Home Money My wife is giving away our children’s £100,000 inheritance to romance scammers… and there’s nothing I can do to stop her

My wife is giving away our children’s £100,000 inheritance to romance scammers… and there’s nothing I can do to stop her

by Elijah
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Growing problem: An estimated £4.3m has already been lost to romance scams this year, according to banking trade body UK Finance.

For the first 51 years of their marriage, Joe Wilkinson and his wife Emily shared everything.

The couple, now aged 79 and 83, have worked hard as small business owners to enable their family a comfortable life in the Midlands.

And, over time, they have accumulated a generous inheritance for their children and grandchildren.

But his carefully laid plans began to disintegrate in 2017. Joe discovered that his wife had entered into a secret relationship with a man she met on Facebook and was giving her large sums of money.

Since then, she says, Emily has been drawn into a series of online relationships.

Growing problem: An estimated £4.3m has already been lost to romance scams this year, according to banking trade body UK Finance.

Joe, who asked for his name to be changed, estimates his wife has sent these ‘men’ £100,000, raiding their joint savings accounts, taking out loans and even selling her Mercedes and pawning her jewellery. However, he has never met any of them in person.

And despite the best efforts of Joe and his children, he says nothing can convince Emily that he is the victim of a romance fraud and that he is still giving away money.

Heartbroken but devoted, Joe refuses to give up and approached Money Mail in a desperate attempt to expose the scammers.

Romance scams are a growing scourge – reports increased by a fifth last year, according to Lloyds Bank.

An estimated £4.3m has already been lost to romance fraud this year, according to commercial banking body UK Finance.

Police and the National Crime Agency expect to see an increase in the number of romance scams reported after Valentine’s Day, when people are most susceptible.

Scammers often create fake profiles on social media to send messages to their victims and lure them into a relationship.

They start messaging on Facebook, Instagram, or an online dating site, but will try to get you to start talking on a more private platform like WhatsApp or text messages.

Once trust has been established, the criminal will usually claim that they have a problem, such as a visa problem, health problems or plane tickets, and ask for money to help. They may also claim to be doing charity work or work abroad.

In Emily’s case, Joe says the scammers have been posing as American soldiers who have been stationed overseas and are looking for love.

The problem began when Emily received a tablet as a gift in 2017, so she could keep up to date with the news. Shortly after, she created a Facebook account and then the romance scams began, Joe says.

Tactics: Scammers often create fake profiles on social media to message their victims and lure them into a relationship.

Tactics: Scammers often create fake social media profiles to message their victims and lure them into a relationship.

‘He received messages from young soldiers who said nice things to him. Since then, he carries the tablet everywhere and sends them messages on Facebook or WhatsApp,” he says.

When Joe noticed money being transferred from their joint accounts, he became suspicious. He and his children had the password to the tablet, so they could read the messages.

That’s how they discovered that Emily was trapped in a series of romantic relationships with people who were clearly scammers, he says.

The most prominent one used a military persona and claimed to be stationed at a distant base, according to Joe.

The young men sent Emily pictures of themselves in uniform and, after days of talking, claimed they needed money.

This is one of the most popular covers among romance scammers, who often also pose as foreign doctors, successful businessmen, and famous people.

Then, they will find a reason to ask for money; For example, they may claim that their child needs urgent medical attention that they cannot afford, or that they need money to buy a flight to visit the UK.

“She seems to think they’re coming to take her to a better life,” Joe says. ‘It’s been very difficult to watch and you wonder why she is doing this. She keeps everything a secret, but you know what’s going on.

On one occasion, Joe says he discovered that Emily had arranged for a friend to take her to the local airport, where she planned to meet one of her lovers. However, the scammer never showed up.

Joe says he has tried to confront her on several occasions, but has never been able to break the spell.

‘We did absolutely everything we could to convince her that these were scams, telling her the people weren’t real, but all to no avail. She just doesn’t seem to notice and moves on in her own sweet way.

Anna Rowe, founder of romance scam campaign group LoveSaid and educational website Catch The Catfish, says it is important for friends and family to understand the intense manipulation victims have gone through.

“There is a very clear pattern of manipulation that each victim goes through: there is a grooming process and then follows a period of what we call ‘love bombing.’

Mrs Rowe, who was the victim of a romance scam, says: “They start by finding out about you and extracting information that they can use later.”

‘In my case, he told me things that had happened in his past and what had gone wrong in his relationships so that I would feel comfortable doing the same.

“That allowed him to prepare me more and secure his position while pretending to be everything I was looking for.”

Then comes the love bombing, which is where they make sure they are in your thoughts constantly and telling you how special you are, Rowe says.

“It’s not unusual for them to be possessive and ask you where you are and what you’re doing to make you feel like they care and want to be with you.”

Joe watched this pattern unfold in his wife’s social media inboxes, followed by incessant requests for cash.

‘They started by asking him to make bank transfers and then continued by asking him to send the money by depositing it into a Bitcoin account. Now they ask for gift cards,” he says.

At first, Joe says he was able to see when Emily planned to send money and let her bank know in advance so they could block it. However, his bank did not do so and the money continued to arrive in foreign bank accounts.

‘My children and I tried to stop it. We spoke to lawyers, doctors (to assess his mental health), went to his bank, to Facebook to report fake profiles, to the police and to Action Fraud. . . You name it, we try it. Nobody helped.

‘The bank always responded: “If your wife is of sound mind and it’s your money, then you can do whatever you want.” ‘

Meanwhile, Emily was selling investments and taking out bank loans. ‘The bank even allowed my wife to take out loans at the age of 79, when Emily’s total income was just her monthly state pension of £800. How on earth have £5,000 loans been given to someone on a low income? I thought the banks had not protected her and I decided to fight back.’

Joe contacted the Banking Ombudsman and, 18 months later, was told to write to his bank with evidence that Emily had made payments to the scammers, despite their warnings.

“Bingo,” he says. “They agreed that they had not dealt with my complaints properly and to refund around £40,000 dating back to 2017, which was a large part of the £60,000 we estimated had changed hands at that time.”

However, the £40,000 was sent straight to Emily’s bank account and, despite a conversation with her about the risk of scammers, the 83-year-old continued sending money to her fake lovers online.

Money Mail has seen screenshots of messages between Emily and the scammers obtained by her husband, as well as her correspondence with the Financial Ombudsman Service and bank statements showing payments Emily has made to foreign bank accounts.

I highly doubt he has anything left. The scammers know that she is a sensitive and vulnerable person,” says Joe.

‘My wife hasn’t learned anything. She still gives cash to scammers, which is now done through gift cards, from what I can gather.’

The businessman says he sought legal advice and rewrote their wills, putting assets, such as property, into a trust to safeguard them from Emily.

“I have a small business, we have a house and I have a pension of around £240,000, so there are quite a few funds to worry about.”

Last year, Santander research found that almost one in three people have been targeted by a romance scammer.

People aged 55 to 64 are the most likely to be scammed by scammers posing as love interests, but those aged 65 to 74 were scammed the most out of all age groups, according to Lloyds data.

Men are more likely to fall for a romance scam, but only marginally, in 52 percent of cases. However, women typically handed over more money, losing an average of £9,083 compared to men’s average loss of £5,145.

Money Mail’s Stop The Social Media Scammers campaign has called on tech companies to protect users from scammers.

Rowe says he speaks to between 65 and 100 victims a week, ranging from a 16-year-old, who has been blackmailed for explicit photos after entering into a fake relationship, to married women in their 80s.

‘You should never tell a loved one or friend who is a victim that they are wrong, or call them stupid, naive or gullible.

“It’s much more complex than that, and they will have gone through enormous manipulation, a form of brainwashing.”

“It’s very delicate and people have to start understanding it themselves before anything can change.” “All you can do is plant the seeds of doubt and they may begin to undo the reality that has been built around them,” she says.

As for Joe, he says, “It’s disturbing to watch someone you love give you your money.” I don’t see what we can do to stop it.

  • Have you been affected by a romance scam? Contact j.beard@dailymail.co.uk

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