‘We were brainwashed and left with £50,000 debt with no way to repay it’

Scam victims recall feeling humiliated

Ann, 65 and James, 72 were victims of a cryptocurrency scam and “lost every penny they had”.

The couple from West Yorkshire were devastated when they finally realised how manipulating and controlling their scammer had been. The pair had been groomed and were left with £50,000 debt.

Speaking on their situation, James told BBC You and Yours that they had been “brainwashed” and left with nothing.

Ann initially fell victim after showing interest in a cryptocurrency investment advert she had seen being endorsed by a celebrity she trusted on social media. Desperate to help her adult sons financially, she thought this would be a good way to get some extra cash and sent her number to the cryptocurrency agency.

A few days later the couple were contacted by a woman under the alias of ‘Giselle Thomas’, who said she worked as a financial advisor for ‘ISA investments’. She persuaded them to download an app for the investment on their phone and laptop which they did.

Reluctantly, the pair deposited £100 into the account which shortly turned to £650. This is where “the spell is cast,” journalist Shari Vahl stated. Once people see the money grow with their own eyes, they start to believe the person on the phone.

Ann then put in £5,000, at the request of Giselle which was stopped by the bank as they suspected fraudulent activity. But Giselle had already warned them this may happen and had already told the couple what they had to say.

Ann said: “I said everything she told me I needed to say – that the money was for a holiday. They did ask me if the money was being invested into cryptocurrency but I said no. I lied because she told me British banks weren’t happy with customers using cryptocurrency.

“She said it’s my money and what gives the banks the right to question where I move it? I’m not moving it to a stranger, I’m moving it to another account with my name.”

Unfortunately, Ann was not aware that this transfer of money was not going into her account to invest, but into the hands of the scammer who was stealing her money.

The scammer had managed to groom Ann and James over three weeks through constant calling and messages, and also the deceit through their ISA investment app which showed their money was growing. The app showed that the £5,000 they had invested had grown to over £23,000 in a matter of days

James said: “I thought that if it was a fraudster they would be in and out, but sometimes we would be on the phone for eight hours a day with Giselle. After 76 phone calls in three weeks, we believed everything she said. We were groomed.”

Ann continued: “We were buzzing. We were thinking about how much we could give the kids. We had no reason to not believe it. It was right there.”

Eventually, Giselle persuaded them to download another app on their desktop and tablets which allowed her full access to their emails, passcodes and accounts – enabling her to move money around without Ann and James knowing.

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At this point, Ann and James had invested £15,000 which they thought had grown to £45,000. Giselle had also helped herself to another £15,000 from their savings account but they didn’t know.

Everytime she would attempt to transfer thousands into the investment app, her bank would place blocks on her account and call to warn her this may be a scam. But she wouldn’t listen and continuously made up excuses for why she needed the money, insisting they release it and unfreeze her account.

After seeing their money grow, Ann and James asked for £40,000 back which Giselle agreed. However, they were told more money would have to be paid into the investment account for the funds to be released due to money laundering regulations – which was a lie.

To get past this regulation, Giselle convinced them they would have to take out a loan which would be paid back eventually. She ended up taking out a loan in James’ name from three different companies as she had access to their tablets and laptops.

The loans totalled £50,000. Even when the loan companies called to do their due diligence, James also lied to them about the use for the money saying it was for home improvements so the loans would be granted.

Both the banks and loan companies stated if any money was intended for cryptocurrency, it was likely a scam, but James and Ann were “under the spell” so they just listened and trusted Giselle and continued to lie.

Once the loans had been approved, the pair sat waiting for the investment money (which was totalling £80,000 at this point) to drop into their account. They waited for four hours and had not received a response from Giselle despite several messages. It was at this moment the penny had dropped and they realised they had been scammed.

Ann said: “I was hurt by someone who I thought was a friend. Why would she do this to me? It was the realisation that not only had she done this, but that she had taken every penny we had. I felt so humiliated that I had fallen into the trap. I was angry at myself and her.”

James added: “I never dreamed she would disappear from the earth and leave me with £50,000 debt with no way to repeat it. She was on the phone for weeks just brainwashing us.”

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