They say love is blind, and in this tragic case, the expression has never been truer.
An elderly woman, *Wendy has spent four years sending almost R1 million in monthly payments to her boyfriend she believed was in Pollsmore Prison.
“I was swept up in what I thought was a beautiful romance with a man who I fell deeply in love with. I was so happy at a time when other parts of my life had become difficult.”
Not long into their relationship, Wendy was spun a web of lies so convincing to her that she bankrupted herself with money transfers to help her beloved.
“You read about other people being victims of fraud and never think you’ll be so gullible. But here I am. Ashamed, humiliated, and broke.”
Steven* said he had been arrested for money laundering in the Western Cape. He had supposedly been to Europe for a consulting job and had been intercepted at the airport with a suitcase full of Euros.
The ruse was that if she could pay a monthly fee to prison officials that they would hand back the suitcase with the cash on his release from prison. It was on this promise that she parted with her funds as they would be repaid when they were reunited.
“Looking back, I can see how crazy this sounds. He promised me the earth, said he would marry me and I was in love and alone. I held onto his every word. I believed him until even last week. Maybe I’m easier to fool because I am older too.”
He said he had smuggled a cellphone into the prison, which is how they communicated via WhatsApp. Over the years he has had more than 34 different numbers to which she sent money. “The number kept changing but that was because the phone was confiscated or at times, I was also told I was talking to people helping him.”
She says she never went to the Cape because she didn’t have the funds to as her monthly pension money went to keeping him safe and keeping the suitcase safe. “We could not talk on the phone as he was not supposed to have a phone in jail so it was just in WhatsApp messages.”
When asked why she couldn’t pay into a bank account she said it was because there were no banking charges for cash transfers via Pep and other places to a cellphone.
A friend of hers knows an advocate who had a work trip to the Cape recently. He visited the prison to verify if Steven was indeed a prisoner. Unfortunately, he is not, nor ever has he been.
This was the final clue that made Wendy come to her senses and stop the payments despite having some suspicions for some time. “He would just reassure me and make me feel bad if I questioned him. Love is truly blind.”
Wendy has not yet been to the police but she says she will go. “I need to try and get everything together to show what has happened. I need strength for that.”
She says she wants people to know her story so they can be warned against brazen criminals who will go to extraordinary lengths to con people.
“Be absolutely sure of who you give money to, even if it is small amounts. Try to deposit into an actual bank account and get paperwork as proof of expenses. Lastly, be alert and don’t act on emotions, not ever.”
“My friends and family do not know as I am too ashamed. My church does not know the details but they have been helping me so much during this time. I am so grateful to them.”
*Not their real names.
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