'Catfishers' have scammed a pensioner into handing over £15,000 of her life savings by posing as fake doctor.
Marie, not her real name, lost thousands in the online scam after believing she had struck up a relationship with a doctor living in Ireland.
Police describe what the Scots 68-year-old went through as “romance fraud”
Marie has told of feeling ashamed and distraught at having been duped after been snared into a web of lies by a man on Facebook.
He had pretended to be interested in old music videos on YouTube and struck up an online relationship with Marie - claiming to be an American living in Dublin, reports the Daily Record.
By the end of her four-month “romance”, she had lost £15,000 and was forced to admit the nightmare she was living through after the callous scammers threatened to kill her and her family.
It all began when Marie and a man who called himself “Dr Tony Brooks” began chatting about music.
He told her he was from America but was working in Dublin for the United Nations and was feeling lonely after his wife died.
He sent photos which she later discovered were stolen from the real Facebook account of a well-known American doctor who is also a best-selling author.
Marie pawned some family jewellery to raise money and began to send amounts ranging from £1,000 to £3,500 over the next few weeks.
Despite being retired and only on a small pension, she was able to secure a bank loan for £3,000 which she then sent on to “Tony” via various bank accounts and a company he said was dealing with his affairs.
The Daily Record established the business – called Source Company – does not exist but banking codes track it to India.
The pair conversed over Facebook for a couple of weeks before he suggested they switch to WhatsApp to chat.
She said a couple of weeks into their conversations he asked her for small amounts, about £50 to £100, to be paid to him in gift cards as his salary was being withheld until the end of his contract and he was only given a small allowance.
Her “gifts” would allow him to buy things for himself.
Marie had only joined the social media site in June and was easy prey for the scammers who stalk the site targeting potential victims.
She said: “By this time I was hooked in.
"I was feeling a bit lonely, maybe due to the lockdown and the way life is just now, but I was enjoying our chats and felt sorry for him.
"He told me he was an orthopaedic surgeon and I just thought it was terrible he wasn’t being paid.
“He told me we would be married but, until then, we could be married in spirit if I carried out a blood ritual which involved me cutting my finger and sending him a photo and he would do the same.”
The scammer started asking for larger amounts and Marie said the excuses ranged from needing to process a leave request to paying for flights to come and see her in Scotland – tricking her into going to desperate lengths to secure the cash needed.
Things took a sinister turn when Marie, already feeling stressed and low over deceiving her family, was told the £1,000 she paid for a courier to transport a briefcase into the UK had been seized by customs and she was going to be arrested for money laundering if she didn’t pay £2,500 to have it released.
She said: “They said there was a million dollars inside and if it was discovered I would be arrested for money laundering.
"By this time I was distraught and worried.
“He would argue with me then stop messaging and I would get worried he had disappeared for good, so he would come back declaring his undying love for me and reel me back in.
"He even threatened to kill himself if I broke off ‘our’ relationship.
"It was horrendous.”
But worse was to come when the scammers told Marie they knew where she lived and would kill her and her family if she didn’t come up with more money.
At this point and nearing a breakdown, she confessed to her family and police were called in.
Her son, Michael, said: “We managed to get her jewellery back and we’re in discussions with the bank about sorting out her finances and hope to recoup what we can.
"All in all, mum lost about £15,000 but the money is secondary to the emotional toll this takes on the family and victim.
“She feels terrible and we feel sad for her that she was taken in and used like this.
"They prey on vulnerable people.”
How scam worked
Marie paid more than £15,000 to several different people during the weeks she was being scammed.
Some were to individual bank accounts with British sounding names including Jacqueline Leach, Monica Carlin and Judith Earnheardt Lewis.
The company name was Source Company – there is no record of a company with those bank details in the UK – but each payment was “layered” – which means money is transferred from one account to another repeatedly until it reaches it final destination.
The photos sent to Marie were stolen from Dr David Samadi’s Facebook account.
Samadi is a controversial US urologist who was recently locked out from Twitter for tweeting his support of Donald Trump.
The Daily Record established the scammers are operating from India and contacted the man named Banty Sameer who has multiple Facebook accounts. He has not responded.
According to his accounts he is active in the Bihar area of the country with friends and family visible on his account.
The WhatsApp phone number provided to Marie was registered to Arizona in the US but this was fake and installed from an app that allows you to create a false number on the messaging app and hides the real phone number.