Featured on BBC One’s Northern Justice & Morning Live



Former Romance Scammer Shares the Tricks of the Trade as Catfish Scams Increase

APP Fraud

Chris used a US soldier’s pictures and identity to reel in victims and used their money to fund a lavish lifestyle.

It’s not often that scammers come clean about their tactics, but a former prolific romance scammer, who started fleecing victims at age 17 and stole over £56,000, has done just that.

Recent data released by Lloyds Banking Group painted a disappointing picture of the state of romance scams in the UK:

  • Romance scams have increased by 22% in 2023 compared to 2022
  • Women lost more money on average than men
  • Those aged 55-64 lost more than any other age group
  • The average amount lost was £6,927

Romance scams can devastate victims, both financially and emotionally, and there is often an element of shame or embarrassment which deters some victims from reporting the scam. The specialist fraud team at TLW Solicitors help clients recover refunds lost to romance scams on a no-win, no-fee basis.

Chris Maxwell, from Nigeria, told Sky News that he started approaching victims online at age 17 using the photos of a US soldier stolen from a genuine Instagram account. He targeted strangers in the US, UK, Canada and Germany via social media accounts, establishing ‘common ground’ with them to get them to trust him and “tell him anything”.

“After that,” says Maxwell “I start going in a relationship with them and that’s how I start my scam.” He told This is Money that it was his full-time job for the five years he spent actively scamming and that he “scammed every day of my life at the time”.

He has since turned his back on his nefarious past and now works for an organisation that helps victims identify fraudsters using reverse search technology. He also leaked a 40-page scammers’ handbook that he used entitled How to Make a White Woman Fall in Love with You from Online Chat in the hope that potential victims can use it to keep themselves safe when looking for love online.

Some ‘tips’ from the guide include:

  • Targeting women over 40
  • Use potential victims’ social media profiles to find out information about them to use in the scam, such as their hobbies, pets, jobs, passions, kids, locations and interests.
  • Don’t start with ‘Hi’. Use information from the victim’s profile to craft an interesting opening message to hook her in.
  • Contact the victims at night: “You will have her full attention.”
  • Using a grammar app to check messages before sending them, in order to avoid the victim realising they are not talking to the ‘US soldier’ they see in the picture.
  • Waiting at least a week after starting to communicate with the victim before asking for money and then doing so indirectly, e.g. complaining about being behind on mortgage payments*.

*According to the guide, if this tactic is successful, “by herself, she will offer to give you money”.

Chris was eventually tracked down by a victim from whom he stole almost £24,000 over their 1-year ‘relationship’; allegedly, once she confronted him, he felt terrible for ruining her life and is now happy he no longer has to use scams to earn his money.

According to Chris, the biggest red flag, that the person you’ve been speaking to online isn’t who they claim to be, is if they refuse to use video call to speak to you; a voice can be disguised, but your face cannot. He also warns would-be daters to “avoid anyone who says they cannot meet because they are in the military or live overseas”, as this is generally a cover for them not wanting to meet, or a back story to ask for money eventually.

Some other warning signs reported by TLW Solicitors’ romance scam clients include:

  • Limited photos or personal information on their profile.
  • Lots of flattery and early declarations of love – this is a manipulation technique and preys on vulnerable people, known as ‘love bombing’.
  • Requests to open a bank account, take out a loan or invest on the other person’s behalf.
  • Requests to share your personal identification documents such as your passport or driving licence.

Always treat unsolicited contact from someone you don’t know online with caution, and never send money to anyone you have not met in person.

If you are the victim of a romance scam, it is essential to put any embarrassment aside and contact your bank and Action Fraud, the National Fraud and Cyber Crime Reporting Centre. If you have lost money, that may lead to a criminal investigation by the police.

Banks should conduct an investigation and try to recover the money from the receiving bank. But, given that most scammers quickly move the money on, getting a refund is usually impossible.

Some important recent decisions have been made by the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) about Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud and the banks’ responsibility to their customers. APP fraud is a type of fraud in which victims are tricked into sending money to scammers via online or telephone banking.

FOS is an independent body set up to settle disputes between financial institutions and their customers. If you disagree with the bank’s investigations following a romance fraud, you can take your case to FOS, who will conduct their investigation.

There are an increasing number of decisions focusing on the banks’ duty of care to their customers, particularly with regard to carrying out due diligence checks on large or unusual payments where their customers are vulnerable, such as the elderly or bereaved.

Sarah Spruce, Legal Director and Head of the Scams and Fraud team at TLW Solicitors, commented:

“It is interesting to get an insider’s perspective on the romance scams that my team see regularly. These scams can do a great deal of emotional damage to the victims, as they are under the impression that they are connecting with a genuine love interest. When that relationship falls apart, it is no less heartbreaking than a normal breakup, maybe even more so as there is also the element of broken trust.

There is no need to be embarrassed or ashamed if a romance scammer has targeted you; it is clear to see from Chris’ story that they are organised and dedicated to the con. If you have been a victim of one of these scams, you are not alone – get help and speak to a member of my team about recovering your lost funds.”

If you, a friend or a loved one has been victimised by a romance scammer, please get in touch with our specialist team for a confidential, no-obligation discussion. We work on a no-win, no-fee basis, so you pay us nothing if your fraud refund claim is unsuccessful.

Call us on 0800 169 5925 or complete one of the forms below.

Time limits can apply, and so anyone wishing to bring a claim should do so without delay. 

Minimum claim values apply.

Meet Our Team

Meet Sarah, who heads up our experienced Authorised Push Payment Fraud Claims team.

Sarah and her colleagues are on hand to help with your claim.