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Mum-of-four offered the ‘opportunity of a lifetime’, she didn’t stop to think… BIG MISTAKE!

Six weeks ago, into my inbox dropped an email with the name of financial pundit Martin Lewis in the strapline. I wasn’t in the best frame of mind to read about money matters.

I’d just sold the family home after a divorce and was emotionally and physically exhausted. But I’d always trusted and liked Martin Lewis so, whereas I’d usually ignore unsolicited emails like this, I opened it.

And with that click of a mouse began a nightmare which trashed my self-confidence, shredded my nerves and left me more than £20,000 poorer.

Last week, ministers announced a crackdown on ‘misleading adverts for cryptocurrencies’ and my sorry story illustrates the pitfalls perfectly.

Lucy Cavendish, pictured, a mother of four, received an email with ‘Martin Lewis’ written in the subject line, promising her the financial ‘opportunity of a lifetime’

The Financial Conduct Authority also unveiled its forecast for the coming year: a huge rise in crypto fraud — with cases overtaking pandemic-related, parcel-delivery and fixed-rate bond scams, which dominated last year. I am afraid to say that I am already included in those humiliating statistics.

The email was about Bitcoin, a totally unknown world to me. It might just as well have been about Mars.

But according to ‘Martin Lewis’, it said, cash is dead and we could all get rich quick by investing in cryptocurrency. It quoted some ‘real-life’ stories and a blog by a ‘newbie’ investor who had turned £250 to £2,500 in less than a week.

Wow! That sounded good. I read the email three times. It looked totally believable and plausible. (I now know that poor Martin Lewis’s name pops up in financial scams all the time and that this e-mail — of course — had absolutely nothing to do with him.)

All you had to do was click on a link, put up £250 then sit back and let the crypto boom work for you.

It’s important to state that all of this took me way out of my comfort zone. I have never found money particularly interesting. I’m aware that I don’t know enough about it and have never been very good at managing it.

I’m a busy single mother with four children, and I work full-time. It’s a struggle enough to balance the books, let alone think about speculating or investing, and it’s not like I have pots of the stuff just waiting to be magically turned into more.

Yet cryptocurrency had started to seep into my consciousness. At the end of last year, the stories seemed to multiply — of friends, or friends of friends, who’d made a fortune investing in crypto. I wondered if I was a bit blinkered to the easy riches being dangled in front of me.

The temptation was certainly there, even though not long before, I’d lost my life savings in an investment (through a third party) that crashed and burned owing to a combination of Brexit and Covid.

Lucy was in a vulnerable headspace after recently divorcing and selling her family home

Lucy was in a vulnerable headspace after recently divorcing and selling her family home

Clearly, that should have taught me a lesson. But the upshot was I had to sell my home of 21 years and move into rented accommodation. And now — in early December last year — here was a seemingly convincing email telling me I could perhaps recoup some of what I’d lost.

So, reasoning that £250 was not a vast amount of money, I decided to do it. Via the email, I was redirected to a site belonging to a company called TheRoyalFX.com (it also appears to use theroyalfx.io), which looked very professional.

I set up an account, logged in and transferred the money — all very easy and intuitive — and soon a graph opened up with lots of figures and moving green and red lines. I didn’t understand it, but it looked impressive.

I had no idea what would happen next, but a lovely man phoned to tell me. He said his name was Jort Van Meijer and that he was my trader. He gave me his WhatsApp name and number and told me it was a great time to invest in crypto. It didn’t occur to me that such a personal touch might be strange.

I looked up TheRoyalFX online — it had good reviews on Trustpilot — and Jort was even named and described as a ‘pleasure to deal with’. Then he texted me in Dutch. ‘You’re in safe hands,’ he said.

The next day he called again and got me to scroll around my online account, where you could see profits going up and down. He kept on insisting I put aside half an hour for him to explain more. ‘I’m not a trader,’ I said. ‘You’re a trader. Go and trade.’ That seemed to make him happy.

Would I have smelled a rat even if I’d listened to him? Unlikely.

That weekend, at a dinner party, I told my friends I’d invested in crypto. They all looked dubious, but when I got home that night, I clicked into my account and could see, on the graph, that my £250 was now up to £1,000. For once I’d made a good financial decision, I thought! Now, I assume Jort had simply mocked up a fake trading graph online.

After clicking on the email and trusting that her £250 would 'increase your money tenfold in a week', her money started going down the drain after trusting the scam company and the Dutch agent called 'Jort'

After clicking on the email and trusting that her £250 would ‘increase your money tenfold in a week’, her money started going down the drain after trusting the scam company and the Dutch agent called ‘Jort’

The next week, things ramped up. Jort and I talked every day. He was flirtatious, kind, understanding. He’d looked me up online and seemed impressed at my journalistic output and my career as a therapist.

At some point, he mentioned eKrona, explaining it was a Swedish currency linked to the Riksbank, Sweden’s central bank, and it was a brilliant investment. Once again, my brain fogged over. I had the laundry to hang out, dogs to walk, a school run to do, clients to see.

‘Just another £5,000,’ he said. ‘You take a contract for a month and in January you’ll be making three times that.’ The worst thing was that I did have a bit of spare cash from the sale of the house, so the offer seemed like perfect timing.

I agreed to be put through to a man called George, who sounded young, pukka, English. George said he’d talk me through the transfer of £5,000 in cryptocurrency and asked me to download an app called AnyDesk to my computer. AnyDesk is a perfectly legitimate app used by IT professionals to remotely connect to clients’ devices, but also, I’ve since discovered, a tool misused by scammers.

When a warning flashed up on my screen saying the app would give George access to my computer, I had a momentary flicker of good sense and clicked on the ‘No’ button. Briefly, George got cross, but then said it didn’t really matter.

Instead, on my mobile, I downloaded an app called Cryptopay.me — also a legitimate site, this one for investing in cryptocurrency — and once I was verified (which took days), George talked me through how to send £5,000 to a cryptowallet address provided by Jort. And there it was. The extra £5,000 on my stocks and shares cryptograph. My eKrona purchase in my name.

From then on, it went from bad to worse. It’s humiliating even to write about this and to admit how gullible I was. But I also know this is what scammers trade on. The fact is, most people who have been scammed just want the whole horrible, embarrassing mess to go away. They don’t want to admit to being vulnerable, greedy, and open to flattery. Yet I was.

I was tired and lonely and at heart I am a bit of a risk-taker. I so desperately wanted to tell my children we could pay the bills without worrying.And whenever I got even slightly cold feet, Jort was there, warming them again for me.

I couldn’t find him on social media, so I asked for proof of who he was. He said he was 49, divorced with two children and living in St John’s Wood, North London. He put me through to boy-next-door George, who said he had grown up near me, and cited schools and pubs and shops. I told him I couldn’t afford to lose my money. He told me to stop worrying. To show willing, Jort put just under £500 back into my cryptowallet. ‘Go and have a massage,’ he texted.

It got to a point that every time he rang and suggested a new money-making scheme, I’d agree. It was easy. I’d transfer money from my bank account into my Cryptopay.me wallet and I would buy Bitcoin on that platform. Then, at Jort’s insistence, I would send all my Bitcoin via my cryptowallet to Jort’s cryptowallet, so he could trade. Which, I realised too late, makes it untraceable.

But I was buoyed up by my ‘success’. As I invested, my profits and portfolio grew — or so I believed. Sometimes I’d resist for a few days but Jort would ring endlessly and I’d end up transferring more money — another £5,000 into one scheme, £10,000 into oil and gold. The online graph became more complicated.

And now, well into December, I started to get nervous. I’d put in £23,500, which was way more than I’d meant to at the start. I told Jort I wanted it back. He replied that I was making huge profits and transferred another £1,000 back to my cryptowallet to reassure me.

But I wasn’t reassured. I began to realise that the initial big sell — increase your money tenfold in a week — was absurd. And yet my natural optimism and trust in others found it hard to believe that another human being would be so callous as to con me like this.

It all came to a head on December 17, by which point I was so stressed I couldn’t sleep. I told Jort I wanted out, and he told me he’d pull all my investments. He texted: ‘You’ve made $77,000.00 [about £56,000]! You can give me a bonus!’ Then he claimed I needed to pay capital gains tax (CGT) — via him, of course — on my profits, and got his secretary to make up a proforma invoice.

All I had to do was to transfer £12,700 into my Bitcoin wallet. ‘I cannot liquidate your funds until you’ve paid CGT,’ he said. But this was the first I’d heard of such a stipulation — why hadn’t he told me before, I asked him? ‘Everyone has to pay it,’ he said.

I looked it up online, and it seemed unclear — but apparently CGT sometimes does apply, so I told Jort, fine, I’d pay it. Yet when I tried to transfer the money, my bank — the real, physical, bricks-and-mortar bank — blocked it.

Then my bank called. The woman on the phone said she was from the fraud department and my blood ran cold.

She quizzed me in great detail about what was going on, and then told me all traders should be registered. Was Jort? I couldn’t find him on any online lists, so I texted him. 

He told me that he wasn’t a trader but an ‘agent’. He said the company was registered offshore. He said the banks were being difficult but that he was going to give me my money.

My bank was sure he wasn’t and suggested I play a ‘long game’. ‘Maybe claim you have a medical condition you have to pay out for and ask for bits back every week,’ said the lady from the fraud department. ‘They might just do it. It’s not that likely, but you never know.’

The fraud department of Lucy's bank quizzed her in great detail about what was going on, and then told me all traders should be registered

The fraud department of Lucy’s bank quizzed her in great detail about what was going on, and then told me all traders should be registered

Crypto experts agree with her, and say my money has probably disappeared for ever. Matthew Rogan, of Claim Justice, which deals with trader scams all the time, says: ‘These types of scam are on the rise. Although cryptocurrency is more regulated than it used to be, there are still rich pickings for scammers.’

I reported it to the police but, since the company isn’t registered and is based offshore, it doesn’t come under UK jurisdiction and there’s not much they can do. Jort and George are probably aliases. The bank haven’t given me the money back because I ticked the box saying I was sure I was sending the money to a secure place.

I told Jort my mother was seriously ill and that he needed to release my £23,500 to pay her hospital bills. Jort was suitably supportive, sending me text messages telling me how sorry he was for me. Neither of us was telling the truth and both of us knew it.

Our last communication was by phone. I told him I knew it was a scam and that I wanted my money back, but he started on the same old nonsense about paying out more CGT. I asked for evidence I would need to pay this before I collected my profits. He just resent the proforma invoice. I suggested we try to smooth this out with my accountant via a Zoom call. He shot back: ‘We don’t do Zoom’ and . . . yada yada yada.

In the end, I got so angry and bored I put the phone down on him. And still, no money. He has it all and it hurts so much.

For most people £23,500 is a huge amount of money. I wanted to help my eldest son, aged 25, move out to a shared flat in Reading. My second son, aged 19, is struggling to find work, and my third son, 17, is going to university this year.

But it’s not just the money. It’s the fact that it has seriously damaged my trust. I’m terrified that Jort has insider information on me. I’m convinced he will steal my identity or drain my bank accounts. Every time my computer flickers I think it’s because he has somehow put a bug in it.

I’m also paranoid that everyone is a scammer. Apparently, scammers — once they are rumbled — sell your details on to other scammers. I reported it to ActionFraud, and received a long email saying I should be hyper-aware of other scams, including offers to get my investment back for a fee.

The fear of all this is keeping me awake at night. I’m not even convinced Jort has gone away. He texts me occasionally saying he wishes to resolve the situation. It’s almost unreal.

The sorry mess has made me realise one thing: I need to be financially savvy or, at the very least, run all transactions by a third party.

But finally understanding my flawed relationship with money is no consolation for the tens of thousands I’ve lost.

I could kick myself, and I could certainly kick the fraudsters who have preyed on my financial ignorance so cruelly.


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