Liz wanted to tell her sensitive story and remain anonymous at the same time. She wanted other women to know the dangers of fraud and the internet. Liz thought she had met the perfect partner online only to find out she was being scammed. If you have a sensitive story you would like to tell then contact photo-features today on 0800 0665 905 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
Read Liz’s full story below:
Admiring the huge bouquet of flowers, Liz Philips felt her heart flutter. Her boyfriend John Moore had even arranged to have them delivered with a teddy to cuddle up to while he worked away.
And now as she arranged them in the vase he’d sent too, Liz couldn’t help wondering if thoughtful John might just be the perfect man.
But the truth was John never existed.
He was a character invented by a con man with the intention of extracting money out of Liz, 55, by making her think she’d found the perfect man.
It worked because within months of the flower delivery Liz was on a plane flying to meet her man whom she believed was an oil worker based in Ghana.
But after sending him more than £10,000 in cash, Liz discovered the shocking truth, leaving her on the verge of suicide.
Now after counselling she is still struggling to come to terms with the fact she fell in love with a man who never existed.
‘I never ever thought something like this could happen to me,’ says the former head teacher.
‘The shame and embarrassment nearly destroyed me. It was awful to lose the money but that was nothing compared to the emotional trauma.’
Liz had been a widow for 17 years when she registered with www.Match.com <http://www.Match.com/> last year.
‘I was looking for a companion but I don’t go to the kind of places where you might meet someone so internet dating seemed a good idea.’
When first contacted by John Moore in September last year Liz was cautious and took what she thought were reasonable steps to check his identity – especially because he was living abroad.
‘He said he was from London but had lived in the USA and was now working in Ghana. It seemed perfectly plausible, I have plenty of friends that have lived and worked abroad.
‘I researched his company and even checked the electoral roll on line. It all added up and I had no doubt that the man I was talking to was the man in the picture.’
As their emails and instant messages grew more frequent, Liz found herself developing feelings for John.
‘He was a widower with the same outlook and dreams, we had so much in common. The only I think I didn’t like was the cheesy love poems he’d write.’
But when Liz mentioned this to friends, they assured her that living in America for so long, John had most likely become accustomed to wearing his heart on his sleeve.
Then on Boxing Day last year John phoned her at home for the first time.
‘I was thrilled to finally talk to him in person. I had been expecting an American accent and he sounded 100 per cent genuine.’
Liz was already walking on cloud nine when the next day there was a knock at the door.
‘A deliveryman was standing there with the biggest bouqet I had ever seen. I was blown away. It was the most wonderful surprise and must have cost a fortune.’
John had even sent a cuddly teddy, chocolates and a vase too.
Liz arranged them all and snapped a picture to text him by way of thanking him.
The extravagant gesture had essentially sealed Liz’s fate.
‘Up until that point he had never asked me for anything and now here I was receiving all these gifts. Why on earth would I think he was a con man.’
After that the couple spoke regularly and planned for John to visit Liz when his contract ended.
In the meantime he suggested Liz fly to Ghana to visit him.
Well-travelled Liz had no concerns about flying to West Africa alone. So after spending a fortune on beauty treatments she boarded a plane.
But John failed to show up at the airport and instead a driver she didn’t know was waiting to collect her.
‘He said John had been held up but I refused to get into the car with him and instead went to a nearby hotel airport to wait for John.’
Over the next 48 hours she was visited by a cast of actors all purporting to be helping John whom they said had been wrongly arrested.
‘In a country like Ghana where corruption is rife it didn’t seem implausible.’
But sensibly she still refused to get in any cars they sent to take her to him.
Two days later she flew home. But that’s when she received tearful calls from John begging her to help.
Worried sick and unable to sleep she agreed to send £9,000 via Western Union to buy his release.
But it was quickly followed by more requests for cash. Liz sent a further £600 for a plane ticket home but John failed to arrive.
When he said he was in London but his phone still had a foreign dialling tone Liz suspected he might be having an affair.
‘It never for a second occurred to me that he never existed. I thought he must have met someone else.’
Heartbroken she decided to chalk it down to experience, but watching Crimewatch one night she was alarmed.
‘There was a story about a woman in a romance scam and it hit me. I called the police immediately.’
Weeks later she received a call from a senior office with SOCA who had found her number on a mobile phone taken from a gang member. It confirmed her fears.
‘Shock, humiliation, shame. Nothing comes close to describing what I went through.’
‘I was grieving the end of the relationship but he wasn’t real. I couldn’t get my head around it.’
‘I was told I could have been kidnapped in Ghana. I’ve been one of the lucky ones and I’m telling my story because I don’t want this to happen to anyone else.’