A Nottinghamshire woman has warned others not to fall for romance fraud this Valentine’s weekend after she lost £7,000 after meeting a ‘man of her dreams’ online.

The woman in her 60s had fallen head over heels with a man by the name of Carlo Leonardo on a dating website.

The pair had only spoken for a number of weeks from Christmas, but she admitted she was falling for him and his lifestyle, she even thought there might be some kind of future.

Notts woman warns of romance fraud on Valentine's Day after losing £7,000Notts woman warns of romance fraud on Valentine's Day after losing £7,000
Notts woman warns of romance fraud on Valentine’s Day after losing £7,000

They had had video calls and exchanged pictures. Leonardo had told her that he was a successful businessman living in West Bridgford, but worked away a lot and had been travelling to America and Dubai to work.

She said: “At the beginning it was amazing really. He was so lovely and wrote romantic e-mails and messages. We spoke a lot every day, mainly through emails and text messages after meeting on a dating website.

“We really hit it off to be honest. I felt I was comfortable with him and we spoke about all sorts of things. I thought it was the man of my dreams.

Notts woman warns of romance fraud on Valentine's Day after losing £7,000Notts woman warns of romance fraud on Valentine's Day after losing £7,000
Notts woman warns of romance fraud on Valentine’s Day after losing £7,000

“I was first attracted to him as he had a golden retriever, the same dog as mine and we just talked generally about life. I was quite low over Christmas, with lockdown and having spent five Christmases alone, so I was delighted I was now speaking to a lovely man and we agreed to meet.”

However, after planning their future life together, her world soon turned upside down.

Leonardo allegedly had a daughter called Diane who lived in Italy. He asked if she could have her number to contact her and she agreed and they started speaking.

She received a text at the beginning of February from an American doctor Philip Coleman saying that Leonardo’s daughter had been in a car accident and he wanted to know what relationship she had with Diane.

The victim tried to get hold of Leonardo and after some time he sent her pictures of Diane’s injuries, an upturned car and an x-ray of a spinal cord injury.

The doctor stated that they needed $40,000 to perform an operation to relieve pressure on her brain and she needed further surgery on her back.

She said: “The subsequent phone call from Carlo was very frantic and confusing.

“It appeared that Diane was in a hospital in Florida, however the call came from a New York number.

“A message had been received the same morning from Diane saying that she was going for an interview to be a pilot in USA. She also had a New York number even though her home was in Italy.

“You can see why I got so confused. He was very demanding and persuasive. He said he wanted the money transferred in bitcoin as a bank transfer would take too long.

“I was in a total panic. What I should have done was ring the hospital directly. I just thought with the pictures and the way Carlo was so upset about it all, that it was obviously urgent.

“I was so confused how the doctor managed to get my number, which he said in the text was in Diane’s diary due to her phone being smashed in the collision. It was all very convenient and obviously now looking back a total lie.”

Leonardo asked her to send the $40,000 from his bank as he had previously given the log in details to make three previous transfers, as he could not do them from Dubai.

His bank declined the transaction stating they had not recognised the IP address on previous transactions.

Leonardo then frantically asked her to raise some money so that the operation could be started to save his daughter’s life.

The victim, who does not want to be identified, had no money to give, but he sounded so desperate that she started to see if she get loans to pay and to take a pension statement and sign it over to the bank as collateral.

“Instead, he sent a QR code that apparently the doctor sent to him. I was asked to scan this at a Bitcoin Machine in Mansfield,” she added.

“The bank stopped the cash being withdrawn and instead called the police.

“I was so confused, I was desperate to get this money. I was determined to get this money. I was adamant that it was not fraud.

“I again spoke to Carlo and he said he would pay the medical bill and pay me back as soon as his bank was unlocked. I was still so annoyed with my bank, they had no right to report it to the police.”

Throughout the conversations, bit-by-bit, the stories would get more and more elaborate.

At one point Leonardo mentioned that his Italian mother had died, so he had to rush back to Italy instead of coming to see me. This just added to the sympathy and worry to the situation.

Due to the heartbreak the victim lost half a stone in weight, as well as having to call in sick at work for two days whilst she got her head round it all.

“He really was my world. We were in love, but when the penny dropped I felt sick. I became more and more suspicious of Carlo, but I was too embarrassed to tell the police and the bank that I’d fallen for romance fraud,” she said.

“I was just convinced that I couldn’t have been this foolish.

“I think it eventually clicked when I actually reversed image searched Carlo’s latest pictures and that showed me that it was just a random man online. I had searched every other photo previously and not found anything.

“I’ve read these stories and in magazines, but I never thought I could be one of them, I didn’t think I was so stupid.

“I actually had to take two loans out and borrowed £6,000 from a friend. I sent the total amount via an international transfer.

“I will never ever use online dating to find love again. I’ve learnt my lesson. I’m looking forward to retiring soon and just spending time with my dog in the garden this summer.”

Officers visited the victim on Tuesday and she explained the whole story to them. She came off the dating website and also blocked Leonardo’s phone number and is changing her telephone number.

Fraud and Cyber Protect Officer Laura Murdock said: “Romance fraud is a devastating crime that targets the most vulnerable in society.

“Victims will be targeted by fraudsters online via social media, online games and dating sites.

“Romance fraud is predominantly an online fraud that seeks to fraudulently obtain money from victims, through the impersonation of another person and the presence of a personal relationship.

“Many victims feel embarrassed and fear judgement from friends and family, so often isolate themselves from those they are closest to.

“This particular case was really sad. The victim was looking for love and companionship during a very difficult year for us all. Sadly her decisions meant she lost out on a lot of money.

“The fraudster was very clever and had a very convincing and professional setup, which sadly targets those who are vulnerable.

“We would urge anyone going through a similar scenario to contact the police. Don’t be embarrassed to tell us what you are going through. We can help and support you if you are going through a rough time.

“We continue to offer all the support the victim feels she needs, as we know how incidents like this can turn people’s worlds upside down.

“We have offered protect advice, asked her to block the suspect number on her phone and she agreed to change her own telephone number.

“Like all our victims, we are happy to be contacted further for more support and advice.”

It can be embarrassing to feel tricked into thinking you’ve formed a relationship online, but if you tell the police, we can take a report in confidence.

Call 0300 123 2040 or visit the Action Fraud website: www.actionfraud.police.uk/