"I was such an idiot." So declares a UK man identified only as James as he explains to the BBC how he became the victim of a $250,000 scam. The 52-year-old charity worker was in Ukraine when his translator set him up on a blind date with a 32-year-old woman named Irina. After an odd courtship—because of the language barrier, the translator was always present—the pair fell in love. Or so James thought. Within a year, they were engaged. James says both Irina and the translator, Julia, had been pressuring him to take that step, and he acquiesced. Then came the big mistake of transferring $200,000 to Ukraine to buy an apartment in Odessa. This is around the time when things in the tale get "surreal," writes Jonah Fisher at the BBC.
Under the ruse of helping James navigate Ukraine's banking system, Irina convinced him to wire the $200,000 to their wedding planner. She then told him the bank wouldn't release the money unless he was married to the wedding planner; he agreed to do that, too. The idea was that it would be a quickie marriage that would be just as quickly undone, and that he would go ahead with the planned wedding to Irina, just leaving out the legal part for now. Did we mention that Irina and the wedding planner both were already married? James ended up paying for a lavish wedding to Irina filled with what he now realizes were about 60 paid "guests." His $200,000 was spent, but he later learned the apartment cost just $60,000. Police have "laughed in my face," says James, and he is now working with a private investigator who unapologetically admits to using intimidation tactics to get his money back. (Read the full story, in which James describes being drugged at his wedding and landing in the hospital.)