Woman claims she was swindled out of £100,000 by online dating conman

Ms Elwell met 'Stephen' on social networking site Facebook at the start of 2021 after her sister convinced her to take up online dating following her divorce. Credit: BPM Media/PA Images

A woman from the Black Country claims she lost more than £100,000 after falling victim to romance fraud.

Rachel Elwell, from Brownhills, says she found herself at the centre of what she believed to be an international crime plot involving a man she had met while online dating.

Ms Elwell, 51, met 'Stephen' on Facebook at the start of 2021 after her sister convinced her to take up online dating following her divorce.

'Stephen' told her he was a widower after losing his wife to breast cancer, and that he was still struggling to come to terms with the loss.

He also told her he worked abroad a lot, specifically in property and infrastructure.

At the time of the alleged scam, Ms Elwell claims 'Stephen' was heading out to work on a big project in Ukraine.

Rachel Elwell claims she was scammed out of more than £100,000 Credit: BPM Images

Ms Elwell said: "Originally he only asked for a nominal amount to pay for his taxis to the site and his rooms."

However, 'Stephen' then told her he'd been hit with a large tax bill on the project.

She explained: "The tax bill was £457,000. Because he had spent the phase one project money he had very little left.

"He told me he had cashed his pension, he had sold his car in the UK but was still short.

"He asked me to loan him money.

"I said 'I don't know you, I've never met you, why would I do that?' He told me his daughter needed a roof over her head."

Ms Elwell has claimed documents and confirmation letters that she would get the money back convinced her that 'Stephen's' story was legitimate.

She said: "He sent me documents and photos to prove the situation was real. He convinced me it was real.

"I challenged him a lot, I'm quite a forthright person.

"I had nearly £20,000 in savings. That went quite quickly, then I started taking out loans."

Ms Elwell insists she feels no shame at being fooled by her online lover. Credit: BPM Media

She added: "When you're in this situation you don't understand the pressure. If there is a problem with the project it means I have lost the money I sent before. They've got you on the hook.

"Once you've invested emotionally that's how they encourage you to send more money."

However, Ms Elwell claims things then took a more sinister turn.

"He said he had borrowed £30,000 from a loan shark who now wanted his money.

"He said they bundled him into a van, drove him 20 minutes outside the city and locked him in a cellar with armed guards.

"He needed £30,000 or they were going to kill him.

"I kept saying 'don't be ridiculous'. At this point he was hysterical, crying, begging for his life saying 'they are going to kill me'.

"It took me a long time to understand. I was thinking 'this is ridiculous, I'm just a normal person, how can I be caught up in something like this?"

"I said 'we need to involve the police, the embassy and authorities. Your life is more important than money'."

However, she claims 'Stephen' convinced her that the authorities were on the side of the kidnappers, and that without the money he would never see his daughter again.

She said: "I managed to get the £30,000 which was the last I could raise as I couldn't get any more money.

"They 'released' him from the cellar and I said he was not getting any more money.

"All I cared about was getting him back safe to his daughter at this point."

After the three-month ordeal where Ms Elwell claims she lost a total of £113,000, she hoped they could meet for the first time and be together.

However, 'Stephen' then told her he had problems trying to get his connecting flight and without money would not be able to travel.

At this point, it dawned on Ms Elwell that she had been duped all along.

After further investigations she found out the address he claimed to live at had no connection to him.

She said: "The realisation set it, how could anyone have made such a stupid mistake?

"I came back home in such a state. I was beside myself.

"I had no money, no savings. Everything I worked for was in the balance. The money I owed creditors was more than I earned in a month."

Ms Elwell now says she believes more protection should be in place to protect people from falling victim to scams.

She insists she should never have been allowed to loan so much money in the first place - that banks and loan companies should have spotted the red flags around a customer like her.

Her repayments are now on hold as an by the Financial Ombudsman is underway and while police investigate.

Ms Elwell says she is still fighting to get her money back.