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Woman Conned Out of £20k by Romance Scammer with Nine Fraud Offences to His Name

APP Fraud

The fraudster claimed he needed money for private health care, mortgage payments, and bills - he even pretended to be his own mother via texts to back up the lie and request more money.

Red heart placed in a rusty trap on white background to illustrate Internet love scam or online romantic swindle.

A woman from Hertfordshire has shared her story about being scammed by a serial fraudster who convinced her that they were in a relationship for nine months. After uncovering the scam, the victim is now petitioning parliament for romance scams to be treated as a more serious crime.

Suzanne Famula, a 39-year-old hairdresser from Hertfordshire, was looking for love on dating site Hinge when she matched with 41-year-old ‘car salesman’, Christopher Harris, in November 2020 and they sparked up a conversation.

Ms Famula had sadly lost her mother, and her father had recently suffered a stroke, so the pair connected over their shared morals, and past traumas; Harris told the victim that he had tragically lost his twin brother at 12 years old, but she now knows this to have been a lie – and one of many. After two months of dating, Mr Harris started to ask for money to support him with a long-term heart condition he had for which he needed to “go private” to receive “proper care” and Ms Famula sent him the first payment of many.

He proceeded to tell her that his health condition was too severe for him to work, and so he needed more financial help to cover private medical expenses and procedures, mortgage payments, and other bills. Over the five month ‘relationship’ Suzanne claims that she sent him a total of £20,810 in numerous transactions, the highest value in one go being £1,200.

The scam was uncovered in July 2021 when Ms Famula received a text message from an unknown number claiming to be from Christopher Harris’ mother, telling her that he was in trouble and needed some money to get out of it. Upon turning up at his mother’s house, it was revealed that:

  • His mother knew nothing about the text, and it was not from her phone.
  • Her son was not in any trouble.
  • She had no idea about her son’s alleged heart operation.

It was also found out that Harris had a long-term girlfriend.

Suzanne had been scammed. In February 2023, Christopher Harris was sentenced to 30 months in prison and given a restraining order after pleading guilty to fraud by false representation and failing to answer to Court. Harris had 16 previous convictions for over 25 offences, nine of which were also fraud-related.

The victim was able to recover the money she lost to the scam from her bank after raising a claim with the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS), a government-backed body responsible for resolving disputes between financial services providers and their customers. However, she is now campaigning to have romance fraud taken more seriously by police, in the hope that it will help other victims like herself.

Unfortunately, Suzanne’s story is far from unusual, and romance scams are increasingly common in the UK. According to figures from the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau (NFIB), the police unit responsible for gathering and analysing intelligence relating to fraud, in the financial year 2022/23, over 8,000 reports of romance fraud were made with a loss of over £92m total, the equivalent of £11,500 per victim.

And the real figures are likely much higher as, due to the emotional nature of these scams, victims may feel embarrassed or ashamed once they realise they have been scammed and are, therefore, reluctant to come forward and report it.

We regularly cover romance scam stories and updates on our blog.

In romance scams, the fraudster’s end goal is to convince their victim to transfer money directly to them by online or telephone banking, which is a form of Authorised Push Payment (APP) fraud.

APP fraud refers to scams where an individual willingly approves money transfers from their bank account to another for what they believe to be a legitimate reason, such as helping out a friend or romantic prospect.

The money is moved immediately to the scammers’ account and then moved on again before the victim realises they’ve been scammed. Unfortunately, in these cases, it makes the money difficult – if not impossible – to recover.

If you, a friend, or a family member have been the victim of a romance APP scam, it is crucial to promptly report the incident to both your bank and Action Fraud, the national reporting service for fraud. The bank should initiate an immediate investigation to recover funds from the receiving bank as soon as any suspicious activity is flagged, but this may not be possible.

Banks in the UK have a responsibility to safeguard their customers and their money. They should have policies in place which enable them to postpone or block unusual payments, especially those directed to new payees, overseas destinations, or involving substantial amounts.

In cases where a scam has resulted in losses, and the victim believes that their bank’s response was inadequate, individuals have the option to escalate the matter to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) for an independent investigation.

Suzanne’s story was fairly typical of a romance scam: the scammer established trust between them, made up a believable back story, and gradually drip fed the reasons he needed to ask for money. There are other common red flags to keep an eye out for that may also indicate that your new romance isn’t what it seems:

  • Being asked lots of personal questions, without much information being given by the other person. Intense flattery, early on in the relationship, to build trust and an emotional connection, otherwise known as ‘love bombing.’
  • A keenness from the other person to move conversations to another messaging platform, but a reluctance to video call or meet in person – Suzanne’s story was unusual for a romance scam because she actually met Harris in person once or twice whilst they were in a ‘relationship’; however, he would regularly cancel their dates because of ‘medical reasons’.
  • Asking for financial help, to cover ‘urgent’ travel costs, medical bills or to pay an outstanding debt.
  • As part of developing the relationship and building trust, the scammer will try to corroborate their identity by sending documents such as a passport or driving licence – often asking for the victim’s, in return. Sharing identification documents like this makes life easier for the fraudster and opens up other scams that they can carry out, such as impersonation scams.

Sometimes it helps to talk. If you, a loved one or someone you know may be or has been the victim of a romance scam, our specialist team can give you the right resources and information on what options are available to you. If appropriate, we can help bring a claim for compensation.

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

“This is a very familiar story, and one that we have heard multiple times from our clients. Online dating is the norm now, but it can also provide an opportunity for scam artists, like Christopher Harris, to manipulate victims and leave them financially devastated. I am just relieved that the victim in this case managed to get her money back.

As this case shows, victims are not alone and there are options available, they shouldn’t feed embarrassed or ashamed about being conned in this way. If you’ve had a similar experience to Suzanne, get in touch with my team today!”

TLW Solicitors has an experienced team of romance scam compensation specialists, who regularly deal with FOS claims. We know the time limits that apply, the complex legal arguments and defences that the bank may raise, and what information is needed to give your claim or appeal the best chance of success.

If you, a colleague, friend or loved one have been the victim of a romance scam or other APP fraud, please get in touch by telephone, email or using the ‘start your claim’ or ‘request a callback’ forms below.

We offer a free, no-obligation assessment of your case. If we take on your case, we operate on a ‘no win, no fee’ basis, meaning you do not pay us anything if your refund claim is unsuccessful.

It is important to get advice as soon as possible as strict time limits can apply.

Minimum case values may apply.

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

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