“I was scammed out of £37,000 by an online dating fraudster”
Bower was not easily fooled. She did not fall into the trap of this first scam. In fact, she says, “As soon as I started engaging properly with the site, I identified loads of scammers and pushed them all away.” Their stories were ridiculous. Three months later, a new message appeared, with a photo that caught his eye.
“He was very flat, dressed casually and smartly: nice jeans, proper shoes. Exactly the kind of man I loved. Still, Bower remained skeptical. Derrick Lanar was 54, she was 61. Bower asked him about the age gap, but brushed it off: “And after all, my husband was 20 years older than me.” Lanar told Bower he worked at an offshore fracking site in Elgin, Scotland, with five of his own employees. The internet connection was difficult, so could they move their conversation off the dating site and onto their phone? Bower did a little detective work on Google, and his story seemed perfectly plausible.
And so a whirlwind romance began. Later, Bower will write a forensic report for the next 10 weeks, listing dates, phone numbers and content of conversations. Reading it is exhausting. Living it must have been overwhelming.
The couple exchange details about their work (he is frustrated with his current job but the unstable internet connection is slowing the completion of the project) and their private life (he has a sister, with whom he shares a flat in Wanstead, east London, but leaning too heavily on him for money). They are not content to exchange SMS: the couple talks constantly. At one point, Bower tells him that his South African accent “sounds black”, while the handful of photos he sent show him to be white. Observation makes him irritable.
His speech quickly becomes racy. Bower tells her that she would never be stupid enough to send nude photos to a stranger and suggests that they cut off their conversation until there is a real chance they will meet in person. Lanar cools down, but soon returns with surprising intensity. He accuses her of negativity and paranoia, incites sex over the phone, and eventually tells her he loves her.
“I started imagining a future with him,” Bower recalled. “He was sending me red rose emojis. He wanted to come and be with me. He had the skills and contacts to start a new career in home building. He asked me to look into those near me. me that needed refurbishing and could be bought inexpensively, so that when he visited he could look at them.
There was only one stumbling block. Lanar was stuck at sea and needed equipment to complete the job. So the day after professing his love, he asked for help. Not in the form of money, however, just his stable internet connection. He sent Bower working links to the website of a Chinese company selling the necessary machines and asked him to request a quote. When a bill duly arrived in his inbox, Lanar sent his own bank details and asked him to pay the required £373,500 from his account.
“He was reluctant to ask, but I didn’t see a problem,” she says. “I accessed his account online and there was his finances, as promised, all laid out. When I purchased the goods it showed up as a debit to his account. I saw it, right before my eyes.
Then Lanar wanted to put some money in Bower’s own account. But when she tried to make that second payment, she was blocked. The bank, Lanar “discovered” had stopped payments, suspicious of their previous large transaction. Overriding that required his card reader, miles away in his London apartment. It was only a minor frustration, until Bower received a second email from China, confirming the purchase and asking for £37,000 ‘for shipping and insurance’.
Lanar blamed himself for the oversight. He hated to ask her, but could she possibly help him? Bower had seen Lanar’s bank statements and the inside of his account. Yet she refused. And that’s where the fights started. It was a cycle: make up, argue, make up… It’s designed to wear you down. I vividly remember one day, sitting in a chair in my living room and whispering on the phone, “Actually, I have the money.” And that was my fatal mistake.
Unable to access the full amount, she started transferring a few thousand at a time. Each time she expressed her reluctance, wild and disorienting arguments resulted, until Bower was persuaded to withdraw thousands of dollars in cash and hand it to a colleague of Lanar’s in the lobby of the Hilton hotel. of Paddington, London. The pockmarked, brown-suited stranger was called Douglas.
The third time Lanar asked him to do it, Bower broke up. “I said, ‘I won’t bring that last sum unless I know you’re definitely coming to see me. So he sent me the booking reference for an EasyJet flight. I entered it on the online “Manage your booking” page and here it is: his name and confirmation of his seat on the flight. She would meet him at Stansted and, finally, they would spend a weekend together.
Bower put £11,000 in a black handbag, boarded a train at Maidstone and handed the money to Douglas at their usual meeting place. The next day, she found that Lanar’s booking reference was no longer recognized online. He apologised, sent another, then suddenly demanded another £4,000, telling an implausible story about paying a taxi driver and people at the gate of the fracking site. “And that’s when I finally accepted that he was a crook,” says Bower. “I told him no.
For 24 hours, the scammer bombarded her with calls and messages. Bower ignored them all: “I was an absolute wreck. I had to get through Saturday somehow, but I don’t know how. As a ward clerk, I befriended the local PCSO. So on Sunday, I WhatsApped her and my sister. I couldn’t even read it again, I just typed: ‘I was scammed for £37,000. I was a fool. ”She is sharing her story now to help others.