Scammer conned North Essex man out of £6,000

Image: hands on a computer keyboard.

Essex residents are being warned to be on their guard against crypto fraud - Credit: Essex Police

A retired North Essex businessman who lost £6,000 after being approached online by a glamorous fraudster is warning about the dangers of cryptocurrency scams.

The man, 68, lives with his wife in the north of the county. Until he retired, he ran his own successful building company. 

Earlier this year, he was sent a message on LinkedIn. The woman called Alice claimed to be a finance director in Washington DC. In reality, she was a fraudster.

After some polite chat, Alice asked to move the conversation to WhatsApp, where the conversation turned to cryptocurrencies.

Stephen (not his real name) said: “I had an interest Bitcoin, but I didn’t understand how the system works.

"We started chatting along those lines and I went along with it. I thought I might learn something.”

Alice said that her uncle worked in banking in Hong Kong and that she’d successfully made money with his help. She encouraged Stephen to get involved.

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He downloaded trading apps and a virtual wallet for his crypto-cash. He set himself a limit of how much he was willing to lose.

After some successes, Alice told Stephen to log into another trading app. She talked him through a series of trades her uncle had apparently recommended.

“All of sudden there were three transactions on the screen,” Stephen said. “She was telling me, ‘Quick, buy long. Buy short!’ And by the end of it I’d made $600.

"I went along with it on several occasions. I was saying to myself this is too good to be true – and it was.”

He transferred another £2,300 into the trading account. By then Alice was sending Stephen photos of her “looking glamorous” behind the wheel of expensive cars and saying she had never met anyone like him.

“She was also telling me she can help me make lots of money.

"She asked me to buy $50,000 for the trading account, then this went to down $20,000.

"Then she offered to loan me $12,000. I told her that I didn’t need the money and thought, 'why is she doing this?'”

Alice then asked why he didn’t love her any more and wanted a $5,000 for a first-class ticket to visit him - the classic tactics of a romance fraudster.

When Stephen refused, Alice’s tone changed.

He told her he was in the hospital to see what her reaction would be. She told him, “Do you think I care if you’re ill or dying?”

Stephen stopped all communication.

Using an IT expert friend, Stephen tried the recover the $11,000 he thought was sitting in his trading account. They realised it was a fake site.

“I realised I’d been had, good and proper,” Stephen said.

He then found a Washington Post story about how a retired police detective had been the victim of a $66m cryptocurrency scam fronted by Alice. 

At this point, Stephen contacted Action Fraud who forwarded his case to the police.

Stephen is now a member of the romance fraud support group and hopes his story will stop other people from falling for the same trap.

He said: “Nobody likes losing money. I didn’t put in more than I could afford to lose but this might not be the case for others.”

If you believe you’ve been a victim of romance fraud, call 101.

For other forms of fraud, contact ActionFraud – the national fraud and cybercrime reporting centre – by calling 0300 123 2040.