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I thought I'd met the man of my dreams on dating site – but his sickening games left me broken | The Sun

REALISING she'd been conned out of £100,000 by the man she loved, a wave of anger and humiliation washed over Lynn Hawes.

The mum-of-five, 53, who'd met 'John Wilmotts' on the dating website Plenty of Fish in 2015, was roped into a web of lies, greed and deceit during the elaborate scam – which left her feeling suicidal.

Over a period of 19 months, Lynn, from Chester, was tricked into handing over vast sums of cash – which plunged her into debt and caused a rift within her family.

As the magnitude of the scam dawned on her, her despair turned to fury and she set about getting revenge, teaming up with police to nab the con artist and his cronies.

But while one of his accomplices was jailed, two remain at large.

Lynn's story features in Love Rats, a Paramount+ documentary about women who have been betrayed by their loved ones.

Speaking exclusively to The Sun, Lynn says: "When I finally found out, I felt anger, humiliation, and sadness.

"I just felt like such a fool. An absolute idiot. I felt like I couldn't tell anyone what had happened because it was so embarrassing."

Lynn was reluctant to join a dating site at first, having not long left a toxic relationship.

She married early at the age of 16 but divorced after six years and three children.

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Lynn was roped into a web of lies and deceit by her internet loverCredit: Lynn Hawes

For 17 years she was in a relationship with the father of her two youngest children but they split up in 2015.

But when she connected with Wilmotts, she instantly fell for his charms.

She recalls: "When I first met him I thought, 'God, he actually looks like his picture'.

"I was impressed by the fact that he turned up and he wasn't a catfish."

After two months of being together, in April 2015 Wilmott said he worked for an intelligence company, and after a few dates claimed he had to go to Israel on a mission.

When I first met him I thought, 'God, he actually looks like his picture'. I was impressed by the fact that he turned up and he wasn't a catfish

The following month Wilmott told her his dad had died and left behind a £7million inheritance which was locked up in Dubai.

Lynn explains: "He told me that the money had to be shared between him and his sister.

"I was hooked by then so if alarm bells had gone off, he would have been able to divert that to make me see reason."

In July, John invited her to join him in Dubai, suggesting they could make a holiday out of it while he dealt with the inheritance.

She agreed without hesitation, but when she arrived she was puzzled when Wilmotts didn't meet her at the airport.

Instead, he sent a man who went by the name of Phil, who ushered Lynn into a hotel room, handed her an anti-money laundering certificate and asked her to keep it safe for Wilmotts.

She was told it was needed to be able to transport a huge sum of money from abroad.

The following day Lynn was gobsmacked when Phil showed up at her hotel with a briefcase containing thousands of dollars and urged her to help herself to a chunk of it.

In hindsight Lynn now believes the stunt was a ploy to convince her that Wilmotts was genuine – and she questions the authenticity of the banknotes.

"I don't think all that money was real – maybe the top bit was. I grabbed a big chunk of it and I paid the hotel which cost a lot of money," she says.

"I had so much left over that I didn't know what to do with it. If I had grabbed the bottom bit and it was fake, I would have gotten in big trouble for trying to spend counterfeit money."

First trick

To her horror, the anti-money laundering certificate mysteriously disappeared the next day from the safe place she'd put it inside her passport.

She explains: "Without a doubt, it was taken. They knew that I would feel bad about it because I had been speaking to John for weeks and he knew the type of person I was."

Lynn says she was made to believe they wouldn't be able to retrieve the money without the certificate, which they told her would cost £10,000 to replace.

Feeling terribly guilty, she borrowed the sum from a friend.

Weeks later, she was informed by Wilmotts that the money had arrived in Manchester but was being held at the staggering cost of £1,000 a week.

She claims she was manipulated into taking on the responsibility of covering the cost by borrowing a further £26,000 from her son.

Lynn says: "I was hooked by that point so I didn't see any red flags, but looking back now, there were lots of them.

I was hooked by that point so I didn't see any red flags, but looking back now, there were lots of them

"I was definitely groomed by the gang."

Around that time Wilmotts introduced Lynn to another man called Doug Benjamin, who he said was a business associate.

Lynn says: "He knew I was getting loans out and wouldn't be able to pay back.

"It was self-centred greed. He was ringing me up saying he couldn't cope with the whole thing and that he had used up his money too.

"I remember him ringing me up one day to say he was going to kill himself and I thought I needed to do everything I could so the money would be freed up."

Mental anguish

In May 2016, the gang told Lynn the inheritance had finally been released and was in London – the only catch was that it had to be converted to pounds at the cost of £350,000.

This led to more borrowing, with Lynn even cashing out her life insurance policy just to keep up with the mounting pressure.

The fraudster had told her he didn't have access to his bank due to where he was stationed for work.

Realising she was in deep, it took a toll on her mental health.

She emotionally recounts: "It was a part of my life that just didn't seem normal.

"I actually wanted to end my life at one stage, and I'm not a person that will normally think about that.

I actually wanted to end my life at one stage, and I'm not a person that will normally think about that

"I had no money, I was thinking about selling my car. I remember driving one night and thinking I had to end it all because I could see no end to what was happening.

"I had also segregated myself from my family and wasn't telling them everything. It was just a horrible time."

A day before she was set to meet Benjamin with a further £9,000 in September, the police knocked on her door to say there had been a complaint that she was a victim of a scam.

The tip-off had come from her son.

Despite their attempts to intervene, Lynn assured them there was no foul play and that she was in control.

Set on revenge

But after meeting Benjamin in London to make the drop, she received a devastating phone call.

She recalls: "I had just delivered the last of my money and John called to say he wanted to check up on me.

"I asked him where he was and he said Israel, but the number had come up as the United Kingdom.

"I thought to myself, 'No, you're not being scammed.' I didn't want to believe it because I was thinking nobody could be that nasty."

But it soon dawned on her that she had been the victim of fraud, and Lynn set out for revenge.

She begged the police to help her catch Wilmott and his accomplices.

Cops hatched an elaborate plan for Lynn to meet up with Benjamin, with officers in plain clothes watching on, ready to nab the criminal.

On September 22, Doug arranged to meet Lynn, believing she was dropping off £27,000 to cover the cost of converting the money to pounds.

As the fraudster arrived at the meeting point, cops swooped, catching him in the act.

Benjamin, whose real name was Ajibola Daudu, 48, pleaded guilty on the day of his trial in March 2017to one count of fraud and was jailed for 45 months.

Lynn read her victim impact statement in court, admitting: "They made me feel so special and so loved. I wanted to spend the rest of my life with John when this started."

Wilmott and Phil have never been found.

Lynn says: "I'm enraged. That's why I'm sharing my story because they're still out there. And I know it was not just those three in the gang.

"There are other people who are part of it and they're out there still doing it.

"When I'm out and about I keep thinking I might bump into John. I'm disgusted he's gotten away with it."

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Lynn is trying to move on and is now happy in a relationship with a new man.

She adds: "I would never give money to anyone again. Now I get everything signed up legally. Big lesson learned."

Love Rats is available to stream on Paramount+

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