Readers who turned to my column on Boxing Day will have seen my review of the most common complaints I investigated in 2021. I am sure it will not have surprised a soul that scams topped my case charts. I warned that this trend was likely to continue in 2022.
So I begin this year with your case, involving a nasty scam that I have not encountered before. I call it “friendship fraud”. It operates like romance fraud, a more common scam, but the perpetrators keep the communications platonic.
It is just as cunning, with criminals going to great lengths to gain trust by asking personal questions to establish a rapid bond. They develop a believable backstory, complete with photographs to support it.
With romance scams, the connection usually begins through a dating site with the conversation quickly moved on to social media such as WhatsApp. This keeps messages away from the protective eyes of the websites, leaving no evidence of what comes next: the victim being swindled out of money.
Romance scammers target those looking for love, but the net is widening to include those who simply feel isolated during the pandemic.
It’s not clear how the woman from Hong Kong stumbled upon your WhatsApp account. However, her modus operandi followed the same path used by romance scammers, with the fraudster using social engineering to gain trust (you received photographs of her walking her dog, which you later discovered to have been lifted from an Asian model’s social media pages).
Before long the woman started to boast of her success in cryptocurrency trading – and suggested you could emulate this. You were short of money but, with a loan available to dip into, you were highly vulnerable to her ploys.
I understand how sickened and desperate you must have felt when you realised how you had been taken in.
I felt the extent of the manipulation should have been taken more seriously by TSB so I asked the bank to reconsider its decision. After all, this is the bank that makes a virtue of standing head and shoulders above its rivals with its own “fraud refund guarantee”, which promises to refund all customers who fall victim to a push payment fraud.
It looked again at the details but told me it was adamant that because you had transferred money out of your account to the MoonPay cryptocurrency platform before it landed in the scammer’s account, you were not protected by its guarantee. I was unimpressed and recommended that you go to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
However, a couple of weeks later the bank had an unexpected change of heart and, I am delighted to say, decided you were protected by its guarantee after all. It reimbursed your £1,098.
A spokesman said: “Fraud cases like this are invariably complex and it can be difficult to build up the full picture. Where customers are the innocent victim of fraud, they are protected by our fraud refund guarantee.” You were ecstatic and thanked me for my help.