A woman who suspected her mother was being scammed online later sent the fraudster £40,000, ending up heavily in debt.
The mother-of-one from south east Wales was a victim of romance fraud, a crime which police say grew by nearly a third last year.
Now the woman has spoken out about falling for the charms of the man she had initially been suspicious of.
“I just felt like I was emotionally blackmailed,” she added.
She said her “lonely” mother had started an online relationship with the man, who said he was French and called Jean Marc.
But when he told her he needed help after being robbed on a business trip to Ivory Coast, the daughter became suspicious.
“I said to my mum ‘don’t you dare send him any money’. I said ‘he’s a scammer’,” the woman told the BBC Wales X-Ray programme.
But her opinion changed after she spoke to the man herself.
“His voice was so lovely, so soft. He started with his stories and my heart just melted,” she said.
She asked questions about his circumstances but Jean Marc had answers for all of them. He even sent her a photo, that looks edited, showing him in a hospital bed.
“I sent him the first money. I didn’t even tell my mum, I did it because I wanted her to be happy,” she said.
She sent 800 Euros (about £712) last summer and went on to make 21 further payments, totalling £40,000 until she realised she had been scammed.
She is now heavily in debt after maxing out credit cards and selling her mother’s jewellery and has little hope of seeing her money again.
‘End of marriage’
But she said the hardest part was telling her husband what had happened.
“I just couldn’t cope – it was killing that he didn’t know. I thought that’s going to be the end of our marriage,” she said.
“When I told him he didn’t even look at me. He only said I can’t believe you were so stupid.
“I just felt like I was emotionally blackmailed, I hope [people] will think twice before they believe in all the lies of the scammers.”
It emerged that the man calling himself Jean Marc had stolen the identity of a Frenchman, Stephane Girynowicz.
His face has been used to create hundreds of fake profiles on social media and there’s even a Facebook page dedicated to outing him.
He has posted a picture of himself online pleading with scammers to stop using his face for profiles.
In 2018, 4,555 reports of romance fraud were made to Action Fraud, the police reporting centre, with total losses up by 27% compared with the previous year. The total is likely to be higher as many victims are thought to have suffered in secret.
Gwent Police said it was seeing more and more victims of romance fraud.
“It’s easier nowadays to steal money sitting behind a computer screen than it was in the bad old days to go out and burgle somebody’s house – it’s far easier,” said PC Neil Cooper.
“It’s so anonymous. The effect it has on the victims is devastating – it affects their lives, it makes them depressed, it makes them feel totally foolish. It’s a really despicable act to do.”
Online safety advice
- Criminals who commit romance fraud trawl through profiles and piece together information such as wealth and lifestyle, in order to manipulate their victims
- Police can investigate and help to provide support, but often cannot get the money back
- It is very simple for fraudsters to cover their tracks by masking IP addresses and using unregistered phone numbers
- Never send money to someone online you have never met
- Think twice about posting personal information which could be used to manipulate or bribe you
X-Ray is on Monday at 19:30 BST on BBC One Wales and on BBC iPlayer.