A nurse working in intensive care has lost more than £5,000 after being conned by people pretending to work for HMRC – the Government’s tax office.
Nelitza Ramírez Osorio, who has been treating desperately ill patients during the pandemic, said her entire wedding fund was taken by the fraudsters who threatened her with criminal charges if she did not pay.
Police are now understood to have told the 27-year-old that they cannot trace where the money was transferred to as she sent the scammers separate installments of under £1,000.
“I feel angry and I feel frustrated. I feel that these criminals are getting away from the UK law,” said Nelitza, who is known to many as Nellie.
“They are getting more and more sophisticated, but the fraud protection we have is not picking this up quickly enough. I feel like I haven’t been protected. I don’t feel safe.
“You work so, so hard for this money and then it’s all taken away within one or two hours.”
Nelitza, who lives just outside Bangor, said she received a phone call on August 18 from someone claiming to be from HMRC.
“He said that there was a miscalculation in my taxes for the period 2018-20, and the amount [I needed to pay] was £2,600,” she said.
“He said there were going to be criminal charges and an arrest warrant against my name.
“I got really scared. In that moment I thought I could lose my job.”
Nelitza, who is originally from Spain and has lived in Wales for four years, said she did not understand how the tax system worked in the UK.
“I’m still very young, I’m from abroad and I didn’t know that the HMRC would never contact you to ask you for money in this way.”
After being passed to another person on the phone, Nelitza was told she could pay on the spot and agreed to make several small transactions.
However, she said a further document was sent to her via WhatsApp detailing that she had to pay a further refundable £2,799.
“That was to drop my criminal case and arrest warrant, as well as remove all the allegations against me,” she said.
“Therefore I made more transactions just under £1,000. He said to me they were going to different departments within the HMRC which I believed.
“They sounded very, very genuine.”
She said she was told by the con artists that the £2,799 she transferred would be refunded to her as the tax mistake had been made by the Welsh NHS.
Nelitza, who has been working in intensive care in Ysbyty Gwynedd, Bangor, for the last two years, said the scam was another hammer blow on top of her months of work treating coronavirus patients.
“It was daunting at the beginning,” said Nelitza, reflecting on her time in hospital at the start of the outbreak.
“There were loads of changes, new staff being trained up and very ill patients to look after,” she recalled.
“When the first patient with Covid-19 came in we were all shaking. It was a new virus and we didn’t know how it behaved. It was different in each person so we had to learn as we were going along.
“There was a lot of anxiety, stress, and the PPE was really uncomfortable.”
Nelitza, who lives near Bangor, said she was worried about a second wave of the virus.
“If people are not sensible there’s going to be a big wave, and with flu season coming as well it’s going to be very difficult.”
Despite losing her wedding fund to the scam, Nelitza said the plan was to tie the knot with her fiancé Manuel Serrano, who also works in the Welsh NHS, in 12 months’ time.
It was Manuel who alerted Nelitza to the fact the HMRC phone call could be a hoax.
“When I was talking to them over the phone, my fiancé came into the room and heard what I was saying. Then he saw the WhatsApp group.
“He became very suspicious. He Googled it and told me that HMRC would never contact you by WhatsApp.
“He told me to stop the call. I called my bank straight away to cancel the payments but it was too late.”
The same day, Nelitza said she contacted the police’s fraud department but said she was told there was nothing they could do to help.
“It’s important that people know about this. We think scams just happen to elderly people, but it happens to the young as well,” she said.
“I don’t wish this to happen to anybody. It’s an emotional drain to go through this.”
A GoFundMe page has been set up for Nelitza by her friend and work colleague Leisa Jones in a bid to recoup some of the money she lost.
If you would like to donate please go to uk.gofundme.com/f/lets-get-nellie-married
North Wales Police has been approached for comment.