A CALLOUS conman fleeced a woman and her family of about £60,000 in a so-called romance scam after meeting her online.
Alan Clarkson, from West Lothian, used fake emails, some in the names of stars of reality TV show The Only Way is Essex, to dupe Michelle Szombara.
He was jailed for 42 months last month but the true extent of his deception only came to light yesterday as Ms Szombara backed a police campaign to prevent future victims.
“My relationship with him started off with messages on a dating site,” said the brave 40-year-old.
“He was like any other normal person; funny and polite. We started texting back and forward and within a few weeks we met up.
“He turned up at my house with some spare clothes and stayed for the next four years.”
Almost immediately after moving in, Clarkson started scamming his unsuspecting victim and her family to fund a gambling habit.
Over four years, he claimed his bank account had been frozen and clumsily faked emails and paperwork from financial institutions.
Ms Szombara lost her council flat after falling into rent arrears and her parents also lost their home and pension pots to Clarkson’s deceit.
“He took over the rent for my house,” she said. “I ended up over £7,000 in rent arrears and my council tax wasn’t getting paid.
“It got to the stage where we were living off of nothing. I was so stressed. I did every hour going at my work to be left with nothing. I had a lovely house and I lost everything.”
Clarkson took everything from Ms Szombara who was left homeless and sleeping on friends’ settees for six weeks.
“I was so embarrassed and ashamed that I goty my mum and dad involved. They worked all their days, only had a couple of years left on their mortgage and we’re now living in a council house because of him.”
Clarkson was convicted of stealing £60,000 from Ms Szombara between 2010 and 2014 but that was all that could be proven with receipts.
“We had a few people saying to us things weren’t right over the years,” said Ms Szombara. “We had doubt in the back of our minds but we didn’t want to believe it.
“My mum died before he was sentenced for this so she didn’t get to see him being sent to prison. It nearly ripped our family apart. I hate what he’s done to my family.
“My advice would be to be really cautious with everybody. Check email addresses are related to the company.
“Throughout the four years we were together, I never met his family so always check someone’s background.”
Fraud cases, including romance scams, were up 21 percent year on year across Scotland, according to police figures.
Detective Superintendent Nicola Shepherd said: “Romance fraud is largely unreported and we want more victims to come forward.
“It can have a shattering effect on people who may be embarrassed that they’ve fallen victim to a scam and don’t want to speak about their experience.
“Criminals can be extremely convincing and they prey on people who are emotionally vulnerable, particularly online.
“It can be easy to get caught up with the attention you receive but it’s important to stop and think if a stranger’s actions are genuine.
“There are warning signs for these scams and one of them is a request for money. Don’t send money to someone you’ve never met, or even recently met, regardless of the story they tell you.
“We need to raise awareness of this type of crime and encourage people to speak to us so we can gather evidence and target offenders.”
Advice on how to avoid becoming a victim of romance fraud is available on the Police Scotland website:
Sign up to our newsletter: enter your email in the box at the top of this article to get daily updates straight to your inbox.