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Changes: Anna Rowe

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Annie [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to Changes. My name is Annie Macmanus. In today's episode, we're going to delve into the world of romance fraud. Last year, the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau received over 8,000 reports of fraud in the UK, resulting in a loss of more than £92 million. Online dating makes it increasingly difficult to navigate the thin line between genuine connections and deceptive scammers, with more and more individuals falling victim each year, often with devastating emotional and financial consequences. My guest this week is Anna Rowe, a romance fraud victim who is using her story to fight for change. Anna, what did life look like before you were a victim of romance fraud? 

Anna [00:00:51] I had had a really bad relationship with my children's father. That had ended and I'd waited two and a half years before I sort of put my toes in the water again for online dating. 

Annie [00:01:03] How old were you? 

Anna [00:01:05] Ooh, that was when I was about 42. 

Annie [00:01:06] And how old were your kids? 

Anna [00:01:08] My youngest was two and a half. 

Annie [00:01:12] Right. 

Anna [00:01:12] I was pregnant when I found out that their dad was having an affair with a mum at the eldests school. The eldest was ten. 

Annie [00:01:20] Okay. 

Anna [00:01:21] So I had- that particular time, a really amazing time on online dating, met a really brilliant guy and we were together for two and a half years. 

Annie [00:01:30] Okay. 

Anna [00:01:31] It was just personal reasons that things had to end which was really sad, we're still friends now. So my perception of online dating from that was really successful. And for me, I get attached to people really, really quickly and it's quite good to leave a bit of space. So after that finished, it was like a year later again, matched one day with this guy, it was a black and white picture of a guy in a suit. He was 44 at the time, I was 43. He had said that he was half Indian, half French. He worked in aviation, so he was away a lot. But it was the words underneath this in the profile that really got me interested in him. It said, 'looking for a long term serious relationship, not into poor communication and mind games. Humble, genuine, not afraid to show my emotions. Not a gym rat' *Annie laughs*. It was the bit about, not into poor communication and mind games that really sort of got me because I thought, he's been hurt before and he's not going to hurt me. 

Annie [00:02:36] Yeah, yeah. 

Anna [00:02:37] Because he knows what that's like. 

Annie [00:02:38] Yeah. 

Anna [00:02:38] So I thought even though I wasn't overly impressed on the picture, it was all right, I swiped on it. 

Annie [00:02:44] And can I ask, what were you looking for at this time? 

Anna [00:02:48] I've always been someone that's always- if I was going to be with someone, it would be looking for longevity. I've always been like that. 

Annie [00:02:55] You said that you fall for people quickly, what was your experience of that, I suppose? How did you learn that? 

Anna [00:03:00] I get attached to people quickly. Now, that's not necessarily in just romantic situations, that's with friends as well. I'm an incredibly loyal person and even with friends, if- if you know, if I've made friends with someone and someone is doing something that's not okay, I'm there standing up for 'em. For me, I don't fall in love easily, I should say, but when I do, I fall hard and I fall fast. So for me, it's just really important to have that bit of distance and with the guy that I'd had an amazing relationship with, we chatted for three months online before we met in person. And so when I met this one- 

Annie [00:03:39] What was his name? 

Anna [00:03:41] His profile said his name was Anthony. 

Annie [00:03:44] Okay. 

Anna [00:03:45] And so we stayed on the app for about 3 to 4 weeks and then we exchanged phone numbers. We phoned each other, lots of conversations. He'd opened up first about his past relationship with his ex-wife. He'd said he'd been divorced for 15 months, he was just starting out on the dating scene again and that, you know, it had been a really tricky marriage and that he- he just wanted a relationship like his parents had had. He said they fell in love when they were really young and they'd been together ever since and it was just them, they were this really strong unit and he wanted that as well. And so he'd opened up all about that, which of course gave me the confidence to share- 

Annie [00:04:25] Your experiences. 

Anna [00:04:25] About my past. 

Annie [00:04:27] Yeah. So it's three months in, but you hadn't met. Had either of you suggested meeting up in real life? 

Anna [00:04:34] Not at that point. He actually disappeared for a couple of weeks, just when you think it's all going really well. And I've always suffered with low self-worth and low self-esteem. And especially after what happened with my- my exes. And then I was like, oh, what have I done wrong? 

Annie [00:04:52] Immediately you put it on you, yeah. 

Anna [00:04:54] It's me, what have I done wrong? And then a couple of weeks later, he suddenly appeared with- just sent me kisses in the messages. And so I was a bit sar- I was trying to be brave and I was a little bit sarcastic in my reply and he chuckled and he liked it. 

Annie [00:05:07] So hang on, was there no explanation for him just disappearing for a few weeks. 

Anna [00:05:12] *Laughs* no, and I'd kind of thought, well, that's his choice if he didn't like me and, you know, my initial feeling was somebody else has come along that's better than me, and so suck it up. 

Annie [00:05:22] Yeah. 

Anna [00:05:23] I'd set WhatsApp up on my phone for some reason, and it was a different picture than was on the dating platform, and it was a much nicer picture. And so erm, I sent- I was really brave and I just sent a message saying, that's a- a much nicer picture. And that was it, it went really intense. And within a week we had an agreement to sort of meet up in a week's time. 

Annie [00:05:48] And so what was the meetup and tell me what it was like to see him in real life. 

Anna [00:05:52] It was amazing. So he had already in that three months, sort of set out what a relationship with him would be like because he worked abroad a lot, he told me. Because he was away from his kids, he told me that he had three kids, that the agreement that he had with his ex-wife was that he had- that he would have them at the weekends and that he'd travel back to his parents. So I already knew I wouldn't see him at the weekends, he'd already sort of proved to me he was a devoted dad against my children's father who was useless, and that very much quality over quantity of time was important to him, which I thought was really, really nice. And he then said, I'm not going to be able to get you early, because he was like travelling an hour and 20 minutes to get to me, erm from London. And he said, I won't be able to get there in time to go out for dinner or anything, let me just come for coffee. Let's see how we get on. 

Annie [00:06:46] So he was currently living in London at the time, and you were living where? 

Anna [00:06:51] I'm in Kent. 

Annie [00:06:52] In Kent. 

Anna [00:06:53] And he turned up at my door and the first thing he did was look down and he went, 'I haven't got my- I haven't got my suit jacket on, let me just go and get it' and he disappeared. And then he came back and he went, I didn't want you to think badly of me because I wasn't suited and booted. And I was like, oh, wow, he really cares about what I think about him. And then he came in and he literally scooped me up in his arms, and he kissed me on the forehead and he went, it's so lovely to finally meet you. And he put me down and he came through the house and, as if he had done it every night for 20 years, he took his coat off and his jacket and he just laid them over the back of my dining chairs and followed me into the kitchen. And then he leaned sort of back against the worktop with his legs crossed while I was making the tea, and chatted like it was the most natural thing in the world. And that's what the evening was like. 

Annie [00:07:53] Wow. 

Anna [00:07:54] It was really ama- a really amazing evening. 

Annie [00:07:56] How did you feel after you met him that night, when he left the next day? 

Anna [00:08:01] I was excited. I couldn't believe that, you know, I wasn't disappointed after meeting him! Everything was as wonderful as I'd imagined it would be. You know, he was just this really amazing guy. He- he wasn't materialistic. He wasn't into really fancy this- big fancy watches and all that. Everything about him was kind of as he'd explained so it just felt really nice, it was like wow, I can't believe my luck. After that, the love bombing had really kicked in. 

Annie [00:08:31] And what does that mean, love bombing? 

Anna [00:08:34] So love bombing is where they don't let themselves be out of your thoughts. So they are constantly messaging, making sure you're thinking about them. With Anthony, he was very possessive. He was really possessive. And he would say to me all the time, 'where's my woman?' and, 'you're mine, your heart belongs to me'. And for someone who suffers with low self-esteem, to have someone that was that into you was a really secure feeling. Over the next few months, he would sudden- he would surprise me and say, how do you feel about me coming tonight? And I was like, *excitedly* yeah!! Because any extra time that I got to see him was amazing. 

Annie [00:09:19] So how often would you see him? 

Anna [00:09:21] I used to see him a couple of times a week, sometimes three times a week. 

Annie [00:09:26] What was the nature of the stays? Were they always overnight? Would he come stay over- 

Anna [00:09:30] A couple of days- 

Annie [00:09:31] Just night times, or? 

Anna [00:09:33] He used to come straight after work, and then he would stay and then go in the mornings. 

Annie [00:09:38] Got you. Did the kids meet him? 

Anna [00:09:40] Yeah. Both my kids met him because he'd asked me to marry him. 

Annie [00:09:43] When? 

Anna [00:09:44] But after- it was about four weeks after we'd met in person. 

Annie [00:09:48] He asked you to marry him?! 

Anna [00:09:49] Yeah. 

Annie [00:09:50] That's huge. 

Anna [00:09:52] Yeah I know! 

Annie [00:09:52] How did he ask?! And what did you say?! 

Anna [00:09:55] I said yeah. I wasn't married to my children's father, we were together for ten years. But he wanted to get married and so I said yeah. And erm, on the Facebook profile when I found it, there were likes for wedding venues and things like that on it, so it was like my God he is serious. You know, he's actually looking at places that we might get married. 

Annie [00:10:20] And did you check out his friends and his family on Facebook? 

Anna [00:10:23] Couldn't see. It was private in that respect so I couldn't see any of that. 

Annie [00:10:28] How far into the relationship were you before things started to change and feel maybe not quite as you, you wanted them to. 

Anna [00:10:38] Over Christmas, for example, I didn't see him for like five weeks, and he did say that he used to get a lot of time off at Christmas because of the nature of his work and that he was spending it with his kids, and I had to accept that. It was longer than I thought and I was messaging with him over Christmas but it was quiet, and part of me was saying, oh, it's family time, but then there was part of me had little niggles. And I was trying to be brave and set boundaries about what was acceptable to me and what wasn't after the amazing sort of couple of months that we'd had. I said to my neighbour, I think I'm going to finish it with him, I don't really think he's that serious about me and she went, oh that's a shame, you seem to be getting on so well. And then he came just after my birthday. I hadn't said anything at that point, and he just came up behind me and put his arms around me and he whispered in my ear and he went, you never guess what happened over Christmas. And I was like, what? And he went, you know that film that we watched, The Grey? And I was like, yeah. He went, well, it came on, and when it came on I went, 'oh, this is the film that I watch with An-'... And he said the family were there and they went, who's Anna? Because he hadn't told them about me, supposedly. And so he said they- I ended up telling them about you. And I was like *gasps*, *whispers* what do they think about you dating a white girl? *Laughing* because I ---.

Annie [00:11:57] Right. Yeah, yeah. 

Anna [00:11:59] And he went, they're just really happy if I'm happy. And he said, but mum said that it'd be really nice to meet you in the summer because there's a big family wedding, and you can come and meet everyone and I'm going to have to teach you a few words of Hindi because uncle's going to be there and- 

Annie [00:12:12] Yeah, yeah. 

Anna [00:12:13] And all of those doubts just went *blows air* gone. He is serious about me, gone. And it was almost like he could re- he could read me like a book. 

Annie [00:12:22] Yeah. 

Anna [00:12:24] Read me like a book. 

Annie [00:12:25] And he knew just what to say to- to-

Anna [00:12:27] He knew exactly what to say to me. 

Annie [00:12:28] convey commitment, yeah. 

Anna [00:12:28] Yes. And so after that, we then started making sort of more plans about going away for a weekend, for a first weekend. And then it was about six weeks later, he came one night and his face was just- just really sad. And I said, like, what on earth's the matter?! What's wrong? And he went, erm, we've been waiting to hear, but I've erm, just found out for sure mum's been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and he was so upset, and I was devastated for him. And he went through all the symptoms in great detail. Now, my great aunt had died of ovarian cancer, and he went through all the treatments that she was going to have, private treatment at Nuffield, all of this, and he said, 'I just really don't want you to leave me, I can't do this without you'. And I was like, why on earth would I leave you? And he went, because it means that our plans might have to change. And all of this would have been really, really devastating had any of it been true. And what I now know, he didn't even speak to his mum. He doesn't speak to his mum. And this was all just one of those trauma bonding- 

Annie [00:13:35] Yeah. 

Anna [00:13:36] Which is another process that these kind of abusers put you through to keep me close and to make me compliant. 

Annie [00:13:42] What changing plans were they? What was he suggesting in terms of- 

Anna [00:13:45] We were in the midst of planning to go away for a weekend. 

Annie [00:13:49] Sure. 

Anna [00:13:49] Which was something we hadn't done before, and it would have meant the kids knowing more about us and everything. And of course, what that did was mean that he didn't have to- 

Annie [00:13:58] Commit to that. 

Anna [00:13:59] Yeah. And then there was also, as the relationship was going on, if there was going to be talk about meeting each other's families, that was knocked on the head because I was never going to pressurise someone whose mum and family were dealing with that kind of trauma. So it was all very clever in the timing and, and what he'd said. So we went on, things went on. He was still coming here the same amount of time, but was updating me on his mum's health and everything that was going on. And then it was literally to the day, our six month anniversary in person and I'd been really poorly, I'd had a chest infection and he left the morning after our anniversary, and he said that he'd be coming back tonight. And then in the day he phoned me to say that he'd started feeling poorly and he thought it was, erm he'd got what I had and so he was going to stay up in London, and I was, of course, just get your strength back, blah, blah, blah. Little did I know, that was the last time I'd ever see him. It was not long after that that Brexit happened and because of his job working abroad, you know, in Europe, that was a real big issue. And he'd said that his mum's health had taken a turn for the worse. 

Annie [00:15:17] So you were still chatting all this time. 

Anna [00:15:20] Yeah, yeah! And it got to the point where I said to him, look, please don't stress- because he was, he was stressing about not coming to see me and I actually was the one that turned around and said to him, look, don't stress yourself out. You know, I know it's a long journey to get here and you need to have all your strength for your mum and your boys. So let's just keep chatting on phone calls or texts or whatever, and then you've got the energy for them. So the months were passing and we had the summer holidays and I'd- I think because I wasn't seeing him in person, that hold that he had over me had started to dwindle. 

Annie [00:15:55] How long was that period when you were just chatting? 

Anna [00:15:59] Another five months. Five times over that five months I gave him an out, not because I wanted to, but I was starting to feel those gut instincts that were telling me something wasn't right. 

Annie [00:16:11] Right, yeah. 

Anna [00:16:12] And so I was sort of saying to him, you know, if it'd be easier just to leave things for now and when you're feeling happier and things are sorted, we could get back together and-

Annie [00:16:22] Yeah. 

Anna [00:16:22] Every time I asked him, he would flip at me. 'This is just a difficult phase we're going through, I can't do this without you, you can't leave me' and he would not let me go. So I stayed and he knew that I would, because in that whole grooming period at the beginning I'd said to him, I don't give up on people. 

Annie [00:16:41] Right. 

Anna [00:16:42] You know, and he knew that I needed to be needed. And so he knew exactly what to do to keep me. It had become unbearable. The nauseous feeling of worry, what's going on? The paranoia had well and truly kicked back in because of what happened with me, with my childrens father. 

Annie [00:16:59] So you were paranoid that he was seeing someone else? 

Anna [00:17:02] I was. 

Annie [00:17:02] Got you. 

Anna [00:17:03] Yeah, I was. And so I set up my profile on Tinder again and at that point it was still attached to Facebook. So I set it up - because it's attached to Facebook it had my age, it had my name, and it had where I was. And all I did was swap out the picture, just a random picture online and literally within 20 swipes, there was that original picture. 

Annie [00:17:31] And what were you looking for here? You were looking for evidence of him seeing other people or looking for dates, basically? 

Anna [00:17:36] Seeing if he was still on because he'd said that- we'd both said that when we eventually met, that that was- 

Annie [00:17:42] You'd kind of come off dating apps? 

Anna [00:17:43] That was it. Yeah. That was it. 

Annie [00:17:44] Got it. 

Anna [00:17:45] I then, when I found it obviously my heart sank. I felt so sick and I messaged him because we were still chatting. 

Annie [00:17:55] Right. 

Anna [00:17:55] So he told me he was away at that point and he was in Germany, and I messaged him on WhatsApp and I said, I need to talk to you. And I said, I'm not doing this over text, you need to phone me. And he did the whole as he did, 'darling what's wrong? You're worrying me. Is it your health? Is it your parents? Please tell me, you're scaring me'. I said I'm not doing this over text message, blah, blah. And he said, right, I'm leaving the table, and he phoned me. So I explained what was going on and he said, 'I don't understand this, I deleted the app from my phone, it should be deleted!'. And lucky for him, not for me, I'd literally read an article two weeks before where it said people are getting caught out like that, that they thought that if they deleted the app from the phone, that it deleted the profile, and it doesn't. So then again, there it was. Problem solved. 

Annie [00:18:42] Okay. 

Anna [00:18:44] But he's gone radio silent and I literally didn't hear anything from him for two days. 

Annie [00:18:49] Okay, after that. And how did that make you feel? 

Anna [00:18:53] *Emphasises* obviously, now I'm in turmoil because I've challenged him over it... Have I made him, you know, 'that's it'. 

Annie [00:19:02] Yeah. Cross, and run. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. 

Anna [00:19:05] I was- just felt so sick. And I'd removed the app from my phone again, so I put it back on my phone. And as it sprung to life on my phone, it came up with 'you've got a match'. And then, 'you've got a message'. 

Annie [00:19:19] And this is you, as in with the stock picture of someone, a complete stranger. Okay. 

Anna [00:19:24] And I opened up my messages and it was his profile and it said, 'hi, Anna. Let me make a start. My name's Anthony, where are you based?', and it was the exact same message that he'd sent me 14 months before. 

[00:19:52] *Short musical interlude* 

Anna [00:19:52] I messaged back and I said, ahh so err, are you new to this or have you been online dating for a long time? And he said, oh no, I'm new to this. I'm divorced for about 15 months, just starting out on the dating scene, not really sure what I make of all this yet. And I went ahh, what about your ex then? And he started talking about his ex-wife, saying that she was a drug addict and stuff like that. This was not what he'd said to me. 

Annie [00:20:23] Yeah. 

Anna [00:20:24] Everything seemed a lot more in-your-face. Within a very short amount of time, now bearing in mind it had been 3 or 4 weeks we'd chatted, he wanted a phone number to get off the app. And of course, I didn't have another number. 

Annie [00:20:38] And at no point did he realise that he was speaking to someone with the same name?! And he'd also known that you'd gone back on and found him, so he must have known that you would be under a fake profile? So he's not really being very careful here? 

Anna [00:20:53] No. And that should give you a clue as to how prevalent and predatory he was being on these dating apps. I didn't know at the time, obviously. So I went and borrowed my dad's phone to set up WhatsApp on my dad's phone because he's old- he's 80 odd and didn't use it, and I messaged him and I said this is my number. So then we started chatting on WhatsApp. And I sat there that night with my phone on one knee and my dad's phone on the other, and I was messaging as both of us and what I noticed very quickly was that the messaging now from him, it sounded sleazy. It was very arrogant and quick moving. And the phone calls that we'd had over time were now being left in voice messages on the app. And he just, his voice sounded sleazy. It was just the horriblist thing. 

Annie [00:21:49] So this is his messages to you, thinking you are not the same Anna, as the new Anna. 

Anna [00:21:55] Yeah. 

Annie [00:21:55] Okay, so he acted like a completely different person around this new person? 

Anna [00:21:59] Yeah, it wasn't the, the nice, warm, genuine guy. It was this- it just sounded really horrible. And then he asked for more pictures and of course I didn't have any. So I then sent him pictures of me on that chat *Annie gasps* and, and a picture quote that said- it's that one that says something like, 'if people got paid for being liars, I know some people that would be millionaires'. 

Annie [00:22:26] And what did he say? 

Anna [00:22:28] He sent me something that said, 'I knew it was you'... He didn't. 'I knew it was you' and kisses, and then he blocked me on both. 

Annie [00:22:39] *In disbelief* Wowwww. 

Anna [00:22:39] At that point I just thought I've- I've been played. He's a guy that just, you know has a bit of fun going around- 

Annie [00:22:45] Yeah. 

Anna [00:22:46] So then I started looking up his name, aviation, because he'd never said a particular place that he lived, he just said that his firm had offices all over the country and in Europe, and that's why he used to travel around. So, I could find nothing. And I'm really good at digging, and I could find nothing. 

Annie [00:23:01] Had you ever tried to do that before? 

Anna [00:23:04] I hadn't, because I think of everything that had gone on and I'm not the kind of person that wants to make someone feel uncomfortable by digging around, and why should someone that I've just met tell me exactly where they work and their address and all that kind of stuff? 

Annie [00:23:16] Yeah. 

Anna [00:23:17] So erm, because it had moved very quickly in terms of emotions, I just hadn't felt the need to do that. But now I couldn't find him anywhere. And then a friend said to me, Anna he's been in your house on his own. How do you know- he knows everything about you and you know nothing about him. What if he's, like, gone through your bank stuff while he was there and you're going to find out six months down the line that you've got a loan taken out on your house or whatever. So I started to panic at that point and I thought to myself, if I don't find out who he is now and it goes cold. 

Annie [00:23:54] Yeah. 

Anna [00:23:55] I'm in trouble. And the only solid thing I had about him was his number plate because of the car that he used to drive here in. 

Annie [00:24:01] Okay. 

Anna [00:24:02] So I knew one solid thing about him. 

Annie [00:24:04] Yeah. 

Anna [00:24:06] So over the next six weeks with friends, we made more profiles. They made some, I made some, and we thought if we can match with them enough and try and get different bits of information out of him, I might be able to work out who he is. So it suddenly became very apparent that he was VERY easy to match with, and every time I matched with him I was getting different bits of information out of him. Are you married? Where do you work? What's your offices? And he was always very evasive, but the grooming was still very much there. 'Don't you think it's a bit odd to be asking someone that you've not met those kinds of questions?', all of this- again putting the bad back on you. 

Annie [00:24:46] Yeah. 

Anna [00:24:47] Because of the matches, I was then tracking his location or the- the distance he was. And using- I've got a ridiculously good memory for detail and so- 

Annie [00:24:56] My God, Anna, you're getting so Miss Marple here. I'm loving it, *Anna laughs* you're going full detective. 

Anna [00:25:02] I am like that. And that should tell you how good he was at what he did, because I am like this normally. So erm, yeah, I was tracking and knowing that he told me that they had offices in Canary Wharf, one night when he was on the phone he said he was just going to come through the Blackwall Tunnel on his way to me so if it cut out, that's why, so I knew that there was something there. So it was one November night, I just said to a friend, I'm going that way. We had a match with him at that time, we didn't know whether we were gonna go in the right direction or not but I just said, I'm going that way. I'm going to- I'm going to head that way to Blackwall Tunnel. So we went and sure enough, the miles on that match were coming down as we went. And we then got to the Blackwall Tunnel and there was a sign for an airport. 

Annie [00:25:51] London City Airport. 

Anna [00:25:53] It is, yeah. So I looked at that and I was like, that's the one airport he has never mentioned to me ever. And knowing the reverse psychology that he'd used, I said he's there. That's where he is. So we drove in, it's tiny. 

Annie [00:26:13] How long had it been since you'd spoken to him, at this point? 

Anna [00:26:16] So since I caught him out, it had been six weeks since I'd last talked to him. We pulled into the car park, and as we came back round the barrier, suddenly in front of me was this car with a number plate on it that was exactly the same, all bar the last digit. And I was like, oh my God, that can't be a coincidence can it?And we drove round and parked with one row of cars in front of us, and within five minutes he walked down the steps of the office block. I know now that that was almost a duplicate private plate, and that was actually his wife's car with the number plate very, very similar. 

Annie [00:26:58] I see. Okay. 

Anna [00:27:00] You can imagine, he then walked down the steps and my friend said that you could hear my heart beating on the other side of the car. So we then went on LinkedIn and started looking for employees and then this profile, picture-less profile came up on LinkedIn and I looked at the name and I said, that's him. 

Annie [00:27:19] And how did you know it was him by the name? Was it the same name? 

Anna [00:27:22] No, but he had lengthened his first name, and he had shortened his last name.  

Annie [00:27:29] Okay. So it was an interpolation of his- *stutters* yeah, yeah. 

Anna [00:27:32] Of his name, yeah. And then we looked that name up and there was one picture of him online and it was a corporate picture, a black and white image from about 10, 15 years ago. 

Annie [00:27:46] What did you do next? 

Anna [00:27:50] Ermm, I- at the verge of needing to get myself back together because I was shaking from head to foot, then spent two weeks investigating him to the point that I think I knew more about him than he knew about himself. And I'm also a family historian, and I know how to use all of the public records that are available to us. But I could then build a picture of exactly what had been going on. And the 335km at the weekends was where he was actually at home with his wife. I, yeah, I needed to know what had been true, what wasn't true, and then after him never agreeing to meet when I was ready, I then sent him a text message with his real name on it. 

Annie [00:28:36] Right. 

Anna [00:28:37] To let him know that I knew who he was. 

Annie [00:28:38] Yeah. 

Anna [00:28:38] And I met him the next day. 

[00:28:40] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:28:50] First of all... wow! I am so impressed at the work that you did to go that far. It all feels like it's culminating in this moment when you sit down opposite him. 

Anna [00:29:02] Mmmm. 

Annie [00:29:02] What happened? 

Anna [00:29:05] So, they say don't they that the best way to deal with a liar is to go armed, knowing the answers to the questions. I didn't obviously know the answers to everything, but I thought if he thought I had the answers to everything, he would be more likely to tell the truth. He sat there a bit stunned. I don't think he ever thought anyone had the intelligence to do *holding in laugh* what I was doing! No one had ever, obviously ever caught him out before. 

Annie [00:29:30] So did you lay down the facts in front of him? Did you start? 

Anna [00:29:32] I did, yeah. 

Annie [00:29:33] Yeah and say, this is- this is everything I know, this is who you are. Like, I know it all? 

Anna [00:29:37] Or I asked him questions and then when he gave me the answer, if he lied I went, I don't think that's true. And then I gave him the evidence. 

Annie [00:29:43] Right.  

Anna [00:29:44] Yeah. So he kind of then knew. And when I said about how long have you been doing this for? He said, I haven't, you're the first person that I've ever done this to. And I said, so why were your pictures on this other dating app from years ago? And then he went *gasps*, well, I had, a couple of one night stands that I was using those for, but I'd never, ever had a relationship like I created with you, with someone else. The thing that I asked him not to do at the end of it was to ever do that to anyone again, because I had been on the verge of suicide when I found out, because of my past experiences and how this guy had made me feel. Erm sor- *holds back tears* I still get emotional over it seven years down the line.

Annie [00:30:28] *Reassuringly soft* I'm not surprised, I'm not surprised. 

Anna [00:30:32] *Sniffs sharply* So yeah, I just said to him, please don't ever do that to anyone again because if they haven't got a support network around them like I had or children to ground them, you could end up with a suicide on your hands, and I don't want that for anyone. And I don't want it for you. 

Annie [00:30:48] And what did he say? 

Anna [00:30:50] He said he wouldn't. 

Annie [00:30:52] Were you worried, by the way, for your safety at any point? 

Anna [00:30:57] Ermm, he had never shown any aggressive nature and part of me actually thought that he was a bit of a coward at heart. 

Annie [00:31:07] Yeah. 

Anna [00:31:08] You know, and that- I didn't feel that he would be violent. And and that was kind of it until just before my birthday- well, no, it was the day before my birthday.

Annie [00:31:21] Which was how- how much after that confrontation? 

Anna [00:31:23] About four weeks. 

Annie [00:31:24] Okay. 

Anna [00:31:26] I'd been, you know, told- friends had said to me, you know the likelihood is that he's been doing this a lot, and I said I know, that I didn't have proof again, and it was only then that my male friend that had actually been talking to him as an air stewardess *laughs*. 

Annie [00:31:42] Yeah. 

Anna [00:31:43] He thought he was talking to, ermm-

Annie [00:31:46] *Laughs*hang on, so just to make this clear, your male friend was pretending to be an air stewardess on a on a fake profile in order to talk to him? 

Anna [00:31:52] Yeah. 

Annie [00:31:52] Okay, got you. 

Anna [00:31:53] Yeah, to get more information out of him. 

Annie [00:31:53] I love a- I love all your friends, by the way, rallying round. 

Anna [00:31:56] I know! They were- they were great. Yeah, they were great. 

Annie [00:31:59] Also playing him at his own game, which is- 

Anna [00:32:02] It kind of was. Yeah. And he'd got screenshots of when WhatsApp messages had come through. 

Annie [00:32:08] Right. 

Anna [00:32:09] And it was then that I had the proof that the phone that he was using was dedicated to his fake identity as well. So this guy had a full set of fake social media. He had fake emails with his name. He had fake Skype accounts with this fake name, and the phone was dedicated to his fake life. When I had proof there were other victims, I then went to the police and I said, look, I know who this guy is and he's using dating apps to exploit women. And he's married, you know, and it's really horrible what he's- what he's doing, and they kind of laughed at me and said, I mean your boyfriend lied to us, what do you want us to do about it? And I was like, he wasn't my boyfriend in any way, shape or form. He was just using me for his own self-gratification. 

Annie [00:32:55] And it can't be underestimated, you know, you had a- it's invasive to say, but can I say that you had a sexual relationship with him? 

Anna [00:33:01] Yeah, absolutely! 

Annie [00:33:01] So you were having sex with this guy under a complete false identity? 

Anna [00:33:06] Absolutely. 

Annie [00:33:06] This is sex by deception. Like that is- 

Anna [00:33:08] Yeah. 

Annie [00:33:09] That's a crime in my book. Is it a crime by law? I don't know. 

Anna [00:33:13] Well, this is where I ended up splitting the legal field, because when I started reading the consent legislation I was like, well this clearly falls under consent and I don't like saying rape because we have this image of rape being violent don't we? 

Annie [00:33:29] Yes we do. 

Anna [00:33:30] And it wasn't. 

Annie [00:33:30] Yeah. 

Anna [00:33:31] But if you read the consent legislation, it's split into two parts and it says person A has to have the freedom and capacity to choose to consent, and person B has to believe that person A consented. Now there is absolutely no way, with the level of deception that this guy was using, that I could have made genuine, informed consent. And he knew that had he told me the truth, that I would not have consented. Which is why in the 14 months that we were together, he never told me one iota of the reality of the relationship that he had created or his intention for me. So for me, it was really clear but the police weren't having any of it. So I then set up a petition to make this clear in law, and that's got, I think about 53,000 signatures on it at this point so it's clearly a public interest matter. 

Annie [00:34:37] Yes, yes. 

Anna [00:34:38] There's also part of me that thinks it's the kind of person you are, whether you don't see it under legislation or not, because a lot- some lawyers just turn round and say, well it's not under consent legislation at all because you've consented to the act, whatever. 

Annie [00:34:54] Yeah but that's- that's separating the act from the emotional motivation, which you cannot do. 

Anna [00:34:59] And the decision making! Which is- 

Annie [00:35:01] Yes, you can't do that. 

Anna [00:35:02] It's- you can't. And others saying, well this should clearly fall under consent legislation and actually, before it was updated in 2003, there was a separate legal offence called sex by deception. But then when it was updated in 2003, that kind of got brushed under the umbrella of consent and disappeared. 

Annie [00:35:25] Which is bizarre in our current climate, which is- where this is so prolific and so rife. Surely they should be spending more time in trying to really pinpoint these things and highlight them.

Anna [00:35:36] Absolutely! Yeah, absolutely. So I- my hope was that we could get this pinned under that, and then a local journalist at a local paper had said that he would promote my petition, so I did a story.

Annie [00:35:50] And also, just to get back to how this was all feeling, like suddenly you're going public, you're making this whole thing, you're telling the world about what happened to you. How did you feel about doing that? And what were the reactions that you received upon people hearing about your story, initially? 

Anna [00:36:07] It was really, really scary because I HATE being in the spotlight. I absolutely hate it. But I knew there were other victims and that makes me fight. And I didn't know who they were or how many there were at that point but I knew that there was someone, I just didn't want anyone else getting caught up in the same thing because it was so damaging. So I did that little bit with my local paper and they did say it might generate a bit of interest. Well, I had no idea how big it was going to go. At the end of that week, the Daily Mail had published a story. That's when the first woman come forward. He was actually seeing her when I challenged him in person, so he was already involved with someone else at that point. She didn't know what the hell was going on. 

Annie [00:37:00] And how did she know that he was the same person as your person. 

Anna [00:37:04] Because of that picture that was on the dating app. 

Annie [00:37:06] So you were allowed to publish that? That was published- 

Anna [00:37:08] I published that. Yeah. And the fake name. 

Annie [00:37:12] How many other people came forward in the end?

Anna [00:37:15] Over the next couple of years, 17 of us I know of. And within that 17, two aggressive rapes, a sexual assault, and then sex by deception. He didn't meet everybody that he targeted, but three quarters of us he did. 

Annie [00:37:31] Why do you think he was doing this? 

Anna [00:37:34] So it appears that he's been doing this for a long, long time. The first victim, timeline wise I know of, it would have been back in 2007. Early on is where the aggressive rapes happened and then his behaviour evolved. I'm not in his head, so I can't say exactly but I get the feeling that he- he wasn't particularly happy in his marriage. His wife was *emphasis* incredibly intelligent and a massive entrepreneur. She had businesses all over the place, and I think that he felt very intimidated. 

Annie [00:38:13] What about, you know, everyone has a story they tell themselves as a way to justify their own behaviour. That's a guess, an educated guess at his circumstances. How do you think he justified it to himself? 

Anna [00:38:26] I don't think he did justify it to himself. I think when I ended up seeing a therapist because of what had happened to me, and she told me to go and research narcissists and psychopaths, and it was when I started reading up about them that it started opening my eyes as to how he'd done what he did. But she also said to me, these people don't have emotions. He wouldn't feel anything for what he did, it's just he would feel what he's entitled to do, you know? 

Annie [00:38:54] So he did it because he could. 

Anna [00:38:56] Because he could. And as much as sex was a huge part of it for him- he was quite clearly a sex addict, ermm I think having the power and control over us through the deception was as much of a kick for him as the sex. 

[00:39:11] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:39:21] Anna, you say this happened seven years ago, how has it changed you? 

Anna [00:39:29] It changed me in a very big way, that I used to very much trust my own instincts and now I- I trust myself with other people, trusting myself for myself in respects to a romantic partner, I've got none. I've got absolutely none and I haven't- I haven't had a relationship since. I could not put myself through that again because I'd already had bad past relationships that he knew of, and he used that very much. And I could not put myself through it again. But I've always been that personality type that I will fight my socks off for other people *laughs*. And so it was- it was then that I set up my website, when I'd started to understand what had happened to me in the context of romance fraud, albeit this kind of romance fraud is a bit different, I set up my website and put everything that I'd learned about these people, what to look out for on the profiles, the love bombing journey and the, you know, the grooming, trauma bonding that goes on. Coercive control had just come out in law at that time, the police still don't know how to use it the majority of the time but there was very much coercive and controlling behaviours with the manipulations that went on. Very quickly I started getting loads and loads of emails from people with similar experiences to me. But then I started getting emails from people where it was clear that the motive was financial. But what had hit me hardest was when they were sending me their text messages from their scammers, that the messages had almost paralleled mine. So that manipulation that they had been put through before they handed over money- 

Annie [00:41:13] Was exactly the same. 

Anna [00:41:14] Was exactly the same! 

Annie [00:41:15] The only difference was he didn't ask for money. It wasn't about- it wasn't financial for him. 

Anna [00:41:20] For him it wasn't money, for them it was. 

Annie [00:41:22] It was, yeah. 

Anna [00:41:23] So I had immediate empathy. I knew why they'd done what they did. I knew the pain they were going through because it's a real mind bender when you're put through that kind of manipulation. So I thought to myself, *sighs* I've never heard of these kind of romance scammers but surely I can help. And then I found groups where these scammers were training each other, and I started hiding out in their groups and finding out all the tools they were using, the tips, the tricks, the new updates that they had. So then I started pages across social media, and I was uploading all this information into posts and when I was getting victims come with the pictures that the scammers were using, I was making posts on those so they showed on reverse searches so that people-. 

Annie [00:42:08] Woooow. 

Anna [00:42:08] Yeah. So it's at a point now where I help between 75 and 100 victims a week-

Annie [00:42:19] *under her breath* What! 

Anna [00:42:19] Across the globe. And I'm very humbled to say that I'm considered a subject matter expert now, because my level of knowledge about the typical romance frauds is quite big. 

Annie [00:42:33] In this period of kind of learning and becoming, slowly becoming someone that people go to for help, you then decided to make a change to make this official and start an organisation called Love Said. Can you tell us what that is please? 

Anna [00:42:47] Yes. As soon as my case had stopped being investigated, I was then asked to do a romance fraud webinar. And it was on the Romance fraud webinar that I met Cecilie Fjellhøy, who is a victim of the Tinder Swindler. 

Annie [00:42:59] So it's a very famous Netflix documentary that came out. 

Anna [00:43:03] Yeahhh. 

Annie [00:43:03] And she was one of his victims, yeah. 

Anna [00:43:05] And she said to me, what are your sort of aspirations and goals for the future? And that's when Love Said was born, and it's been an absolute privilege to be invited to some really prestigious fraud events, and we got invited to the House of Commons last year to talk on the Fraud Select Committee. Yeah, it's really lovely. And now we go to- we get invited to police conferences to help train the police and understand about victims journeys and why- 

Annie [00:43:34] Ah! Bloody brilliant. 

Anna [00:43:34] Yeah, it's- it's a real honour to be able to do it and as as much as people are down on the police, I have to say that in the last, the last year, there has been a real uptick in, you know, more police getting involved, more police understanding.

Annie [00:43:51] Well I presume they have to because the amount of people are increasing. 

Anna [00:43:55] It's huge, yeah. 

Annie [00:43:56] Let me ask you this Anna, like erm, what are the most common misconceptions when it comes to romance fraud, and romance- victims of romance fraud? 

Anna [00:44:06] Well, the classic things that we always hear, don't we, are that victims are naive, gullible and stupid. It's an old women crime, if you lost your money, that's your fault kind of thing. So first of all, there's a misconception about what fraud actually is in these respects because although seemingly victims willingly hand money over, when it's being done on the back of being deceived as to why, it's fraud. People see- the lack of understanding about that is quite mind blowing. Also, there's a misconception about who gets defrauded, and it's only because it's older women that tend to report it to authorities, so that 8000 cases, the majority of those will have been older women. 

Annie [00:44:53] And men are equal frauded, right, but just don't talk about it? 

Anna [00:44:57] They don't talk about it. 

Annie [00:44:58] Their's a shame element there, yeah. 

Anna [00:44:59] Exactly! It's a definite erm, a definite split with pride with the men. But Lloyds Bank bought out data last year to show in statistics that it was 53% of men, against 47% of women. And then if we come another step back to surveys, which are completely anonymous, we're actually seeing that it's Gen-Z that are targeted most rather than older people. And indeed, that backs up for me, the victims that I get where my youngest has been a 16 year old lad, right up to an 80 year old woman. 

Annie [00:45:38] Wow. 

Anna [00:45:38] Yeah, it's right across the board. So they're really huge misconceptions that we've got. And the other thing is that people are stupid, naive and gullible. Well, the one thing that victims do have in common is that they are kind, respectful, trustworthy. They are all those qualities that we really want in people in our daily lives. 

Annie [00:45:57] Can I offer empathy as well? It feels like if you have people who have a large amount of empathy and feeling for other people- 

Anna [00:46:03] Yeah, and that's probably the biggest quality that all victims have, it's that empathy quality. And they are absolutely the kind of qualities we want in human beings that are around us in our daily lives. Yet when this, this fraud gets hold of them, and it's those qualities that, in effect, allow that to happen to them, their what we get trolled about. So, you know, that's- so the kind and the empathy gets turned into naive and gullible. 

Annie [00:46:36] What would you say to someone who would approach you and say, that would never happen to me, I just wouldn't, I just- 

Anna [00:46:42] They're most at risk. They're most at risk because when people have got that attitude, it means that they really don't understand the process of romance fraud, or the sophistication. The police will chuck out in the short little journalist articles, 'these scams are very sophisticated', but it doesn't really mean anything to people unless you actually see how sophisticated they are. And that's what I show police and people at fraud conferences. And especially today with the AI that's available, we have got deepfake video calls that go on, voice cloning, you know, things like ChatGPT that create- they get rid of all those grammar mistakes that there might be a in text from people overseas that are doing these crimes. So it's making them almost undetectable. 

Annie [00:47:35] If someone's listening and they are regular people who date online on apps, what can they be looking out for and what are the warning signs, in your opinion, of a scammer or a fraudster? 

Anna [00:47:47] So, the majority will want to get you off of the app that you're on for a start, fairly quickly. 

Annie [00:47:54] Quite quickly, yeah. 

Anna [00:47:55] That's because they know there's potential, whether it's on social media or a dating app, that that profile might get reported and taken down and they don't want to lose those contacts. You will get those words -genuine, honest, loyal, that kind of thing. The overloving. There are particular professions that those romance scammers tend to stick to. Military is huge, military and oil rig. 

Annie [00:48:18] Anything that keeps them away and moving and having a nomadic lifestyle. 

Anna [00:48:22] Absolutely. They will have created fake bank accounts, for example, where they will give the victim the login details and the victim will log in and see what appears like a real bank account, because they clone real bank accounts. They want the victim to see that there's a lot of money in that account. They will then say, I've had a message from my bank because I've got you to log in from somewhere that's not normal, I can't get back into it. And then the victim- they'll say, can you go and try and log back into it? So the victim will go and try and then there'll be a fake notification that comes up saying accounts been blocked for suspicious activity, you know, please contact such and such. And it's at that point that the scammer would then say, look, you know I've got the money but an emergency has come up, I need X amount of money to finish this contract or I'm not going to get paid. Is there any way that you can, you know, help me out with a loan? You've seen the money's there, you know I can pay you back. You know, it's all very, very... Clever. 

Annie [00:49:24] And it's important to say as well that a lot of scammers would have other pe- there will be other people in the periphery of them. So it might be that you speak to their brother, or you speak to their, you know- 

Anna [00:49:33] Absolutely. 

Annie [00:49:35] So it's not just a one person affair, a lot of the time they work as gangs, right? 

Anna [00:49:38] They absolutely do. So, I mean, scammers can be newbies working with a couple of friends, they can be in middle size groups or they can be part of huge organised crime. But whatever the situation, the victim is never just talking to one identity. There will be a whole group of people in that scenario. It could be a child, it could be a colleague, it could be a lawyer. If it's the military, it could be their commander or some of their- their friends. So they will surround the victim. And what a lot of people don't know is that there are potential unconnected people that have befriended them as well and that's where that grooming is going on. So the victim could be in contact with people where they're asking the questions, so that when that initial contact is made with the one they want to get them to fall in love with, they already know all the things that that victim likes, and that's how that soulmate connection is created. 

Annie [00:50:31] Riiiight. 'My favourite dog is a Dachshund too', or 'I support that football team' or I- yeah, all that. 

Anna [00:50:37] Or those bad past experiences that people can- A lot of them will often say, parents have died, they're an orphan, the wife- I call it the four C's, has either died of cancer, in a car crash, cheated, or there's another one- or died in childbirth. So there's the C's. They often say about the wife and then it's just them and the child left. So the child is often living with someone else. In the main, that's how those stories sort of play out. 

Annie [00:51:09] So if you're listening, alarm bells for any of those things Anna just said. 

Anna [00:51:13] And also get- get a friend to check over a profile with you because it's- it's always good to have a fresh pair of eyes. But if anything, even if it's not those kind of romance fraudsters and it's one like mine, anything that moves really quickly and feels like that dreamy Disney soulmate connection that we all hanker after, I'd run a mile because whether it's a narcissist like mine doing what mine was doing or it's a romance scammer that's going to have your heart and your money, you don't want to be anywhere near them *laughs*. 

Annie [00:51:45] Annna, please can I say thank you on behalf of everyone you've helped and everyone who you will continue to help. 

Anna [00:51:52] Ahh, thank you. 

Annie [00:51:52] You've been through such a huge thing and the fact that you've managed to turn around your experience into something positive and philanthropic and, you know, so constructive in terms of making change, it's just- it's so inspiring so thank you so much. 

Anna [00:52:07] Thank you. 

Annie [00:52:08] Well, we'll put the links to all of the things, to Catch a Catfish, to Love Said, on our show notes for anyone who wants to go and find out more about Anna. And of course, your social media as well. Thank you. 

Anna [00:52:18] Thank you so much. 

Annie [00:52:23] If you enjoy Changes, please do rate, review and subscribe to the podcast. Share it with your friends and family, go on social media, tell everyone about it, tag me Annie Macmanus, I always love to see how you react to these episodes and it's just so helpful to be seen and to be shared by you lot, so thank you so much if you do. There's a whole catalogue of episodes to listen to. If you have missed any at all, go back and check 'em out and we'll be back next week. Changes is produced by Louise Mason with assistant production from Anna de Wolff Evans. See you next time!