‘I dumped boyfriend for fake Antonio Conte and sent him £20k after Taliban lie’

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    A community carer dumped her boyfriend for a scammer who called himself Antonio Conte – only to end up homeless and skint.

    Mary Berndt agreed to marry the stranger despite having only spent three weeks chatting to him on Instagram.

    But the relationship turned nasty two months later when the scammer, who used the name of the suave Italian Tottenham gaffer, claimed he had been kidnapped by the Taliban.

    READ MORE: Brit women who lost thousands to ‘Tinder Swindlers’ – including mum kidnapped by date

    Scared and sleep deprived, Mary, 54, took out a huge loan and sent him the equivalent of £13,000 to have him rescued.

    But the mum-of-three, from Belleville Ontario, Canada, realised it was a con before it was too late.

    Now, sharing her story with Daily Star, she said: “When I had to sell my home I had to get rid of my dogs too.

    “I gave up everything for this man, this invisible man. I thought I was taking a chance on love but I was dancing with the devil.

    “The people who say they would never fall for this… I was that person.

    “I was temporarily homeless and living in an RV for a while. But I’m not one of these people who will put their head in the sand over this kind of thing.

    “I was vulnerable and these scammers are really skilled at what they do and sometimes people are fooled by that. But I’m not going to beat myself up over it because it is what it is.”

    The mum was targeted on Instagram five years ago by a man claiming he was in the military and from Texas.

    At the time she was having issues in her relationship and opening up with the so-called Antonio every day was an escape.

    She remembered: “We spoke during the day and night. I would get to my car after being with a client and we would chat. He would say ‘hope you’re having a good day sweetie’ and things like that.

    “I thought he was very handsome and he had a very nice profile picture and it didn’t look sketchy. I thought it was all normal.

    “He love bombed me so fast and it was crazy. I just can’t believe it when I think back… but that’s how they get you, especially when they find someone vulnerable.”

    Smitten, she made her boyfriend to move out as she pursued her romance with Antonio.

    And after just three weeks, he asked her to marry him.

    She said: “I’ve always been a risk taker, probably more so than I should be, but when I think of something I want and it sounds like a change I will try and take a chance on things so I said why not.

    “But I didn’t know what I was saying why not to.”

    As for her heartbroken old flame, she added: “I feel bad for the guy now having asked him to move out.”

    At the time she felt like love’s young dream and even had a wedding dress made from the wife of one of her clients.

    She was coerced into believing they would tie the knot two times, once in Canada and then in Texas.

    But things unravelled when Antonio one day claimed the Taliban had kidnapped him while he was serving in Afghanistan.

    And like many scammers, he convinced her he needed money in order to be rescued.

    Recalling it, Mary said: “It was something to do with him being kidnapped and being held for ransom by the Taliban.

    “Before that he was sending me pictures of gruesome things from the tour like people with their legs torn off and stuff.

    “He was getting me worried and he said they would kill them if I didn’t send cash.

    “The amount kept getting higher but he wanted 20,000 Canadian Dollars. I didn’t have that kind of money so I ended up going to two or three high interest lenders.”

    After being lent the money, Mary tried to send it but her bank blocked the transaction, even warning her that it was a possible scam.

    But determined to help a man she believed was her future hubby, she found a way.

    Frightened, she recalled: “He was harassing me day and night, saying I don’t care about him, that he is going to die and he will never see his daughter again.

    “I ended up having a car accident during this time because I was so stressed on the road and all my job was on the road. It was pretty scary.

    “They get you to a point where they manipulate you so much that you are sleep deprived because they are speaking to you day and night.

    “When they got me to send the money they were really ruthless because they thought I was going to back out.

    “Right at the time I was going to send the money I had a feeling in my head it wasn’t right but I didn’t want to believe that.”

    The cruel realisation hit after she contacted ScamHaters United and Mary ended up broke and alone.

    She sold her home to manage her debts and struggled with health problems over the trauma of being used by frauds.

    But now brave and unashamed, Mary is getting her story out there to warn others about the dangers of romance scams.

    Speaking from her new home, she told us: “Everything happened so quickly and then it was over but it put me in a position where I wanted to get my story out.

    “If people call me stupid of whatever I will just say ‘hey, I got scammed and this is my story, no big deal’.

    “This is such a big problem all over the world and it’s a tragedy for someone to take advantage of someone’s emotions, their finances and their whole life.

    “I was planning to change my whole life for this person. It is dangerous. But I am one of the lucky ones, it could have been even worse.”


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