In this guest story, we have a community member who shares her experience of dating fraud, to help others spot the warning signs and avoid the same situation.
Back in 2019 I met someone on what was supposed to be a vetted dating website and without knowing it, my life would completely change. It turned out he was a professional con-artist, had been in jail previously for fraud and I had never even actually known his real name during the short time of knowing each other.
We “dated” for just under 3 months and as far as I was concerned it was a bit of a whirlwind romance. The relationship followed what I now recognise as a typical dating scam timeline. Within days things started going wrong in his life and I wanted to help. It started with me sending a small amount of money, but then it ended up being larger amounts – all of which were loans that were meant to have been paid back within weeks.
On top of this, he also made me believe that I was a victim of card fraud across multiple accounts (in actual fact, he had just gone into my purse when I wasn’t in the room), and also that our credit cards had somehow been linked to when he made purchases on his cards they showed up on mine. By the time I listened to all the red flags, shared what was happening with friends and family and accepted what was happening, I had gone from almost being in a position to put down a deposit on a property to being in £65,000 of debt.
It was at that point I put together an action plan to get myself back on my feet. In included financial aspects such as financial stability and money recuperation, identity security, relocation but also importantly, health. Financially, the first step I took was to try and get money back from the banks. My phone bill showed that I spent 19 hours on the phone within the space of a couple of weeks explaining my story over and over. It was absolutely exhausting, and also difficult to get much money back because I had willingly transferred some of it.
Once I had done that and knew I was unlikely to get any more money back, I re-did my budget and realised that I simply couldn’t afford to live where I lived, pay the minimum debt repayments I was now liable for and have enough money to survive. I spoke with great organisations like StepChange to discuss my options and also got emotional support from Victim Support. I also read a whole bunch of financial books and learned things about financial security and wellbeing that I never knew before.
I had to choose between going on a debt management plan and staying where I lived or moving to reduce my outgoing bills as much as possible. I chose to move to cheaper accommodation and negotiated with my bank to change the payment terms on a loan. I was able to sell all my furniture and put that towards paying off the debt. I directed all disposable income towards this goal of paying off the debt so I could move forward with my life.
This decision to move turned out to be the best decision I could have made. I was now surrounded and supported by friends and family instead of living alone. Whilst I didn’t have much money to have fun with and had the weight of debt on my shoulders, I felt happier than I had in years. Moving also led me to my kind, loving, supportive partner.
About 8 months after moving, one of the banks got in touch with me to say they hadn’t investigated the case properly and ended up refunding £16,000 which was a massive boost to my debt journey. I finished paying of my bank debt in March 2021 and now have just £6,000 left to pay back to family members so almost there! I’ve also started saving up an emergency fund.
What have I learned throughout this whole experience? I’ve learned the importance of trusting your gut instinct and of having a strong support network. I realised that the things I thought were important (having my own place, spending on material things, takeaways, dining out) weren’t actually important at all. Once you had shelter and the essentials for survival, the things that actually mattered were things that money couldn’t buy – relationships, kindness, love, mental health. I learned the importance of financial security and financial education. It was something I had completely taken for granted before, because I didn’t know I had it.
Finally I learned that having debt is nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed of – it doesn’t define who you are. Most people and organisations, including banks, want to help, you just have to ask!