Woman conned out of £20k by Shillington man she met on dating site who faked illness

She wants more support for victims of romance fraud
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A woman has told how she was conned out of £20k by a "callous" romance fraudster from Shillington – who convinced her he was sick and needed the money for private medical care.

Suzanne Famula met Christopher Harris, 41, a car salesman, on an online dating site in November 2020. Harris, who has 16 previous convictions for more than 25 offences, including nine fraud-related cases, told Suzanne that he had long-term health problems and that he needed £400 to "go private" to receive "proper care".

After around two months of dating, the 39-year-old handed over £400 on the condition he pay her back once he got paid.

Suzanne Famula who was conned out of over £20,000 after meeting a man online. Picture: Tony Kershaw© SWNSSuzanne Famula who was conned out of over £20,000 after meeting a man online. Picture: Tony Kershaw© SWNS
Suzanne Famula who was conned out of over £20,000 after meeting a man online. Picture: Tony Kershaw© SWNS

During their five month relationship, Harris continued to ask for money, claiming that he was too unwell to work and needed it to cover medical expenses, mortgage payments and bills.

In August 2021, Suzanne realised she had been the victim of fraud and called off the relationship – but had already handed over £20,810.

Suzanne contacted Money Claims Online, a part of the government website for small claims court relating to large sums of money and began the process to get justice and her money back. In October 2021, three months after the case had been with the civil court, Suzanne went to the police after feeling there was "a lack of support and communication."

On February 24 2023, Christopher Harris was sentenced to 30 months in prison at St Albans Crown Court after pleading guilty to fraud by false representation, and for failing to answer to court. He was also given a restraining order against contacting his victim.

Suzanne is speaking out for the first time in the hopes that romance fraud will be treated as a more serious crime.

You can see her talking about her experience in the video above.

Suzanne, a hairdresser from Hertfordshire, said: "I never would have expected that someone could be so good at lying. I had no idea someone could be so callous. He made me trust him and open up to him, but the whole thing was a lie.

"He told me he was ill and I felt sorry for him. He'd ask for small amounts of money at a time, so I didn't really notice at first. But it quickly added up, and before I knew it, I'd given him all my savings. It's been a nightmare, and I've felt disrespected and judged throughout the whole process"

When the pair first met on Hinge, Suzanne was feeling ''vulnerable'' as her father had just suffered a stroke. They spoke on and off for a few months before becoming a couple in April 2021.

Throughout their relationship, Harris claimed to have a plethora of health conditions, including high blood pressure and a heart condition.

Suzanne said: "From the start, he told me that he was unwell. He was always really vague about exactly what was wrong, but I'd take him to appointments and sometimes he'd cancel plans at the last-minute claiming to be in hospital again."

Harris first asked for money from Suzanne in May 2021, claiming that he'd not received his wages from work and needed £400 to see a private GP. Suzanne agreed, and over the next five months, Harris continued to ask Suzanne for financial support.

"He was really clever about it, he always had a back story and reason why he needed the money," Suzanne said. “He never asked for huge amounts at once, it would just be £100 here and there. The most I ever sent him in one go was £1,200, which he said he needed for a hospital procedure.

"I asked for my money back several times, but every time he had a reason as to why he couldn't in that moment, but promised he would pay me back eventually. He manipulated and lied so convincingly, that he made me believe him."

On 27 July 2021, Suzanne received a text from an unknown number, claiming to be Harris' mother. The text said that he was in trouble and needed some money.

Suzanne said: "I knocked on her front door and showed her the texts. She told me that it wasn't her phone number and that she hadn't sent the message. I then asked her how he was doing after his heart operation, and she had no idea what I was talking about. It suddenly hit me, and I knew I'd been taken for a mug."

At a hearing on 14 December 2022, prosecutor Cassandra Roberts explained that after investigations into his HSBC and Barclays bank accounts, the CPS had come to the conclusion the fraudster had pocketed Suzanne's cash.

Harris appeared at St Albans Crown Court on 24 February 2023 and was sentenced to 30 months in prison.

Despite the prison sentence, Suzanne feels more needs to be done to support victims of romance fraud. She said: "I wasn't taken seriously or respected. I felt so let down by the system, I didn't feel supported as victim. I had to really advocate for myself and fight my corner every step of the way.

"I want other victims to know that you will get through it. It's hard, but if I can get through it alone, then anyone can."

You can sign Suzanne's petition to make romance fraud a specific offence, and to create a register for romance fraudsters.