Actor Jason Statham poses at the premiere for "The Meg" in Los Angeles in August 2018. File picture: Mario Anzuoni/Reuters

London - A scammer duped a woman out of an astonishing hundreds of thousands of pounds by posing as actor Jason Statham.

The victim was first contacted by someone posing as the Transporter star while she was on a Facebook fan page dedicated to him.

She said she was targeted at a vulnerable time following the deaths of her mother and fiance, adding: ‘I thought “Oh, that’s nice of him, talking to his fans”. I might have been star-struck then, I don’t know.’

The fraudster encouraged her to use the encrypted WhatsApp service, before bombarding her with hundreds of messages over several months.

Writing as Statham, the imposter said he loved her and eventually asked for help with some financial difficulties, claiming a film payment was delayed.

The messages included: ‘Will you love me and be the special woman beside me for the rest of your life honey?’ and ‘I really need you to do this for me honey I can’t trust anyone but you with my money honey’.

At one point, the victim asked the inevitable question: ‘I thought you were in a relationship?’ The fraudster replied: ‘Don’t believe all you read in the papers.’

The real Statham, 51, is famously engaged to model Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, 32 and they have a toddler son and live in Los Angeles.

The woman said that in order to help con her the fraudster made references to a movie the actor was filming at the time, The Meg, and mentioned good causes he was supporting. The victim, who asked not to be named, is from the North West. She made payments totalling hundreds of thousands of pounds but declined to reveal the exact figure. She told BBC Radio Manchester: ‘It was a substantial amount, which would have made a difference to my life and my family’. In one message, the scammer wrote: ‘Just send £20k this night.’

The victim added: ‘I’m quite a strong person but obviously certain things get to you and you let your guard down.’

Her fiance died in 2017 and she said she went online looking ‘for comfort’

The cruel scam comes as police warn such crimes are at ‘epidemic’ levels, with Greater Manchester Police receiving reports of about 1,000 victims a month. But the true figure may be up to ten times higher as many fraud victims never come forward.

Detective Constable Craig Moylan, who investigated the Statham case after it was reported in February 2018, said the woman’s ordeal had been ‘horrendous’. He added: ‘When you see the relentless messaging that this lady got from this person and you see the grooming and the exploitation... the impact is extraordinary.’ The force was unable to prosecute anyone over the fraud, with the culprit believed to be operating overseas. The victim’s funds have not been retrieved.

Mr Moylan said: ‘Fraud is an epidemic. We’ve got big problems that we’re trying to tackle.’ Last week, the latest crime survey by the Office for National Statistics revealed it is ‘much more likely for an adult... to experience fraud than a violent offence’. Just over 3million people experienced fraud in 2018, it said.

Daily Mail