Hurt by a romance scammer – and now I protect other online daters!

By Emma Davies

After falling for a man online, Penny was left £26,000 in debt and with no husband. Now she uses online forums to catch would-be scammers and warn others of the dangers…

Penny Coyne is a 58-year-old semi-retired kind-hearted divorcee. Her parents died over 20 years ago and her first marriage ended badly. To a scammer, Penny is the perfect victim to target on online dating sites with promises of love, hope and happiness.

Penny’s Story

After finally recovering from a failed marriage to an abusive husband I decided that I was ready to start looking for love again. 

I had heard stories about people meeting their soul mates through internet dating sites and after seeing one advertised on Facebook, I registered and paid £60 for six months.

Instantly and to my delight, many men started chatting to me and opening up about their lives and described what they were looking for: love, honesty, friendship, so many of them seemed to want all of the same things in a relationship that I did.

I started talking to a charming 38-year-old man from Libya. This was the start of what was to be many months of emails, calls and messages, confiding in each other and growing closer by the day. He was charming and knew what to say.

Several months later I was head over heels for my online suitor and was about to meet him in a cafe in Exeter. By this point I had spent every day getting to know him.

He was in England on a student visa while he was studying for his Masters degree. I trusted him and wanted him in my life for good, so we decided to apply for permission to get married.

We had known each other for almost a year on our wedding day and I was unbelievably happy.

We had the usual financial marital worries but what couple doesn’t? I just put any difficulties down to my husband’s lack of understanding due to the language.

PROTECTING OTHERS: Penny now works hard to make sure others don’t fall victim to similar scams as she did

I was not at the time suspecting that he was salting the money away and not wanting to spend any of his money on anything.

My husband was working but cleverly deceiving me by transferring his wages into a secret bank account, so it looked like he didn’t have anything, hiding his statements, making sure that I would pay for everything. He would have a go at me when I didn’t have money.

He was charming and always knew what to say but his intentions were wrong.

Once we lived together for the obligatory amount of time, almost three years, he was granted permanent residency in the UK.

This is when his true intentions were revealed, as soon as his passport arrived, he started looking for somewhere else to live. In the end he left with a comfy sum in the bank, leaving me with a devastating £26,000 worth of debt.

For the first week after he left I could not get out of bed. I stopped eating and washing. I was heartbroken and hurt.

I felt like I had been emotionally raped.

He left me in February 2010 and we divorced in December 2010 and I have since had to claim insolvency as I could not manage the amount of debt that he had left me in.

I had been hurt emotionally and financially.

My ex-husband now lives in Torquay. I try not to have any contact with him as I am trying to put the experience behind me and move on with my life. I do not want to be further used by him, which is what he was trying to do even after he left.

Since being scammed out of my life savings and trust, I have vowed to make people aware of the dangers of romance scams. 

I now act as a moderator for a website that focuses on internet dating scams. I also hunt these evil people down on dating sites to try to catch them out. 

One scammer pretended to be a soldier in the American army who would be retiring soon, he told me that he was doing his last tour of Afghanistan and he wanted to keep in touch by sending texts, he said that he was having trouble topping up his phone so asked for me to top his phone up for him. 

After my previous experience, I questioned his motives and decided to stop communicating with him.

Another scammer used a photo of an American model, he said he was very religious and was looking for love. We spent a long time chatting in many different ways.

I really fell for him, I spoke to him and even his daughter a lot on the phone.

I first suspected that something wasn’t quite right when the accent didn’t fit in with his story – he sounded Mexican yet told me that he was originally from Ireland and now lived in America. The man, who named himself ‘Jack Scott’, said that he would be coming to England on a business trip and emailed me his fake flight details, but unsurprisingly I received a call from him saying that his wallet had been stolen and he needed money for the hotel.

I decided to start investigating. 

The scammer turned out to be a Nigerian and had regularly used the same profile and fake picture to scam other people. 

I thought I had a real connection with ‘Jack’, I’d really fallen for this guy and if I had had the money available I would have given it to him, but my ex-husband had taken it all.

I don’t want people to make the same mistake that I did, I would recommend choosing dating sites very carefully, as many will not protect you from scammers.

All people genuinely looking for love should triple check the people contacting them.

When I first started I had a lack of knowledge and assumed that everyone was genuine. And look what happened to me. 

The website I am a moderator on has helped me greatly. The other moderators offer support, they talk to victims, provide emotional support, advice and they also document known scammer profiles.

One of the other forum moderators said: “I have p***ed off many scammers in the last five and a half years.  We deal with sociopathic criminals, I’m sure some of them would like me dead.

“There is a ton of information on our website and together the moderators and administrators have over 40 years combined in dealing with these scumbags.”

Today’s is much more than simply a list. It features a forum with over 35000 registered users and more than 150,000 posts by its ever growing membership.

Make sure you look out for all of the tricks so you can steer clear of scammers and find true love.


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