As husband Gordon tended his prize-winning azaleas in the garden, Susan Perry grew convinced he was more interested in his flower beds than her.
So when a handsome oil rig worker befriended her on Facebook gushing compliments and promising a glamorous new life, the 73-year-old fell head over heels, messaging and talking for hours, behind Gordon’s back.
But “Gideon” turned out to be a conman sowing the seeds of an elaborate scam that would eventually cost her £40,000.
“I feel such a fool,” Susan admits ruefully. “I got completely carried away with the fantasy of being swept off my feet.
“Gideon promised me the world and I fell hook, line and sinker for his very convincing lies.”
Yet, almost incredibly, Gordon has forgiven his wife – and their marriage is stronger than ever.
“I wouldn’t have blamed Gordon for leaving me there and then – but instead he promised he would stand by me,” she says.
Three-times married Susan’s world was turned upside down last October when she received a random message online.
“It came out of the blue and read simply ‘Hi, how are you?’” Susan explains.
“When I saw it alongside the very dashing and handsome profile picture I was naturally intrigued.”
The former-sales assistant wed Gordon, 73, after a “blissfully happy” decade together.
“We spent our retirement hosting and judging garden competitions and walking our dogs,” she said.
“But within a year of getting married we seemed to hit a blip. All the fun disappeared.
“I craved spontaneity and excitement but Gordon was happy caring for one of our poorly dogs and didn’t seem interested in going out. I suppose I felt neglected and was looking for attention.”
“Gideon seemed genuinely interested in my life.
“He asked about my hobbies and said he worked on an off-shore rig but missed his 14-year-old son Paul, at boarding school in Dubai, and felt lonely.
“I never hid the fact I was married, but I felt sorry for him.
“I didn’t tell my husband about our chats as I didn’t think I was doing anything wrong.
“Gideon sent me photos of his son, his five-bedroom bungalow and swimming pool in San Francisco and videos of the oil rig he said he was on.
“It was all very convincing and I had no reason to doubt him.
“Gideon asked if he could ring me.
“So while Gordon was downstairs finishing his crossword or wordsearch I lay in our bed and talked to Gideon.
“He had such a soft, gentle voice. I couldn’t help falling for him.”
After a month Gideon – who had a French accent – called to say Paul had been seriously hurt by a hit-and-run driver.
“He sounded so upset,” she said. “Apparently Paul had brain damage and needed life-saving surgery.
“But Gideon couldn’t access money for the op while on the rig. Without a second thought I offered to lend him the £400.
“Gideon couldn’t thank me enough, called me his angel and sent romantic quotes daily.
“He promised to repay me out of the lump sum he’d get at the end of his stint on the oil rig. I had no reason to disbelieve him.”
But more panicked calls followed – asking for cash for further ops and to clear his son’s boarding school bills.
“All I could think about was that poor boy in hospital.
“I used my life savings believing I’d get every penny back of the hundreds then thousands of pounds I’d sent,” said Susan.
“At one point Gideon even told me he’d paid half his wages in and asked me to take care of it. I said no – I felt uncomfortable being responsible for someone else’s money but it was reassuring.”
Then he called again sounding terrified. Pirates had raided the rig, he gasped, and were injuring men until they handed over cash.
“I feel so stupid now but I believed every word.
“When he said he needed £14,000 for a helicopter to get his men off the rig I sent every penny in my account, via several bank transfers,” said Susan.
“I was so relieved when he called to say they were all safe.”
Susan’s relationship with Gordon was struggling.
“The spark had vanished,” she said.
“I went to stay with a friend for a week and wrote to Gordon to say how miserable I was but still didn’t mention Gideon.”
Back home, Gordon tried to repair their marriage but Susan had another plea from Gideon.
He sent a photo of a £120,000 pay cheque but asked for a loan as it would take a month to clear.
“This time, he needed to fund his flight to Dubai to be with Paul, cover hotel costs and pay the hospital bills,” said Susan.
“I had no money left and my overdraft was at its limit, so I began pawning my rare £30,000 collection of gemstone jewellery. I got £7,000 for it – a pittance.
“And when that wasn’t enough, I then maxed out my credit card and applied for more and ended up sending Gideon every penny that I could.
“He couldn’t stop thanking me and we talked about me moving to America.
In my head I started planning our future. It was pure fantasy.
“I got a message saying Paul had recovered from surgery then another saying Gideon had been paid and would transfer the money to me next day. I was so relieved – I’d had sleepless nights, wondering how I’d afford the repayments.”
But the money never came – and Gideon’s calls ended.
“I then got a distraught message from Paul to say his dad had died of a heart attack in his sleep,” Susan said.
“In a moment my world crumbled. I felt I’d lost the love of my life and my heart ached for his son.”
Predictably that was the last Susan heard from Paul too.
She finally told the whole story to Gordon and daughter Elizabeth, 49.
“They told me it was a con but I refused to believe it,” she said. “I couldn’t accept his promises were lies.”
When police came to their home in Blackfield, Hants, Susan finally accepted it was all a scam.
“The officer said there was no trace of Gideon or Paul, that their photos were probably fake and I was one of hundreds who are targeted. I felt such a fool.
“I was in my seventies, too old to be taken in by a Romeo conman…but I’d been utterly hoodwinked.
“I gave a stranger nearly £40,000. We’ve been to hell and back but I know how lucky I am to have such a kind, generous and caring husband.
“I want to warn anyone reading this: Never fall for someone you meet on social media.
“Fake profiles and invented identities are easy to create. Please learn by my mistakes.”
Ex-civil servant Gordon said: “I’d suspected something was wrong. When Susan finally broke down everything fell into place.
“Of course, I felt an element of hurt but I loved Susan and wanted to help her. I felt guilty I hadn’t give her attention.
“I paid off £7,000 in credit card loans and £700 buying back jewellery. There is still around £15,000. It’ll take years but we’ll pay it off.
“Some would have left, unable to cope with the lies but I meant every word of my vows. We’re rebuilding our marriage.
“It wasn’t how I thought retirement would turn out but I don’t blame my wife. These conmen know what they’re doing and target the vulnerable.”