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Last year, I met a woman online called Alexis and we became great friends. Alexis told me she was a psychologist who was working from home while she cared for her sick mother. She was Cambridge University educated and from a wealthy family, she said. She was a very smart lady who knew so much about so many things.
We spoke on the phone every other day for around six months. Just as I confided in her over things going on in my life, she told me about her struggles, including her diabetes.
Then she started telling me about her various business interests. She ran multiple ventures including a successful jewellery retailer, she told me, and she asked if I would be interested in investing in her business. I trusted her completely and started sending her money to invest in her family business in Italy, in her friend’s car company and in Covid vaccines.
In total, I gave her more than £35,000, much of which I borrowed from friends and family, believing I would see a great return on my money. I was excited to be building a nest egg for my two children.
But suddenly in December all my calls went unanswered. Her number had been deregistered on WhatsApp. I realised I had been defrauded. It was a massive shock. I am left feeling helpless and think about killing myself sometimes. Please can you help me recover some of my money?
I wanted to know through which website you had met this woman, but you said you couldn’t remember. Quite honestly, I found this hard to believe. I asked if you were in the habit of meeting women online, to which you replied “no”. You insisted you were happily married and that this “Alexis” character was no more than a friend.
Later, you admitted that this wasn’t strictly the case. Although you had never physically met this woman, it became clear that she had seduced you into a fantasy relationship. I asked to see her picture and you sent me a photograph of an attractive woman in her 20s wearing a white lace top and little shorts, lying on a daybed. In another shot she was propped up against an office desk in a miniskirt.
You spent months poring over these images of someone you felt close to, but now you look at them and see a stranger. The well-spoken woman who spun you a pack of lies down the telephone probably looks very different. You haven’t confirmed this, but I believe you may have met this conwoman on a dating or adult chat website. Perhaps you didn’t want to reveal this because you’re married and feel ashamed. Although you struggled to come clean entirely to me, you say you have confessed everything to your wife.
This was one of the hardest things you have ever done. You are still together, but your marriage has descended to a bad place, you said. You know this situation is partly of your own doing and the last thing you need right now is me telling you how stupid you’ve been. By your own account, you are a simple man with a naïve understanding of business. English isn’t your first language and you have no GCSEs or A-levels. As you don’t read newspapers, a kind Telegraph-reading colleague pointed you in my direction.
Since reading your letter, I’ve felt deeply concerned for you. Despite having two young children you adore, you say you’ve contemplated suicide because you feel so low about what has happened. I felt the least I could do was check that both your banks, Lloyds and Santander, had handled your request for a £35,000 refund fairly. Although you have made a catalogue of mistakes here, financial institutions are obliged to do what they reasonably can to keep all customers safe from crime – without exception.
It transpired that Lloyds, from which you transferred £10,600 to the fraudster, had already agreed to return £2,175 to you. It admitted that it should have phoned you to flag a £4,000 transfer as suspicious. By asking you the right questions it could have stopped the scam then and there. But it accepted only partial blame for the loss, as it said you ought to have done more to check that the payments were genuine. I think this was fair enough.
Meanwhile, Santander, from which you transferred the remaining £25,800, had refused to pay back a penny. You said it had never phoned you to query any of the transfers you made, which were as large as £5,000. So I asked it to reopen your case. It refunded 50pc of the money you lost from your Santander account (£12,900). This will allow you to clear the £7,000 you have racked up in debts to loan companies and also repay family and friends.
Although you’ve received a partial refund, you are still left with a painful hole in your finances. I’m sorry if this sounds harsh, but this is the price I think you’re going to have to pay for letting your heart rule your head. You could take your case to the Financial Ombudsman Service, but it would be slow and I think it would come to the same conclusion as me.
Now you’ve come close to losing everything, you may feel more appreciative of what you do have: two beautiful children and a wife who is willing to stand by you. Here, right now, is a defining moment in your story. You can either let the pain crush you or find the strength to start afresh and build a better life. You can do it, my dear reader, I know you can.
Promise yourself you will graft your way out of this mess and do right by your family. They need you more than ever. In future years, a stronger, wiser you will look back and recognise how far you’ve come.