This type of fraud might be easy to scoff at, but it’s common, sophisticated, and robs people of much more than just money

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Keanu Reeves keeps me up at night, Brad Pitt wakes me up in the morning, and don’t even get me started on Liam Neeson. The thing is, all they want to do is talk. Via social media. About needing gift cards.

One of my recent conversations with Liam Neeson went like this:

Liam: Can you get steam card. I want to edit some scene here can not get it here. Okay get me 1000 on the card I will reimburse you.

Me: That sounds perfectly reasonable. I’ll buy it this afternoon.

Liam: Okay thanks so much sweetheart.

I sent him the codes from the back of the cards I had supposedly bought, which coincidentally spelt out some ingredients of a Fray Bentos pie: B33F 3XTR4CT; P0RK K1DN3Y; WH34T FL0UR; P4LM 01L; T0M4T0 P45T3 … He wasn’t happy.

OK, OK, so I know these are fraudsters and I’m playing along. I’ve had a lot of fun doing this for quite some time; I engage with them, screenshot the conversations and post them on my X (formerly Twitter) account. As a result of everything I’ve learned I have become determined to help shine a light on what is one of the most financially and emotionally damaging crimes: romance fraud, where an individual, often under a false identity, pretends to be in a romantic relationship with someone purely to take their money. As one woman said to me: “It’s not just the money. He’s broken me.”

Conjure up, if you will, a mental image of a victim of romance fraud. You’re thinking of a lonely, unattractive, less-than-intelligent, middle-aged woman, right? Absolutely not. I have interviewed dozens of victims and not one of them fitted this stereotype. Among the women I spoke to were a doctor, a chief executive, a lawyer and a detective. These are highly intelligent, educated and articulate women at the top of their game, with good networks of friends and family. None of them considered themselves lonely. And here’s another jaw-dropper for you: men can be victims, too. In fact, let’s just rip off the plaster and get it all out: victims of romance fraud come from all sectors of society – any gender, any sexuality, any race, any age and any social class. The fraudsters will target anyone. Yes, even you.

They will find out what they can about you and use it against you. You lost someone you love? So did they. You wish you had children? They have a child who would love you. You are religious? He is a churchgoer. You get the picture. Coercive control is at the very centre of this, and whatever story the fraudster concocts, including the ones pretending to be celebrities, it will end with them urgently needing money.

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