A married mother-of-two was tricked into sending thousands of pounds to a secret Instagram boyfriend who threatened to send her naked selfies to her husband.
Gail Astin, 44, fell for a man online who said he was a widower called David Williams, a US marine engineer and dad working in Nigeria.
The housewife from Jedburgh, Scotland, had been signed off work with stress and connected with the trickster after struggling to confide in husband of 16 years, Simon, 44.
Over four months, they exchanged thousands of Whatsapp messages, emails and phone calls and she secretly sent him a total of £5,500 he said he needed for food and bills.
But when she refused to send more money, he threatened to send her family and friends naked photos she said she was pressured into sending him months earlier.
One message asking for £2,000 within 30 minutes said: ‘I wonder how your [family] will think of you when your nicked [sic] pictures get viral.’
Mrs Astin phoned police and confessed to husband Simon who promised to stand by his wife.
The fraudster was actually using photos of a Portuguese businessman, Pedro Hipolito, 46, who was furious after discovering the trickster was using his image to exploit vulnerable women.
Mrs Astin said:’I felt lonely and needed someone to talk to. He caught me at a low point.
‘At first he asked for £200 for iTunes cards so he could buy data for his phone. He seemed so desperate and just kept asking me. He was persistent.
‘He started asking for more and more but he promised he would get the money back to me. I honestly believed him.
‘I knew in my head that what I was doing was wrong but I did still it. I can’t explain why. I was just in the wrong frame of mind.
‘I didn’t want to send him anymore money. When I said no he told me he would send the photos to my mum, dad, sister and husband.
‘I’m ashamed of what I did. I didn’t want to take the photos but he wouldn’t stop asking for them.
‘I didn’t want to hurt Simon but I didn’t know what else to do. I had to tell him.’
Mrs Astin was contacted out of the blue by the man who said he was David, 55, in August last year.
She said she was desperate for friendship after feeling ‘isolated’ following the family’s move from Burnley to the Scottish border, in 2011.
She says she couldn’t find a way to talk to her family about her mental health so when ‘caring’ David got in touch, the mother-of-two felt ‘special again’.
She has been married to Simon since 2003, but quickly fell for the stranger who said he was from Texas, after exchanging messages daily.
He said he had moved to Nigeria for work, and needed financial support for food and travel.
Mrs Astin said David came across as a ‘genuine’ person who seemed to take an interest in her life.
In September, after just a month of chatting on Instagram and later on WhatsApp, David ‘pleaded’ to Gail for her to send him naked photos.
Gail explained: ‘He always told me to trust him, and I did.
‘He told me his wife had died and I felt sorry for him. He pulled on my heart strings.
‘He always came across as caring and sympathetic towards me too.. He took an interest in what I was going through.
‘My husband was struggling with how to deal with my feelings.
‘He’s not an emotional person so for a long time, I bottled my own emotions up.’
In several transactions between August and December, Mrs Astin sent hundreds and then thousands of pounds at a time.
They were sent to different banks in the US and Nigeria, into accounts belonging to different people.
‘David’ said they were collecting the cash on his behalf as he didn’t have a Nigerian bank account.
David said his three-month contract in Nigeria was coming to an end, and he needed the money in order to get home to his daughter, Sharon, in the US.
Mrs Astin admits she knows she was being ‘used’ emotionally, but she sent him cash via international money transfer service, MoneyGram.
She said: ‘He said he couldn’t get home if I didn’t send him the money.
‘By this point he had made me feel special, I felt nice. I fell for him.
‘I was getting more and more suspicious but he always promised to get the money back to me when he got back to America.’
She started to doubt David’s promise to pay up when he refused to help pay off her Visa bill in November.
She refused to send him more money in December, and David instantly ‘turned nasty’ and threatened to send her naked photos to her friends and family, she said.
He hounded Gail with messages and said ‘you will send £2,000 to an account of my choice’.
His messages said: ‘I am going to be blunt with you as I don’t have the luxury of wasting time.’
‘You will listen to what I have to say and you will listen good.’
‘You have one hour. Get the cops involved and everyone including Scottish borders will know.
‘Do not f*ck with me am not here to play games. The tough girl act is just going to make things worse for you.’
Mrs Astin dialled 999 on December 5 after feeling ‘suicidal’ and then told Simon everything.
She said: ‘I phoned Simon and told him to come home from work because the police were at our house. I said I’d explain everything.
‘He was angry. I feared for my marriage and I did say that if he wants me to go, I will leave.
‘We try not to talk about it because it makes him very angry. He has struggled to come to terms with it all.
‘I feel guilty because we have lost so much money.
‘I hate myself for what I’ve done and I thought he would leave me.’
Simon didn’t leave his wife – despite admitting the experience almost ‘broke’ them – and paid off her debts by dipping into his late father’s inheritance money.
Health and safety adviser Simon even blamed himself for a time and questioned whether or not he’d showed his wife enough love and attention.
He said: ‘I had no idea what was going on and I was absolutely clueless and in the dark.
‘I had all sorts running through my mind.
‘I started to feel guilty. I thought I hadn’t paid her enough attention and felt completely inadequate.
‘It was all too much to take in. I couldn’t comprehend why she would do what she did.
‘I came to terms with the fact the money was gone forever.
‘At one point I didn’t know if we would get through it but I never actually considered leaving her.
‘I just wanted to put it all behind us and move on. We are over that rocky patch and we are moving on as a family now.’
Mrs Astin last heard from David in mid-December, when he continued to send threats to distribute the photos.
She has since changed her phone numbers, email addresses and social media accounts and says she never wants to talk to someone online who she doesn’t know again.
Mr and Mrs Astin are committed to repairing their fractured relationship.
She said: ‘I’m so grateful that Simon has given me a second chance.’
‘I have promised to never ever speak to anyone I don’t know online.
‘I will never hide anything from him again.
‘We have just had to accept that the money is gone.’
Pedro Hipolito – the real man in the photos used by ‘David’ runs a business which helps companies work in Africa.
Mr Hipolito, who lives in Portugal, said he believes his work in Africa makes his identity an ‘easy target’.
But despite enlisting staff to report ‘countless’ fake social media accounts posing as him, he says there’s nothing he can do to stop the fraudster.
He said: ‘It’s a crime and I hate that people are doing this. It’s unstoppable. Something must be done to stop these fake accounts.
‘It has happened to me frequently. It’s not the first time it has happened and it doesn’t surprise me.
‘It’s terrible that lonely people are the victims. All they want is joy in their lives and they are vulnerable.
‘It does concern me, that my photos are being used. But I am not the victim here although it does damage my image.’
A Police Scotland spokesperson said: ‘Police in the Borders are investigating a report of an online fraud offence.
‘The report was received on Tuesday December 5 in the Jedburgh area.
‘Inquiries are currently ongoing.’