A WOMAN who thought she had met her perfect man online has issued a stark warning to other lonely hearts after the shock discovery that he didn’t exist.
Lori Martorana, 41, from Lambeth, London lost more than £1000 in the cruel romance scam.
She decided to speak out after reporting the crime – only for the con artist to email her to brag about how much he was enjoying spending her hard earned cash.
Now office manager Lori has accepted there is no way of recovering her money but wants to warn other women to beware.
She said: ‘ I don’t consider myself naïve and I never thought something like this would happen to me so it’s important that I let other women know even though it’s embarrassing to admit.
‘We’d been talking for months and exchanged hundreds of emails before cash was mentioned and by that time my guard was down. If he’d asked immediately I would have known.’
The heartache started when Lori registered with dating website Love2Meet.
She’d spent £79 registering her profile and waited a month before being contacted by a potential date.
Initially she dismissed the message purporting to be Michael Kolb, an officer serving with the US Army in Afghanistan.
His picture showed a handsome man in Army fatigues.
Lori said: ‘I liked his photograph but there didn’t seem much point because he lived the other side of the world. I replied to his message out of politeness and we soon got chatting.’
Michael said he was 45 years old and a widower with grown up children.
‘The more we talked the more I liked him. We exchanged private email addresses and soon we were in contact every day.’
Sometimes Michael had to go offline urgently, but as he was serving in a war zone it seemed to make sense.
‘We grew closer the more we got to know each other. The distance seemed less of an issue because he was due to retire anyway.’
After eight weeks of communicating Michael told Lori he had strong feelings for her and she admitted she felt the same.
When he told her he had some leave coming up and wanted to travel to the UK to meet her in person she agreed.
‘He wasn’t pushy, he just said it would be nice to spend time together and get to know each other properly. I was thrilled.’
But first he said his superior officers needed to know more about Lori for security reasons.
‘I’ve never dated anyone in the forces before so I didn’t suspect anything,’ she says.
A few days later she received an email from another officer asking for all her personal detail and contact information.
‘They said it was standard procedure because I was not a wife or next of kin.’
Michael even wrote to apologise for the intrusion and assuring her it would be worth it once his leave was granted.
But then in September last year she got an email saying the trip would only be approved if she paid a security deposit of £1150 to guarantee his return.
‘I was surprised to say the least but Michael said it was common in the US Army to stop soldiers going AWOL.
Lori was assured she’d get the cash back when he returned to Afghanistan.
She made on online transfer to the account details provided and the leave was approved.
She says: ‘ I was so excited to meet him and started getting ready for his visit.’
Only then she received another email asking for a further £400.
‘This time the alarm bells rang straight away. I started thinking about all the information and cash I had already sent.’
Lori started to panic and called her bank but it was too late to stop the transfer.
She explains: ‘ They told me to go to the police. As I gave the police officer my statement I felt such a fool.’
It turned out Michael wasn’t a soldier with the US army. He didn’t even exist.
The police confirmed the images he’d sent Lori had been stolen and that the man in the pictures had been a victim of identity theft.
The loving emails had been crafted by a scammer interested in nothing more than her cash.
Distraught Lori emailed the dating site but as his profile had already been removed and his membership terminated there was nothing they could do.
She continued to email ‘ Michael’ in the vague hope of uncovering information that might help police return her cash.
But all she got was more requests for cash.
‘Finally I’d had enough and emailed him telling him I knew the truth, that he was nothing more than a con artist.
I asked him if he was enjoying spending my hard earned money.’
To her astonishment he replied, ‘yes thanks.’
‘I couldn’t believe the cheek of it. I was devastated and angry beyond words. He was taunting me.’
‘I never ever thought something like this could happen to me and I still can’t believe I was so stupid.
‘I’m ashamed and embarrassed but I don’t think I am the first or the last to fall for this so I want to warn other women who think they are talking to soldiers.
‘They may not have asked for cash yet, it may take several months like it did with me.
‘If you can’t meet them they might not be real. I fell for a man that didn’t even exist. That hurts just as much as the money.’
‘If speaking out stops one more women being conned it’s worth it.’
Love2Meet says: Scams are something we take very seriously. Our moderation team works 24/7 to ensure our members are safe from scammers. Occasionally, one may slip through the net. We would like to apologise to Lori for any distress or upset this may have caused.’