A DISTRAUGHT woman in Halton was conned out of £30k by a heartless catfish pretending to be an American soldier.

Councillor Dave Cargill said the distraught resident was ‘not stupid or reckless’, and was the victim of online grooming by a ‘professional romance scammer’.

Despite feeling heartbroken, the victim wanted to share her story with the councillor to prevent others falling ‘into the same trap’.

The lady believed she was in a ‘loving relationship’ with the man, who came up with an elaborate back story to trick her into parting with huge amounts of cash over a two-year period.

The saga began when the con artist started chatting to the woman on a popular dating website, claiming to be an American soldier.
Within a couple of months he suggested they communicate away from the dating site.

After months of texting and phone calls, the woman was led to believe she was in a ‘loving relationship’ with the man, and he promised to come to the UK to live with her.

But his plans to move to the UK were interrupted when, he claimed, he was held in Dubai where his passport had been seized.

He told the woman that in order to get his passport back he had to pay a release fee but that he didn’t have access to his own money.

He asked his victim for help and promised to pay her back in full.

The victim, believing that she was about to start a new life with this man, sent him the money in good faith.

However, his lies continued, and over a two-year period the heartless scam artist managed to come up with a string of excuses as to why he could not leave Dubai.

Over that period the woman, desperate to start a new life with this man, gave him £30,000 by Moneygram, and took out loans to support him.

Councillor Cargill, who is Halton Borough Council’s executive board member for Trading Standards, said she was not a wealthy woman, and is now struggling to pay back the loans.

He said: “This lady didn’t behave recklessly and she isn’t stupid – she was groomed by this man for a few months before he asked her for any money.

“Professional romance scammers are skilled and patient: they will spend time building trust before they ask for money, so that their target is no longer wary of them.”

Issuing advice on staying safe, he urged anyone using online dating websites to 'think twice' about who they are talking to, and resist moving the contact away from the dating website to phone or text.

He said: “Never be tempted to send or transfer money to people you meet online even if their story is heart breaking.

“If you or somebody you know has been caught out by a scam or fraud please contact one of our specialist officers, Linda or Sue on 0151 511 8785 or 0151 511 8775.”