Valentine’s Day is a time when lovers express their affection with greetings and gifts; however, some people will need to be wary when their affection is being exploited. Romance fraud can be defined as the creation or manipulation of a friendship or relationship for fraudulent financial gain. There is an increasing level of sophistication in the methods by which unscrupulous individuals will seek to coax and cajole money out of unsuspecting people who believe they are in caring relationships, so much so that victim support agencies, multiple police forces and even the FBI now have resources on their websites dedicated to helping people spot the signs of a scam relationship. However, these resources are overwhelmingly directed at victims of romance fraudsters who operate exclusively online, who usually never meet their victims, and often operate from overseas. But what happens when the relationship is taking place in the real world? We set out below a real-world case of this nature the author prosecuted in 2021, which serves as a reminder that romance fraud is not confined to the digital sphere.
In January 2018 Lucy (not her real name) met a man on a dating website. He told her he had a company that specialised in lorry driver recruitment. She thought he was a genuinely nice, family-oriented man. His name was Tresdian Green.
They met and started dating. A couple of months into their relationship, Green asked Lucy to lend him £5,000, claiming he needed it to pay his employees’ wages and promising to pay her back. Lucy was not a wealthy woman, but she had some savings, and so she agreed. A month later, Green asked her for another £3,000. When Lucy told him she couldn’t afford it, and that she needed the £5,000 she had already loaned him for urgent dental treatment, he became abrupt, rude and distant. She wanted to keep seeing him, and so she subsequently agreed to lend him a further £3,000. Again, he promised he would pay it back but instead he asked for another loan of £2,500, telling her he needed to pay an accountant to act for him during a VAT inspection and claimed to have half a million pounds in his bank account which he could use to pay her back as soon as it was released by HMRC. Lucy was getting into financial difficulty: she lived on her pension but was having to look for a job because she had no other income. Perhaps realising that Lucy’s funds were running low, Green stopped asking for large amounts and instead asked her to give him smaller sums, saying he needed them to feed his children, all the while promising to pay her back. Lucy cut back on her own living expenses in order to lend him money. She put money for him on her credit card, on which she paid a high rate of interest. Finally, when she simply had nothing left, she borrowed from her mother.
As the money dried up, contact began to tail off. Green cancelled dates, stopped answering his phone and didn’t reply to messages. Lucy had given him a total of £11,700. In December 2018 she went to the Police, who told her it was a civil matter. She tried to pursue Green through the County Court, even hiring a private investigator to try and serve court papers on him, but he had disappeared.
In May 2019, Amanda (not her real name) met Green on a dating website. He told her he had a company that specialised in buying and selling cars. He wore an expensive watch and designer clothes, and he drove expensive cars. Instead of peppering Amanda with pleas for money to feed himself and pay his employees, he convinced her to invest in his business, telling her he would get her a better return than if she kept the money in the bank. Reassured by his seemingly high-end lifestyle, Amanda transferred him £59,000, her inheritance left to her by her parents. Barely a week later, Green stopped contacting her.
Amanda went to the police. Fortunately, the connection was made between Amanda’s and Lucy’s cases, and Green was prosecuted. On 19 May 2021, Green pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud by false representation.
The nature of the fraud
In respect of Amanda, the false representation was straightforward: Green had promised her he would invest her money and she would get a return on it, and there was no evidence that he ever did. When he was interviewed by police Green insisted he had invested Amanda’s money in buying cars, but declined to provide any paperwork, stating that he would if the case went to court. In the end, he declined to do so, opting to plead guilty.
In respect of Lucy, the false representation consisted simply of Green’s continued promises to repay her, the Crown’s case being that his behaviour demonstrated a complete lack of intention to do anything of the sort. It was not necessary for the Crown explore whether Green did in fact use the money to pay his employees, or to support his struggling family – the fact was that Lucy had loaned, not given, him the money. And by acting in such a way that showed he never intended to pay it back, Green was clearly, evidently guilty of fraud.
On 8 August 2021 Green was sentenced to three years’ and two months imprisonment.
Green’s behaviour was typical of the manipulation and ruthlessness that one encounters with romance fraudsters. Initially he played on Lucy’s kindness, citing the needs of others to manipulate her. When she could clearly no longer afford to give him large sums, he resorted to smaller amounts, promising all the while to pay her back. And when Lucy had nothing at all left to give, he disappeared. Far from being remorseful or even, slightly less laudably, being content with his good fortune to that point, Green then reinvented himself. No longer a struggling businessman, but the very model of success, promising vast profits on an investment that was guaranteed to succeed. Green’s approach with Amanda was far less drawn out – once he had persuaded her to part with her money, he was gone.
The cruelty of a romance fraud is that victims often feel ashamed, and many will never report. Further, the well-publicised decline in prosecutions for fraud, which we have previously written about here may leave victims feeling as if there is no hope – indeed, Lucy was initially told by police that her problem was a civil matter. However, this case shows that a romance fraud is often very straightforward. Those who are turned away by the police should know the constitutional right to bring a private prosecution proceeds in exactly the same way as a prosecution brought by the Crown and is a way of bringing these offenders to justice. As time goes on and online scams become more and more elaborate, it is to be hoped that we don’t lose sight of the romance fraudsters working in the real world.