This is a true story of how a British man lost most of his life savings in a scam orchestrated by a network of ingenious con artists.
James (not his real name) is a 52-year-old charity worker who lives in the UK.
In 2015, a friend asked him to set up a project which will support children fleeing the conflict zone in Ukraine’s east. James has never worked abroad, and travelling to Ukraine was a new experience, but he took on the voluntary job alongside his current job in the U.K, shuttling back and forth.
He did not understand the Ukraine language so he got a translator to help him get by. After James’s work in Odessa (Ukraine) got to a halt due to the heavy snow, Julia, his translator suggested that he go on a date with her friend, Irina. Irina was a 32-year-old Ukrainian woman who could only communicate in Ukraine. Julia served as an intermediary between James and Irina; translating their words and getting paid up to $150 a day.
When James and Irina were apart, they communicated through the messaging app Viber, which has a translation function.
Their relationship blossomed within months as Irina began to work her magic on James. She told James that she felt trapped in her country, so he promised to take her to the UK, and paid for her to have English classes. But when James discovered that it would take years for Irina to move to UK due to bureaucratic obstacles, he decided to permanently relocate to Ukraine.
He quit his job in UK, sold his house and went house-hunting with Irina. Soon after, Irina and Julia began to nudge him into proposing. At this point, James was in love with Irina, and she had also expressed her love for hum. She revealed to him that she had married twice, and did not want to marry a Ukrainian man again, and also that she did not believe in sex before marriage. So their relationship was purely platonic, and James applauded her decision, thinking it a high moral standard.
James proposed to Irina eleven months after their first date, footing all the expenses of the engagement party. Meanwhile, they were about to pay for the house they had found together, but it was proving tricky, as it was difficult to transfer large sums of money from UK to Ukraine. The apartment cost $200,000.
Irina suggested that James wire the money to Kristina, their wedding planner. James had some misgivings about this, but he went ahead to do it. However, things got more complicated. James was told that the bank would not release the money to him unless he was legally wedded to Kristina.
Irina told him that he could marry Kristina in a court registry which would only take ten minutes; thereafter he would divorce Kristina, and then marry her.
James certainly did not like this arrangement, but Irina threw a tantrum, threatening to call off their wedding if they had no home to move into.
James decided to go through it, and true to their words, the money was released into his account that very afternoon and they were able to buy the house.
The day after marrying Kristina, James wedded Irina. His plan was to do everything apart from the legalities – go ahead with the wedding before sorting out a quick divorce to Kristina and a new legal marriage to Irina. His wedding with Irina took place at Villa Otrada, and the duo recited their vows under an arch of flowers. The reception was packed with Irina’s parents and 60 invited guests, all gorgeously dressed.
That night, James got sick from the drinks at the reception and was taken to a hospital.
Shockingly, Irina refused to see him, saying, he humiliated her in front of her family by getting drunk the previous night.
Later in the week, Irina called James and told him she had an ailment and was in the hospital, but he could not come to see her, because on paper, Kristina was his wife, not her. James then went ahead to send her over $12,000 for the medical costs.
It was this time that Fate mercifully stepped in, and came to the man’s aid.
A Ukrainian approached James and told him that the value of his apartment was not $200,000, but $60,000.
“My heart fell into my boots.” James said.
But more revelations were to follow.
Irina already had a husband, Kristina too, but Kristina had divorced her husband so she could marry James, and after the wedding scam, she married her husband right back. The wedding guests and Irina’s parents that attended the wedding was fake; Irina’s ‘mother’ was actually Julia the translator’s mother.
The $20,000 wedding bill Kristina had given him had been inflated, and that night of the wedding, he was drugged, so he would not consummate the marriage.
James was shattered and devastated. He had been the fly in a web of scam, and had lost two third of his life savings in the process. Somehow James did not sink into depression, he arose and went to report the fraud to Odessa police, and four times he went there, they laughed at his face.
He enlisted the help of one Mr. Papinyan, a private investigator in Ukraine to help him get some of his money while he travelled back to UK. The only thing he has been able to recover so far is the apartment which only cost $60,000.
James has not told family and friends of his ordeal, only the BBC, so his story could serve as a warning to others. The BBC has verified his account of the story, using bank documents, official records, text messages, and interviews with many of those directly involved.
James learnt romance scam the hard, painful way; let’s hope this experience doesn’t scar him for life.
If you think you have been a victim of a romance scam, do not feel ashamed or embarrassed. Contact your bank immediately and report it to Action Fraud.
Racheal Niza-Val is a Nigerian writer and author. She seeks to use her pen to do only three things. Entertain, Educate, and Enthrall.