A Nottinghamshire man who was conned out of £200,000 has told how he was left ‘in a very dark place’ after he lost his home, pension and savings, leaving him penniless and on the verge of a breakdown.
The man, who has asked not to be named but who we are calling Simon, was defrauded by convincing con artists who said that gold worth £5 million could be released in return for payment.
Now, he is sharing his story in the hope that it will encourage other people to be more aware of scams, and protect themselves online.
In 2014, while checking American hockey results online, he started talking to a woman online, who called herself Dora.
She said her father worked for a mining company, and that his firm had paid him in gold, which was looked after by the mine.
She said the company required payment for the security costs, and that it would keep the gold if the payment wasn’t made by the end of 2016.
Simon didn’t send any money for a year but said that after 12 months, he became frustrated that the company was withholding the money from his Ghanaian friends, and decided to send some payment to help them.
Speaking to the Post, he said: “I just sent four grand at the start, and it just spiralled. They said the gold had been released, but then they said it needed shaping into bullion, and then they needed more money for it to be stamped, and it all just continued.
It all appeared to be above board, they sent copies of the gold ownership certificates, and I spoke on Skype to a man who said he was a Ghanaian police officer who said that everything was legitimate.
“I was just thinking if I spend a few more thousand I might get my money back.
“I didn’t just have the money lying about in a bank, I spent my pension and my mortgage. I just sent everything.
“I realised that something was very wrong after I’d sent about £180,000. The stories were so polished and so believable, they overload your mind and they get you into their way of thinking, the way that they want you to think.
“They absolutely destroy your mind. The first four months after I realised it had gone belly up, it was a dark depression. Every day was black. I was in a dark place.
“But time is a good healer, I just said to myself it’s time to dust yourself off and get on with life.
“But I can understand that some don’t have the character I have, and I can see why people would seriously think about ending their lives. But I wouldn’t let that happen.”
The final straw was when he was asked to pay £380,000 in tax to have the gold released. He went to his bank to complain, and it was then that it became clear that he had been scammed.
After several months, Simon decided to tell his brother, who he says hasn’t judged him, and two friends of his, but he has kept it from everyone else in his life.
Now, he says he wants to share his story in the hope that other people become more aware of the dangers of online fraud.
He said: “I went online and there were pages and pages of scams, you wouldn’t believe how many different ones there are running, and a good percentage of them are from Africa.”
It was in spring this year that the man decided to contact Nottinghamshire Police.
He said: “They were very sympathetic, and they are still looking into it, but other than raising awareness, there’s not a huge amount they can do.
“The Ghanaian police are aware of it as well, but it could be anyone from a phone anywhere, so what can they do. And also because I chose to give them the money; it wasn’t stolen from me, so that would be different.”
Detective Sergeant Simon Harrison works for Nottinghamshire Police’s fraud team, a dedicated unit of around 20 detectives which works to combat fraud.
He said people spending more time online was making the crime more common, but that he was confident the force had the resources it needs to tackle the growing problem.
He said: “Because of the way online fraud works and the fact that criminals can operate from anywhere in the world, all cases go through the national body Action Fraud who then disseminate to individual forces if there are viable lines of inquiry in that area or if safeguarding measures are needed.
“With this victim’s case, it was clear that the connections ran oversees mainly in Ghana.
“The investigation is ongoing, but cases like this are notoriously very hard to conclude.
They’re most-likely operated by serious organised crime groups who know how to cover their tracks and use methods that they know are untraceable.
“That’s why we’re really concentrating on helping to educate and prevent people from falling victim because if people know what to look out for, they can shut it down and report it straight away.
“Together we can outsmart these criminals and put an end to these kind of crimes completely.
“Our message is clear if someone you’ve never met asks you for money, don’t give it to them.”