Michelle Szombara has now been declared bankrupt after meeting a man on a dating website. Alan Clarkson stole more than £60,000 from Ms Szombara and her parents. Clarkson turned up at her house one day with a few items of clothing and did not leave for four years. He then started to claim he was penniless, in debt and could not access his bank accounts.
To help legitimise his con, Clarkson created fake emails from financial organisations and produced fake paperwork to fool her into believing he had money in another bank account and could pay her back.
Ms Szombara told the BBC: “He took over the rent for my house. I ended up over £7,000 in rent arrears and my council tax wasn’t getting paid. It got to the stage we were living off of nothing. I was so stressed. I did every hour going at my work to be left with nothing. I had a lovely house and I lost everything.”
Clarkson even went so far as to defraud Ms Szombara’s parents, who also gave him money and lost their home because of him and his fraudulent behaviour. Ms Szombara and her parents were homeless for 6 weeks. She said: “A the end of the day I was still young enough to work and get all my money back, my mum and dad weren’t at the end of the day. What he had took was their pension fund that they had put back. They lost their house, they only had a couple of years left on their mortgage. I was embarrassed and ashamed that I got my mum and dad involved, they worked all their day.”
Clarkson was jailed in February for 42 months after being convicted of stealing £60,000.
What is Romance Fraud?
Romance Fraud happens when a victim is tricked into thinking they have entered into a genuine relationship with someone they have met via a dating app, online profile or through social media. In reality, the victim is unknowingly communicating with a fraudster, who’s only intention is to gain enough trust to then steal their money, personal information or even identity.
New statistics revealed that people across the UK continue to fall victim to romance scams, and the consequences can be devastating. In 2018, 4,555 reports of romance fraud were made to Action Fraud, the total cost of this is over £50 million.
Action Fraud are warning that the emotional impact of romance scams can be even more difficult to come to terms with than the loss of money. In a report produced by Action Fraud, 42% of victims described falling victim to romance fraud as having a significant impact on their health or financial well-being.
The report also showed that the average age of a romance fraud victim is 50 and that 63% of dating fraud victims are female who lose twice as much on average than males.
It is thought that these numbers do not accurately represent the true scale of the problem, as most victims feel embarrassed or ashamed to have fallen victim and never report it to the authorities.
Action Fraud recommend the following tips to avoid romance scams:
- Don’t rush into an online relationship – get to know the person, not the profile and ask plenty of questions.
- Analyse their profile and check the person is genuine by putting their name, profile pictures or any repeatedly used phrases and the term ‘dating scam’ into your search engine.
- Talk to your friends and family about your dating choices. Be wary of anyone who tells you not to tell others about them.
- Evade scammers by never sending money to, or sharing your bank details with, someone you’ve met online, no matter what reason they give or how long you’ve been speaking to them.
- Stay on the dating site messenger service until you’re confident the person is who they say they are. If you do decide to meet in person, make sure the first meeting is in a public place and let someone else know where you’re going to be.