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Last Updated: Monday, 17 November, 2003, 08:34 GMT
E-mail scam 'ruined my life'

By David Green
BBC News Online, Manchester

Ann is a lot more wary these days when she opens her e-mails. Losing 30,000 to internet fraudsters has made her that way.

Ann travelled to Amsterdam to give the fraudsters 4,700 in cash
She is one of the many victims of cruel e-mail scams which target the compassionate and the greedy.

And the 58-year-old teacher - who will be in debt for the rest of her life - is an example of how this could happen to anybody.

Ann, who lives in the North West, now admits she was foolish to travel to Amsterdam with 4,700 in cash in the belief she was helping the wife of a former president of the Philippines retrieve her stolen fortune.

She said she thought she was helping a victim of "political oppression" and hoped to spend her share of the money - about 3m - on church charities, orphanages and paying off debts.

But she was faced with escalating demands for cash, including a "tax" payment of more than 100,000.

The lady in the Dutch embassy told me she was almost 100% certain that it was fraud - I really had believed that it was true
Ann, who is still too scared of the gang to give her full name, said: "I had done a bit of research at the local library and had checked out the circumstantial details as to what had happened in the Philippines and the details were as the lady outlined.

"Of course I felt sorry for her and I wanted to help her, being the kind of person who helps people who are in trouble of one kind or another."

She agreed to travel to Amsterdam where she would pay a fee to a firm who had been "looking after" the fortune.

But when she arrived and met the gang - a Dutchman and his African associates - she was told she needed to pay a further 23,450 to obtain a certificate to allow her to take the full amount of money out of The Netherlands.

Unable to find the money herself, she persuaded a relative to lend her the cash, which she then transferred to the gang.

But once the money was transferred, she was told she needed to pay an extra 126,000 in "tax".

'Didn't look right'

It was only at this point that she became suspicious.

She said: "I asked them to send me a faxed copy of this tax demand and it was only at that point that I actually realised it didn't look right.

"It didn't look like a British tax demand and I guessed it wouldn't look like a Dutch one either.

"I contacted the Dutch embassy in London and I also spoke to a Dutch lawyer and both of them said it didn't look anything like a Dutch tax demand.

"The lady in the Dutch embassy told me she was almost 100% certain that it was fraud.

Silhouette of woman
It could happen to anybody - it is very plausible
"I had a dreadful day - I really had believed that it was true."

Since then she has had to fight to rebuild her life. Her modest house has been remortgaged so she can start paying back her relative, with whom she admits her relationship has been badly damaged.

She said: "He is not a rich person who could easily afford it. He just lent me everything he had and he has been in very serious difficulties since then.

Warn others

"I feel really bad about it - I hated asking him for money in the first place, but I really did think it would work out for the best for both of us.

"But I can't raise enough to pay him back and it will take me all the rest of my life to pay him back, I should imagine."

She says she holds out little hope of ever retrieving her money or of the police catching the fraudsters who swindled her.

But she said she wanted her experience to serve as a warning to others.

She said: "I just want to warn other people that the documents look very realistic, the phone calls seem realistic and it is as if you are dealing with straightforward people.

"It could happen to anybody - it is very plausible."

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