Stephen Tanner, who runs a home appliance repair business in Missouri, US, met a “woman” using the name Laurel Walker online - she told him she needed help accessing her £9million inheritance.
Crooks behind an online romance scam have used multiple fake identities and false documents to fleece a 59-year-old bachelor looking for love.
Stephen Tanner runs a home appliance repair business in the small town of Lamar in Missouri in the United States.
By the time he approached me he was already deep in trouble, having paid $380,000 – almost £290,000 – to a “woman” using the name Laurel Walker who he met on a dating site.
The money had been left to him by his late mother and now the charlatans want even more.
“In the beginning of all this, Laurel was telling me that her father had this inheritance secured by an insurance company over there in the UK,” said Stephen.
“She needed money for a plane ticket over to London, and more for hotel lodging, meals and such.”
The crooks, posing as Laurel Walker, claimed that she was having trouble getting hold of her supposed inheritance, said to be $12,250,000 – around £9million.
The gang faked a document purporting to show millions deposited with Swinton, which told me: “This ‘certificate’ is definitely a fake. Swinton is an insurance broker not a bank and does not take customer deposits.”
Emails from Laurel Walker said she was having trouble getting hold of the supposed inheritance and needed Stephen’s help.
He was sent faked Santander paperwork that apparently showed the money, now $12,250,000, had been put into an account in his name.
He then received emails seemingly from the bank saying that the account had been frozen and the money would be seized by the UK government unless he paid to unfreeze it, due to the rules of the “UK Financial Authority Board”.
There is no such organisation, but an American like Stephen isn’t to know that.
Despite claiming to be written by a Santander employee called Grayson Elliot Luke, the messages came from a protonmail.com account, not a santander.co.uk one, and were written in English that was so suspiciously bad that the emails often made little sense.
“Unfortunately your bank account has been freezed due to the large amount of money that is paid into your account at once,” one read.
“For your account to be unfreeze and active for transaction, you have to pay minimum of 11.5% of the previous amount.
“The reason for this payment is to perform an account history first before activating your bank account for access of fund.”
Emotional pressure was put on Stephen to come up with the money by someone calling himself Evans Brown.
He claimed to be a barrister at the London offices of international law firm Allen & Overy who had
previously acted for Laurel’s late father.
“It’s unfair to let a woman go through this alone, she depends on you,” Evans Brown emailed.
“If you can’t help her out of this situation she is now then it means you’re not man enough to take care of her or even take responsibility for her, you should actually feel lucky cause it’s not every day you get to meet someone that’s about to inherit so much money.”
Allen & Overy confirmed that it has no employee called Evans Brown and, unlike this character, it does not send messages from outlook.com email addresses.
A picture Laurel sent supposedly of herself with Evans Brown in fact shows an entirely unconnected man from Swindon who happened to appear in a newspaper article in 2012 – the crooks had simply lifted the innocent chap’s picture and added one of “Laurel”.
She claimed to be desperately hard up and had moved into a cheap East London guesthouse.
I visited it and was told that no one was staying there because it was being refurbished - which would explain the stained mattress dumped in the front garden.
She’s bombarded Stephen with messages like this: “Honey if I lose everything I don’t know what’s
going to happen.
“I love you too much to wanna hurt your feelings or even screw you over, honey this 12 million is real cause my parents left me this money.”
Even as the evidence that this was a scam became overwhelming, "Laurel" still tried to persuade Stephen not to believe it, emailing: "Honey I feel so bad and hurt that you believe the things you find on google over the things I tell you, don’t you know everybody can just upload on google whatever they believe is right, honey you need to stop looking for things on google it keeps bringing conflict here and it’s making you go doubt everything that I’m telling you."
It’s been a dreadful experience for the poor chap but thankfully Stephen is now certain that there
is no Laurel and no $12million, and he’s done a great service by speaking out about this to help
“I surely wish that we could have found out who these people really are,” he said.