A Nottinghamshire man who was conned out of £200,000 is sharing his story in a bid to prevent other people from falling victim to online fraud.
It began three years ago when he was online searching for US ice hockey results and a pop-up appeared. He tried to cancel it but it took him through to a link where he ended up chatting to a woman called Dora.
A friendship developed over the coming months where she explained that her father had died and he had previously worked in a gold mine in Ghana. She said that the company had deferred part of his wages as gold and required payment for the security costs otherwise they would keep the gold if the payment wasn't made by the end of 2016.
The Nottinghamshire man, who wishes to remain anonymous, didn't send any money for a year but as the end of 2016 approached, he became angry because he believed the company was going to keep assets that belonged to Dora and her brother so he sent £4,000.
The story then developed that the gold was still in its original format and more money was needed to smelt it so he paid more money across by bank transfer.
He said: "It went from a few grand here to a few grand there and then spiraled. I felt like I had to chase and redeem my money otherwise I'd never see it again."
The gold then needed shaping into bullion bars, they then needed stamping with unique identification codes and so the lies continued.
Looking back he said: "It might seem obvious but it's honestly such an easy trap to fall into. I thought I was pretty streetwise before but there's a team of people there that prey on people either through romance or like me - I was just willing to help and it seemed like a really professional outfit."
The offenders went to great lengths to convince the victim. He had video conversations with Dora on many occasions as well as with a police officer and another person posing to be in the bank with the bars of gold behind him. These took place via Skype and WhatsApp.
Dora then said she'd had a car crash and needed medical bills paying. The victim was sent images of her in hospital with pipes surrounding her and, believing she would pay him back when her father's money was released, he paid these bills.
On one occasion when he tried to pay £35,000, it was stopped by a bank in Ghana who thought it was suspicious and refunded him. The offenders told him it was because it was a personal account, they provided a business account and the money went through.
The victim said the fraudsters had relentless contact with him, so much so that when he did have doubts, they were instantly put to rest: "They bombarded me, brainwash you, they destroy your mind."
He began using Western Union who ultimately tried to stop him sending the money so he moved onto MoneyGram and Ria (online transfer services) where he continued to make payments totaling around £200,000.
The final straw snapped for the victim himself when he received yet another email asking for £380,000 in tax in order to release the gold. At this point, he went to his bank and showed them the email to complain about it and then it all became clear that he had been scammed. He then stopped sending the money, he sought guidance from Action Fraud and Nottinghamshire Police and severed all contact with Dora.
He had lost his pension, half a house that he owned with a relative and other savings.
He said: "It cost me my job eventually and I was close to having a breakdown. I'm back at work now, I've dusted myself off and put it to bed but I feel like I have to do something to help through my experiences. So if this can stop just one person from sending money to these criminals then it's worth it. My advice is the first time you're asked for one penny... delete."
Detective Sergeant Simon Harrison, from Nottinghamshire Police's Fraud team, said: "Because of the way online fraud works and the fact that criminals can operate from anywhere in the world, all cases go through the national body Action Fraud who then disseminate to individual forces if there are viable lines of inquiry in that area or if safeguarding measures are needed. With this victim's case, it was clear that the connections ran oversees mainly in Ghana. The investigation continues but cases like this are notoriously very hard to conclude. They're most likely operated by serious organised crime groups who know how to cover their tracks and use methods that they know are untraceable. That's why we're really concentrating on helping to educate and prevent people from falling victim, because if people know what to look out for, they can shut it down and report it straight away. Together we can outsmart these criminals and put an end to these kind of crimes completely. Our message is clear if someone you've never met asks you for money, don't give it to them."
If you're worried that you or someone you know may have been targeted in this way, please don't hesitate to call Action Fraud on 0300 123 2040.