Widow, 79, scammed out of £250k after WhatsApp dating 'with Mamma Mia! actor'

Elizabeth Ferguson had been a senior university manager before running a successful business
Alan Lewis - PhotopressBelfast.co.uk 2-5-2024 Romance scam feature by Kate Graham : Elizabeth Ferguson at her home with her pet dog Masie. Elizabeth was scammed out of £250,000 by a conman calling himself Courtney Roy but had the money refunded by the bank after seeking help to gain redress. -Credit:Photopress Belfast

A gran widowed after 51 years of marriage has told how she was cruelly scammed out of £250,000 after turning to online dating to lift herself out of loneliness. Elizabeth Ferguson, a retired senior university manager and businesswoman, was tricked into handing over her savings by a man posing as a lovelorn telecoms expert, the Mirror reports.

Elizabeth, 79, a mum of two with four grandkids, says: "I still can't believe the nightmare I've been through."

In April 2022, three years after husband George's death and desperate to quell her loneliness, she joined dating site Match. Almost immediately, she spotted Courtney Roy.


She says: "His profile said he was 68 and his interests included nature, travelling and volunteering. His pictures showed a normal, good-looking man, and he said he lived in Dublin. He seemed like someone I could have a conversation with."

As they chatted on WhatsApp, he told Elizabeth who lives close to Dublin herself that he had divorced his cheating wife, and claimed he had been raised by his grandparents in Cyprus after losing his parents in a car crash. She says: "This was part of the scam. Not just to gain my sympathy, but to explain errors in his written English."

Elizabeth shared details of her own life, and says: "I felt the connection grow. Courtney responded to my photos by saying I was beautiful. His interest was definitely flattering." After he suggested travelling to meet her, they had their first video call. She says: "It was near impossible to see or hear him but it didn't seem odd. Connections can be bad anywhere."

Just as they were due to meet, he said he needed to travel urgently, to install a 5G network on a Japanese oil rig in the North Sea. Elizabeth admits: "I was disappointed. My life was busy but Courtney had brought another aspect." Then, he made a bizarre suggestion. She says: "He told me to buy a black T-shirt and some men's scent, which cost me £160. I was to spray it on the shirt and wear it in bed, listening to a song he sent, to feel connected to him."

"He sent pictures of him on the oil rig in protective gear and arriving by helicopter. They reinforced everything. I had no reason to doubt this busy, successful man who I was starting to fall for was who he said he was.'' But now the scammer was ready to get to Elizabeth's money. She says: "The first step was a message that he needed $70,000 for some expensive equipment. He wasn't asking me for money, just to log in to his bank account and make the transfer as his signal was terrible. It was a sign of his trust in me.""

Seeing a balance of $1.45million in the account, she transferred the $70,000 for him. She says: "He was so grateful. So when he messaged that he needed another $7,000 to cover transfer costs, and asked me to do the same again, I agreed." But that transfer failed and he explained something about an IP address, saying he was locked out of his account asking Elizabeth to use her own money instead.

She says: "I did have a flash of doubt. Then I remembered the amount in his account, and $7,000 didn't seem huge. He then sent a picture of himself holding a card that said, 'Please assist me, I promise you will never regret it'." Elizabeth sent the funds via a crypto currency site. She says: "He was declaring how much he cared for me, what an incredible woman I was, and I believed him. Which is why what happened next was so frightening."

Courtney messaged saying an explosion on the rig had put him and a colleague in danger sending a video allegedly of the accident happening. She says: "I was so worried, so when he asked me to send more money, I was in such panic that I did. I used a crypto app that he told me to download." Just as Elizabeth started to have doubts, a courier arrived with what appeared to be a banker's draft for €950,000, in Courtney's name.

She says: "He was hitting me with a combination of 'I love you, I'm in danger, and here's proof of all the money I have'. It was a powerful combination and it worked." As his requests for money grew, Elizabeth turned to family and friends for loans, saying it was for work on her house. She admits: "I felt terrible lying." And the stress took its toll. She says: "I stopped sleeping and eating, I lost a stone. I was trapped."

"I'd already sent him so much. If I refused a request, maybe he wouldn't come and activate the banker's draft then I'd lose it all." If she voiced doubts, Courtney got verbally aggressive. She says: "He accused me of being bipolar. He was manipulative." Finally, after she had sent £245,027 in crypto payments, he told her he was flying home on December 30, 2022, from Japan. She recalls: "I was relieved to get a copy of his e-ticket."

But on the day he was due to fly, he messaged to say drugs had been planted in his bag and he needed £20,000 for a lawyer. Elizabeth says: "The scales fell from my eyes. It was all a lie. He denied it, but I knew I'd been tricked into giving him almost a quarter of a million pounds. It's impossible to describe the shock the guilt that I'd lost my children's inheritance. For someone as educated as I am, to fall for something like this was totally humiliating."

An actual photo of Canadian actor Ian Simpson
An actual photo of Canadian actor Ian Simpson

Her family were shocked, hurt that she lied but mostly furious on her behalf. They noticed some of the pictures had been manipulated. We have found they are of Canadian actor Ian Simpson, who starred in a US tour of Mamma Mia! Elizabeth says: "The scammer stole whatever pictures they needed to convince me." Relatives also found that the oil rig explosion was a common scam story.

After the police and Action Fraud were unable to help, Elizabeth faced financial ruin until a relative put her in touch with CEL Solicitors. She says: "I had no idea there's an obligation on institutions like banks to protect customers, that a solicitor could hopefully get my money back." She also contacted Match, who removed the scammer's profile only for the pictures to reappear with a different name. She says: "How can we know who is genuine?" In January this year, Elizabeth's solicitors informed her they had recovered £252,000. But the emotional impact still runs deep.

She says: "I never want this to happen to anyone else. This man is still out there, he could be doing this to multiple women right now. Romance fraud really does destroy lives." Match told us: "We continuously refine our technologies to identify and prevent fraudulent activity." The agent for Ian Simpson, whose photos were used in the scam, says she gets messages every month about his photos being misused without his knowledge or permission. She adds: "The irony is, Ian is part of the LGBTQ+ community. He and his partner have been together years."