A HEARTBROKEN pensioner has lost her entire life-savings in an online romance scam that left her with nothing - not even a slice of bread.

When police called on the vulnerable 64-year-old earlier this month, they discovered internet scammers had left her without a penny to her name or food in her cupboards. In order to survive, the devastated victim had to turn to a foodbank for help.

In February, the County Durham woman met a man on a dating site who claimed he was a British soldier stationed in Syria.

He wooed her with flowers, chocolates and declarations of love before begging her for financial assistance, telling her he needed to deliver urgent papers to the UK via a courier.

An initial payment of £2,000 was met with further demands, with the fraudster saying he needed money for the services of a diplomat and, later, to help that diplomat who had apparently been shot.

In all, the woman lost about £9,800 after taking out loans – one of which was also an online scam - and cashing a private pension.

The pensioner is now warning others to be on their guard against sophisticated scammers.

She said: “We started talking online and I thought he was genuine – we talked every night. He made out that he loved me and that is the hardest part of it.

“When he asked me for money, I just wanted to help him, I thought he was from this country and was genuine. He said he’d pay me back.”

The woman had no idea she was the victim of a scam until police knocked on her door, having received intelligence about the situation.

She said: “I didn’t realise he was a scammer but when I couldn’t send any more money, he kept demanding it.

“I called the British Embassy in London to see if they could help him and they said they thought it could be a scam, but I didn’t believe them at first because he was so convincing.

“I didn’t listen because I was that much in love with him and I’d been so lonely.

“When the police told me, I was mentally and physically affected, I can’t trust anyone and I don’t want this to happen to others.

“Whether you’re young or old, be careful about what personal details you give out.

“Countries should be able to work together to stop scams like this going on and bring the people to justice.”

The woman, who does not want to be named, is now rebuilding her life with the help of police and the local community.

The culprits have not been traced, though payments have been tracked to Pakistan and Ghana.

PC Anthony Murray of Durham Constabulary said: “There’s nothing wrong with wanting companionship but some people aren’t what they seem.

“These are sophisticated criminals with convincing stories.

“They’re well educated, well-scripted, have absolutely no moral compass and will take every penny they can.”

He added: “This was a multi-faceted scam and they got a lot of information about this lady very quickly.

“In the cold light of day and in my job, I think there were warning signs but people want to believe the best.

“She lost absolutely everything and had three weeks where she had nothing in the house.

“She was left with no cash and no food in her cupboard, not even a slice of bread – we had to refer her to the foodbank.

“Luckily, with the right kind of support, her life is back on track and she’s making improvements.”