Stuart McGurk in The New Statesman: hen Detective Constable Rebecca Mason first visited the Hertfordshire flat of Alan Baldwin in November 2020, months after lockdowns had begun and each of our worlds had shrunk, it was to break the news that the person he was in love with did not exist.
Police officers are often the last to know when someone is being conned. A worried son might spot unusual payments on his elderly father’s bank statement. A concerned friend will do a reverse-image search on a suspiciously good-looking dating-app match. A fraudster will run out of excuses as to why they can’t meet. A horrible realization will dawn and a report will be filed.
But Mason was developing something of a specialism: she had begun tracking down victims before they even knew they were victims, locating fraudsters before anyone had reported a fraud. As she and a colleague sat at Baldwin’s dining room table, which was covered with assorted paperwork, they explained what had brought them to him.
The first lead had come three years earlier, when Mason was investigating her first case of “romance fraud”, an increasingly common form of online deception in which a relationship is fostered and then money extracted. The daughter of 63-year-old Sharon Turner had contacted the police after noticing Western Union transfer receipts for large amounts in her mother’s London home. At first Turner had denied all knowledge; then she had borrowed more from family and friends in order to keep making transfers.
Finally, Turner revealed that she had been sending money to Kevin Churchill, a well-spoken businessman she had met on the mature singles site Wise Owl Dating. Over eight months, Churchill had sent her flowers and professed his love, while requesting ever greater sums, for everything from vet bills to business expenses. They had never met, though they had often spoken on the phone.
The sums were huge – Turner had sent £240,000 in all, though this in itself was not unusual. As Mason looked further into the case, following the money through numerous accounts, she found they led not just to one person, but to a multinational network in which everyone profited from the same fake persona: “Kevin Churchill”. Mason tracked over 40 victims; the money totaled millions. More here.