Scammers often use romance as a method to dupe unsuspecting Britons out of money.This was the case for Rachel, 50, from Walsall, who joined a dating website on New Year’s Eve 2020, after a divorce in 2018.
It was here she met a man claiming to be called ‘Barrio’, a 54-year-old architect who lived in Coventry for a number of years, after being born in Spain – and who was looking after a 17-year-old daughter, ‘Katie’.
However, the photos being used by the man claiming to be ‘Barrio’, were in fact of a totally innocent party – and it was here where the scam began.
The pair hit it off and soon began talking away from the dating app, with the conversation turning to work.
Rachel told the BBC’s For Love or Money: “He explained he’d been tendering for a contract for a few months, everything was really slow during COVID-19.
“He felt I was his lucky charm as all of a sudden he’d been invited for an interview in Cardiff. I wished him luck, he went to Cardiff, and he messaged me to tell me he’d been so lucky and had been awarded the contract in Ukraine.”
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With ‘Barrio’ flying to Ukraine in 2021, the pair made plans to meet up in three weeks, however, his project hit a snag when there was a supposed issue with tax.
‘Barrio’ said his equipment had been seized, and his work site closed until he could pay a bill of £57,500 and he asked Rachel to help, promising she could trust him.
The supposed architect claimed he had stumped up £50,000 from both his savings and a loan he took out, but needed a £7,500 loan from Rachel to help.
Once Rachel had transferred the money, ‘Barrio’ soon wrote again, saying £30,000 was now needed as the tax bill had increased.
It was at this point he told Rachel he’d borrowed £20,000 from a gangster, once again convincing her to take out £8,000 from her savings to help.
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Rachel added: “I really believed I was going to get my money back. I wouldn’t have sent him anything if I doubted I was going to get that money back.”
Things were going well for a while, but ‘Barrio’ soon claimed the project had run into more trouble due to damaged equipment.
Using savings, a loan and credit cards, Rachel sent £4,500, and said: “I felt at this point I didn’t have any choice, I felt under massive duress. I knew if I didn’t raise the money, I wasn’t going to get that money back.
“I felt like it was my project, almost, as I was in it with him. What choice did I have but to send him all this money?
“We spoke every day. He kept thanking me for believing in him, his daughter was over the moon. Me and his daughter were texting, she thanked me.”
Soon enough, it was time for ‘Barrio’ to return to the UK, but 12 hours before he was due to land, he called Rachel in a panic.
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He claimed he’d been kidnapped by the gangster he owed money to, on his way to the airport, and had been threatened with death if he did not pay £30,000.
When Rachel attempted to send more money, it raised the suspicions of her bank who sent the police around to visit her. However, she was convinced to come up with a believable backstory.
She said: “I made up a story that we’d been together for a long time, that he’d run into difficulties in Ukraine, and that we’d get married, sell one house and be together. At the time, there was shame and embarrassment of lying to the police, but all I could think was that I needed them to leave so I could get the £30,000 over and they don’t kill him.”
After Rachel transferred the £30,000, ‘Barrio’ said he needed £15,000 to pay interest to the loan shark. Viewing how upset she was, Rachel’s mother and sister stepped in with financial help.
Her sister asked for a loan of £11,500, and Rachel used her overdraft to cover the remainder of the money.
Going to the airport to meet ‘Barrio’, Rachel was disappointed when he didn’t appear. But she soon received an email from a supposed Ukrainian airport telling her he had been arrested seven hours earlier.
Her suspicions raised, Rachel made checks with airport officials at Heathrow, who confirmed the correspondence was fake.
Recounting her call to ‘Barrio’, she said: “I was screaming and shouting and swearing. I kept telling him if you don’t pay me this money back, I will have lost everything I have ever worked for. I will be bankrupt.”
But by the time she returned home, ‘Barrio’ was asking for more money – £35,000 to cover his so-called ransom.
Rachel was once again sucked in, using recalled bank payments, credit cards, and even selling her car to help cover the cost.
She then decided to drive to ‘Barrio’s’ house in Coventry, to check on his daughter ‘Katie’, and their housekeeper ‘Melanie’, with whom she had been texting.
But the people living at the house were confused, and it was at that point Rachel made the horrifying realisation she had been scammed.
In total, Rachel had lost a staggering £113,000 to this vicious scam, devastating her, but has since attempted to rebuild her life.
She concluded: “I just knew in that moment that Katie and Melanie and Barrio didn’t exist. I knew I’d been a victim of some kind of fraud. If I were to say anything from this, it would be don’t ever give one single penny to anyone you haven’t met in person.”
For Love or Money continues weekdays at 10.45am on BBC One.