK.  And by now January 2012 she’d taken out two bank loans on the internet and sent over another £20,000 for more equipment.  'But when Steve asked me for more money to pay tax I told him he’d have to wait until the house I shared with David was sold.;

Then in February Alison rang husband David to discuss the house. 'Just hearing his voice made me realise how much I wanted to be with him, she recalls, 'and David felt the same about me.  'I told Steve from now on our relationship could be on a business footing.'

In February the house was sold and Alison moved into a caravan until she could afford another property. But Steve needed more money.'Steve had so many bills to pay and was under so much strain, he’d been diagnosed with prostate cancer. So I sent him £70,000. It was terrible news but at last the contract was finished. 'Steve': This is one of the pictures that the scammers pretending to be a man called 'Steve' sent to Anne 'Steve': This is one of the pictures that the scammers pretending to be a man called 'Steve' sent to Anne

‘At the same time I received an email from an organisation called Crown Third Party Finance to let me know 5.2 million dollars was waiting to go into my account.'The only snag was before it was to be released, I’d have to pay £10,000 for a special certificate.' Alison had no money so went to David, who thought it was a scam – but Alison showed him documents and convinced him to hand over the money.  She says: 'I expected to see millions in my bank account soon.'  But, of course nothing ever arrived.

On her daughter’s advice, Alison went to the Police – who believed she’d been part of an elaborate sting. They promised to investigate but warned Alison she was unlikely to get the money back. 'As soon as I got home, I emailed Steve,' says Alison, 'I was in a terrible state. I said, "You’re a scammer and I’ve gone to the Police. Because of you I’ve lost everything …"

'Incredibly, Steve emailed back denying it was a scam. But by then I knew it was. I put my head in my hands and wept. When I found Steve wasn't real, but a person made up by some scammers to dupe me I felt so betrayed.  At the time I had liked him so much. At my lowest my confidence was bolstered. At the time I truly believed I'd found a true companion, someone who understood me.  To find out he wasn't real and just concocted for me was terrible.'

She adds: 'Thankfully David has stood by me. And in fact he has helped me through this terrible time. In a way it's brought us both closer together and it's made us realise we don't want to throw away 42 years of marriage.  We still have our ups and downs but we're determined to make our relationship work. A few weeks ago he moved into the caravan with me and has bought a boat. We are hoping to buy a little bungalow together.

'But I will never get over losing so much money. I still wake up every morning and ask myself how I could have been sucked into a scam like this. I still feel incredibly foolish for believing all those lies.  But the lies were clever and I was at a vulnerable stage in my life. Even the Police said I was "ripe for the picking", I only hope telling my story will warn others.'

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