A man from Weston-super-Mare who lost close to £150,000 in a dating scam says "it's ruined him".
Tom - whose real name we are keeping anonymous - was the victim of a cryptocurrency scam which started through a dating app.
“She portrayed herself as a successful investor with inside knowledge," he said.
"She spoke about the future, moving to the UK, and how we could build this wealthy lifestyle together."
He said trust was built between the pair but everything was gone "in the blink of an eye".
"I was sick to my stomach," he added. "I‘ve worked and saved hard so that I could be financially set for life. It’s like holding a winning lottery ticket in your hand and the wind taking it away. It’s ruined me."
Tom, who is in his 30s, has decided to share his story to raise awareness and stop other people from suffering similar fates.
Tom was struggling with a break-up at the time and so went on a dating site with women outside of the UK on it. A woman who called herself Jia approached him, saying she was in her late 20s and lived in Hong Kong.
They used FaceTime once, which was initiated by Jia, but Tom said: “It was very weird. She only showed part of her face. I tried to talk to her, but she wouldn’t talk back.”
Tom did have a few pictures of her, although he asked for more. He said: “Issues were flagging up to me, but everything she was doing to build up trust with me was enough to keep me there.”
Jia asked Tom if he knew anything about the cryptocurrency Bitcoin (BTC). He told her he’d invested in it a few years ago but thought little of her mentioning it as it was ‘secure and she was miles away’.
"It wasn't holding onto my money."
She eventually persuaded him to use an online trading platform and instructed him to download the app to his phone.
He was directed to invest a small amount of Bitcoin to prove the website’s legitimacy; 0.1 BTC (worth approximately £1,165.00 at the time) was transferred to a wallet and converted to dollars.
Initially, Jia advised him to trade in a crypto token called FWD. A subsequent search into the token showed it was likely fabricated for fraud. Jia guided Tom through all trading, advising him when to make and close a trade.
He was even able to withdraw money which he said convinced him it was legitimate.
Since he had made a profit on his first trade, he decided he would increase the amount invested. Again, more profit was made, and again he raised his investment.
But when he decided to try withdrawing £1,000 without telling Jia, it did not work. Jia assured him it could take time and sent him the £1,000, leaving him feeling "lucky".
He was persuaded into investing the remaining amount of his BTC, only for his investment to be wiped out.
Tom said: “My balance had been cleared, there was no money remaining. In the blink of eye, everything was gone. I was sick to my stomach.”
In a state of desperation, Tom followed Jia’s advice again and used the rest of the money he could get his hands on – £3,000 – into Bitcoin and again invested it through the online platform.
But it again was wiped out. Jia then refused to help saying she had to ‘fly to Australia to tend to her sick aunt’. The impact of this had a significant effect on Tom.
He said: “I recognised I needed help straight away and went straight round to see my mum. If I didn’t have that support, I wouldn’t be here."
Tom also sought advice from occupational health at work, who encouraged him to report what happened to the police and Action Fraud.
"I've lost who I am"
Since the scam, Tom has received further contact from a different ‘woman’. Scam victims are likely to be contacted again either by a different fraudster or the same one hiding behind a new profile.
When asked how it has affected his confidence to look for new relationships, he said: “I don’t trust women. I feel like I can be manipulated by women now to my detriment. I’ve lost all my confidence. I’ve lost who I am.”
Tom continues to receive support from a counsellor.
Red flags to look out for
If money is brought up
No matter how safe you think your money is, or what you have, never disclose to anyone what money you have or what you’ve invested in
Be wary of a sob story
If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is
A problem shared is a problem halved – talk to someone about it
Fraud Protect Officer, Amy Horrobin, says: "Fraudsters use various tactics to make the investment appear to be genuine such as sending some small returns, creating fraudulent websites, and hiding behind the names of genuine companies. Do your research and seek independent financial advice before committing to any investment.”If you feel you have been a victim of Romance Fraud, you can contact Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040 or visit the website: https://www.actionfraud.police.uk/