Moved by the heart-breaking tale of a woman who lost more than £12,000 in a fake romance online, Daily Post Reporter Amelia Shaw decided to see how easy it was for the con artists to find their prey
This woman (the victim of the scam) was still grieving the sudden loss of her beloved husband, had fallen in love with a man she thought was a senior ranking member of the United States Army. Over the course of six months, the scammer convinced the woman to send him more than £12,000 by telling her he needed money for his son’s medical bills.
It set Amelia thinking - how easy is it for these scammers to find vulnerable women online, and how easy would it be for her to pose as one?
It took around 20 minutes to create a fake persona - 60 year old Audrey Davies on Facebook. Just a few clicks and her character was live. The fake story is that Audrey is from London, her husband passed away three years ago, and she recently retired having sold her very successful laundry business. That was all the information there was to see.
For scammers, Amelia was the perfect victim - single, grieving the loss of her husband and sitting on millions.
It took just two days for someone claiming to be ‘Harley Peters’ to find Amelia.
He struck up a conversation with Amelia on August 23 and told Amelia he was a 58 year old Veterinary Doctor from Brooklyn, New York and was currently working in Malaysia looking after chickens with bird flu. The picture he claimed was on himself was almost certainly taken from someone who had no idea their image was being used. And photographs he sent claiming to show the places in which he was working were easily traceable as being stock images when Amelia put them through a reverse image search on Google.
It took just two hours for him to start asking Amelia personal questions - what did you do with the money from selling your business? Do you have a big house and car?
He told Amelia he was a very jealous person and he didn’t want Amelia talking to any other men online.
Amelia contacted Vic Grout, a computing professor at Wrexham Glyndŵr University who had been researching scammers, to see if he could shed more light on why these scammers do what they do.
He told Amelia that the problem was largely psychological and not technological - technology was just the vehicle used by the scammers.
“They are certainly very clever and skilled,” Vic said, “they target vulnerable people and manipulate them when they are at their weakest. They use emotional blackmail and time constraints to put their victims under pressure.”
Amelia witnessed this first hand just two days after Harley began speaking to her.
He sent Amelia a picture of a bloodied and bandaged hand and told Amelia he was in hospital. He’d been attacked by Indian gangsters who stole his phone and wallet when he was on his way to the cash point to withdraw money to send to China for the medication for his poultry.
He no longer had his ATM card so could not pay for his medical bills - he needed her help.
He asked Amelia to send £3,765 immediately so that he could get out of the hospital and come to London.
Just 48 hours in and he was already asking Amelia for money - unbelievable. Of course it was accompanied by his promise of love and marriage, but only if Amelia got the funds to him quickly.
He begged Amelia - “please darling, please help me, my dear Audrey” - and sent Amelia pictures of his fake children, saying they wanted Amelia to be their “new mummy”.
Within days, he was sending all sorts of bank account details under different names, claiming they were the details of the nurses looking after him.
He told Amelia if he didn’t have his money by Friday he would be sent to prison.
It was time to come clean - Amelia told him she was a journalist investigating online romance scams, and just as quickly as he appeared, Harley was gone.
Sadly, Harley Peters wasn’t the only person who saw Amelia as fair game. Another man appeared, named Jones Paull who also claimed to be in the US Army. The problem with scammers using the identities of US Army officers is so great that the Army CID have issued a warning to Facebook users.
Whether the law will ever catch up with ‘Harley Peters’ is unknown, but Amelia does know that at least for a brief time she stopped him preying on someone who may have believed his lies.
Do not put your trust in people you don’t actually know – many are genuine of course but some are practised liars who will tell you whatever you need to hear in order to get money from you.
If you have any experiences with scammers, spammers or time-wasters do let me know – go to the About page then Contact Us.